In October, a damning list of “ineligible volunteer” files — appropriately informally named the “perversion files” — from the Boy Scouts of America were made public. The files consist of over 1,500 adult volunteers the organization tried to suppress from public scrutiny following claims of sexually assaulting children.
As the Boy Scouts of America face a massive onslaught of lawsuits resulting from child sex abuse, they seem to be using a strategy the Roman Catholic Church has used before. As the nonprofit faces growing legal costs, the Boys Scouts of America are debating on filing for Chapter 11 protection. After hiring the Sidley Austin LLP law firm, the Michael B. Surbaugh, Chief Scout Executive of the Boy Scouts of America released the following statement on Wednesday.
I am writing to you today in anticipation of news reports that will speculate about the BSA’s financial position. We have an important duty, and an incredible opportunity, to focus as an organization on keeping children safe, supported and protected, and preparing youth for their futures through our nation’s foremost program of character development and values-based leadership training.
To do so in perpetuity, we are working with experts to explore all options available to ensure that the local and national programming of the Boy Scout of America continues uninterrupted. We have a social and moral responsibility to fairly compensate victims who suffered abuse during their time in Scouting, and we also have an obligation to carry out our mission to serve youth, families and local communities through our programs.
We care deeply about all victims of child sex abuse and we are steadfast in our belief that one incident of child abuse is one too many. We sincerely apologize to anyone who was harmed during their time in our programs. As you all know, we have always taken care of victims – we believe them, we believe in fairly compensating them and we have paid for unlimited counseling, by a provider of their choice, regardless of the amount of time that has passed since an instance of abuse. Throughout our history we have taken proactive steps to help victims heal and prevent future abuse. I want to stress that at no time in our history have we knowingly allowed a sexual predator to work with youth, and we always seek to act swiftly when alerted to abuse allegations.
Please know that these matters continue to have the full attention of the highest levels of our organization, and we will communicate transparently as there are developments or updates to share. I wanted to update you today due to the news speculation, and I want to assure you that our daily mission will continue and that there are no imminent actions or immediate decisions expected.
Thank you for your continued support of the Boy Scouts of America.
Michael B. Surbaugh
Chief Scout Executive
If the Boy Scouts of America file for bankruptcy they will be able to put all litigation, including discovery and depositions of critical figures on hold. In the first week of December, USA Gymnastics filed bankruptcy following the Larry Nassar scandal. Nassar, the team doctor is accused of molesting hundreds of young women and girls. USA Gymnastics currently faces over 100 lawsuits with over 350 victims across the country.
The Boy Scouts of America is said to have 2.7 million young people in their ranks and one million adults volunteering to work with those children. It is one of the largest nonprofit organizations in the country bringing in $780 million a year, with a large portion coming from marketing their brand and logo to families and government institutions.
Before the public release of the perversion files, a lawsuit filed against the Boys Scouts of America filed in June detailed the files in the complaint. The complaint reaches back to the conception of the organization.
In 1916, the organization received a federal charter from Congress. The charter gave the organization taxpayer subsidies that included free access to national forests and access to use equipment and facilities of the Department of Defense for jamborees. The complaint also states the organization can even receive free firearms and ammunition.
After being founded, the organization designed a red flag system to identify adults not eligible to volunteer. That system being the perversion files. According to the complaint, by 1935 there were over 1,000 scout leaders removed from the organization due to sexually assaulting children. Between 1935 and 1980, the organization added thousands of child molesters to the list but it is still unclear exactly how many existed due to the destruction of files.
To make matters worse, at some point before 1955, the Boy Scouts of America changed their policies in regards to an adult assaulting a child. Instead of removing Scout Leaders from their positions, they began placing them on a secretive internal “probation program.” According to the complaint, Scout Leaders who were placed on the probation program for sexually assaulting young boys. Scout Leaders maintained their positions and continued to have access to young boys. Neither the boy scouts or the families were notified when a Scout Leader was placed on the probation program for sexually assaulting children.
The organization also went to great lengths to make sure the perversion files were kept a secret. Local councils were instructed to not keep any material related to the perversion files at their offices and were instead told to send everything to the Boy Scouts of America national and destroy any copies.
At some point in the 45-year span, Boy Scouts of America realized they had another problem. Scout Leaders were often reoffending after being placed on the probation program. Local councils often were unaware of the perversion files and did not handle sex abuse allegations properly.
The perversion files were also a unique accumulation of data that provided Boy Scouts of America with identities and methods that pedophiles had used to infiltrate the organization. Furthermore, the data showed “Scouting programs and activities, including pedophiles’ techniques used to enter scouting, pedophiles’ patterns for grooming victims, common circumstances in which abuse is perpetuated, and widely-found biographical and behavioral characteristics shared by pedophiles that had entered or were attempting to enter scouting.”
In the 1970s, the Boy Scouts of America realized the potential liability they were sitting on by keeping the records of over 30 years of frequent sexual assaults against children. Over a period of two years, executives reviewed and destroyed thousands of files from the perversion files. Approximately 6,000 files were saved, however, the criteria for deciding if a file was saved or destroyed is not known. An official number of destroyed files is also unknown.
The complaint claims that by 2005 the Boy Scouts of America had acquired over 20,000 files of pedophiles. The evidence shows the organization knew of not just reoccuring child sex assaults but systematic child sex assaults occurring in their organization for almost 100 years at that point. Instead of warning families, the organization aggressively advertised the safety of their programs and their Scout Leaders.
In specific, the complaint names Samuel C. Otts. Otts was a Scout Leader for Boy Scout Troop 16 and its affiliated Webelos Unit 13, both located in Hot Springs, Arkansas. The organization knew that putting Otts in this position would allow him to be alone with young boys, which is troubling since they also knew he had been accused of sexually assaulting scouts in Georgia.
Despite having previous sexual assaults against him, and even being placed on the ineligible volunteer list, Otts was able to be alone with William Stevens — the plaintiff on the lawsuit — in situations where there was no means of communication with his family. While Stevens was 10 to 12-years-old, Otts managed to sexually assault him at least eight times. Eight sexual assaults that could have been prevented had the Boy Scouts taken the proper actions after Otts’s sexual assaults in Georgia.