MINNEAPOLIS – Confidential files turned over for a lawsuit set to go to trial in Minnesota may shed new light on the problem of sexual abuse within the Boy Scouts of America.
The documents were produced in litigation brought against the Boy Scouts and a former scoutmaster, Peter Stibal II, who is serving 21 years in prison for molesting four Scouts. Attorneys for one former Scout won a court order for the nationwide internal files, commonly known as "ineligible volunteer" or "perversion files." They cover the years 1999-2008, much more recent than similar files forced into the open in an Oregon case last year.
"We are intending to use those to show they have had a longstanding knowledge of the scope of a serious problem like Stibal," said Jeffrey Anderson, the lead attorney for the molested Scout. "They kept files not known to the troops and members of the public and had a body of knowledge that was not made public."
Anderson, who built a national reputation for frequent lawsuits in clergy abuse cases, declined to say what the new documents might show ahead of the trial that begins Monday in St. Paul. He said he expects attorneys for the Scouts to try to block the introduction and release of the files. He wouldn't say how many former leaders the files cover. But the release of more than 1,200 files in the Oregon case suggests the number could be large.
An attorney for the Scouts did not return messages seeking comment. The Scouts' public relations director, Deron Smith, said in a prepared statement that protecting Scouts is "of paramount importance" to the organization, which claims over 2.6 million young people and over 1 million adult leaders as members in its various branches.
"The BSA requires background checks, comprehensive training programs for volunteers, staff, youth and parents and mandates reporting of even suspected abuse," Smith said in the statement.
He didn't say whether the Scouts would try to block release of the files, but said the organization believes keeping them private would make people more likely to report abuse.
In the Oregon case, Boy Scout files made public from the years 1965-1985 revealed a decades-long cover-up, showing that men suspected of abuse were often excluded from leadership positions but rarely turned over to law enforcement. The files also contained accounts of alleged pedophiles allowed to stay in Scouting under pressure from community leaders and local Scouting officials.
Patrick Boyle, who as a journalist was among the first to expose efforts by the Scouts to hide the extent of abuse by their leaders, said the files could show how the Boy Scouts evolved in their response to abuse allegations over the years — or didn't.
"What's potentially powerful about these files is they can give us some idea of how big the problem has been in recent years, and might even give us an idea of whether the abuse prevention efforts by the Scouts have had any impact," said Boyle, who now serves as communications director for the nonprofit Forum for Youth Investment in Washington.
When Ramsey County District Judge Elena Ostby ordered the Scouts in January to give up the files, she also ordered the removal of information that could identify people named in the files.
Even without names, Marci Hamilton, a professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York and a longtime advocate for child sex abuse victims, said any release of new files might eventually reveal new perpetrators and new institutions such as troops, churches and schools where abuse occurred, emboldening other victims to seek justice.
"It can be a real wakeup call to survivors who have not come forward," Hamilton said.
Portland, Ore., attorney Bill Barton, who handled the first big abuse case against the Scouts in the 1980s, said he didn't think the newer files would illuminate much about what he considers the core issue, a history of Scouting officials minimizing the problem.
"I think the broad landscape's pretty much on the table," Barton said.
The Minnesota plaintiff is identified only as John Doe 180. His lawsuit targets the national organization, the local Northern Star Council and River Hills United Methodist Church in Burnsville, which sponsored his troop. It also names Stibal, who was accused of abusing him in 2007-2008. It alleges the national and local organizations knew for decades that pedophiles had infiltrated Scouting and should have known the danger Stibal presented. He was sentenced in 2011 to more than 21 years in prison for molesting four Scouts from 2003-2008. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages over $50,000.
Anderson said John Doe 180, now in his late teens, did not want to speak ahead of testifying.
"He is a courageous young man who really stepped forward in a way that resulted in Stibal having gone to prison," Anderson said. "Hopefully through his actions other kids will be safer for it, and the Boy Scouts better for it."