They were protected by the Boy Scouts, pastors and even local authorities for decades, but now the names of more than 1,200 accused child molesters are in the public domain – though experts warn that the new list is not tantamount to a sex offender registry.
Unlike sex offender registries, the men on the Boy Scouts list, obtained after a two-year court battle and posted online by a Portland, Ore., law firm, have not necessarily been charged, much less convicted of any crime. Many are now dead, and the Statute of Limitations likely bars prosecutions. But child advocates said the real value in making the names public is to discourage other organizations from covering up abuse allegations.
“We think that the reason sex abuse was allowed to go on for so long in the Boy Scouts was because it was a secret and it wasn’t publicized or turned over to the police,” Steve Crew, of O’Donnell, Clark and Crew, the law firm that fought to make the information public, told FoxNews.com. “If it had been turned over to the police whenever there was a credible allegation of abuse, many, many boys would not have been abused.”
The Scouts kept so-called perversion files dating back to the 1920s, though the 20,000 pages of documents released on Thursday covered only 1965 to 1985. The files included men both inside and outside the organization who were suspected of abusing boys. The papers included memos from local councils, complaints lodged with the national office, letters between local councils, handwritten letters from family members, police reports and newspaper articles.
Some advocates for child victims of sex offenders said dumping of the raw files is somewhat troubling, given that the names may include innocent people. But Laura Ahearn, executive director of Parents for Megan’s Law and the Crime Victims Center, said the blame ultimately rests with the organization that protected suspects instead of kids.
“It’s due process vs. protecting kids,” Ahearn said. “The greater concern to me is that the Boy Scouts of America behaved in a manner that indicates to the public that they are above the law.
“They’ve created this complete disaster for the public to deal with. It has to go to one extreme – so the public can see exactly how this organization behaved.”
Crew agreed that there could be innocent people among the hundreds of names listed on his firm’s website.
“Most of these were never adjudicated,” Crew said. “With most of these, we have no way of knowing whether it happened. But the value of the information is the sheer volume of it and how it demonstrates the scale of what the Boy Scouts did.”
In a joint statement, attorneys who worked on the case said they cannot say who in the file is guilty.
“In fact, we are in no position to verify or attest to the truth of these allegations as they were compiled by the Boy Scouts of America,” the statement read. “The incidents reported in these documents attest to notice of potential child abuse given to the Boy Scouts of America and its affiliates and their response to that notice.”
The Associated Press reported that the 14,500 pages of the files showed that decade after decade, an array of authorities — police chiefs, prosecutors, pastors and local Boy Scout leaders among them — shielded scoutmasters and others accused of molesting children.
In a statement on Thursday, the Boy Scouts admitted that they had not always responded appropriately when allegations surfaced.
“There have been instances where people misused their positions in Scouting to abuse children, and in certain cases, our response to these incidents and our efforts to protect youth were plainly insufficient, inappropriate, or wrong,” the statement said. “Where those involved in Scouting failed to protect, or worse, inflicted harm on children, we extend our deepest apologies to victims and their families.”
The Boy Scouts added that the organization is now “a leader” among youth organizations in terms of protecting children from abuse.
Among the safeguards the Scouts now have in place are background checks, training programs for staff and volunteers and mandated reporting of even suspected abuse cases, according to the statement.
The organization also defended its practice of keeping a database of people barred from serving with the Boy Scouts.
“Experts have found that the BSA’s system of Ineligible Volunteer Files functions well to help protect Scouts by denying entry to dangerous individuals," it said. "And Scouting believes that they play an important role in our comprehensive youth protection system.”