The Boy Scouts of America kept confidential files on the problem of child sexual abuse in Scouting– they have admitted that. The BSA has been keeping these files since the 1920’s: they also stipulated to that in a Portland trial last Spring. Just from 1965-85, the BSA compiled over 1200 of these files, consisting of 20,000 pages: again, no dispute about that. The average number of victims of a pedophile is somewhere between 5 and 25, depending on what study you look at; even the Boy Scouts’ expert witnesses agree with that fact. So all of the foregoing is fact, that not even the BSA can or will fairly dispute. I know, because I was the lead trial attorney in the Kerry Lewis v Boy Scouts trial last Spring, resulting in a verdict of nearly $20 million against the Scouts—most of it punitive damages, reflecting the rage of a jury of citizens, incensed at what they learned about the Boy Scouts and child sexual abuse. And what did that jury– and the rest of America– learn? Well, just doing simple math, it is beyond fair argument that from 1965-1985, the secret perversion files represent somewhere between 6,000 and 30,000 boys sexually abused in Scouting. Now, that just represents the reported abusers—and as anyone who knows anything about child abuse will attest, we know that only a very small fraction of abused kids ever report, and as well that only a very small percentage of pedophiles ever gets caught. So who knows what the real numbers are: at the least, thousands or tens of thousands of boys abused in Scouting, for decades, all the time the Scouts keeping files but giving no warnings to the public, to parents or to Scouts of the dangers of abuse in Scouting. So it was really no surprise, then, though it was audacious, that the Boy Scouts argued before the Oregon Supreme Court on Tuesday that all these files—all this evidence, offered and received into evidence in a public trial in an open courtroom—should be kept secret. But even though it is no surprise, it is a disappointment. Those of us who advocate for children, –as a child sex abuse attorney that is what I do—have watched for over a decade as the Catholic Church has tried to keep its internal child abuse documents secret. I have represented well over 150 men and women abused by priests or other leaders of the Catholic Church. In that context, the files were called “secret archives” or sub secreto (under secrecy) files. And, we have all seen the prestige of the Catholic Church plummet, not primarily because of the fact of the child abuse problem in its midst—though that was bad enough—but because of the cover up and refusal to acknowledge publicly the nature and extent of the problem. So any person of basic good will would hope that the Boy Scouts of America—like the Catholic Church, chartered to be an organization where truth, even hard truth, is honored– would have learned that it does no good, and in fact, it is terribly damaging, to try to cover up the child abuse problem in its midst. One would hope. But, judging from the position of the Scouts in this litigation, they plan to continue to walk down the same dark and misguided path that the Catholic Church chose: secrecy over openness, denial over candor, the interests of the organization over the best interests of the victims of child abuse. If their own prestige plummets because of more and more child sexual abuse lawsuits– and a greater and greater scandal because of their attempts to cover it all up– they will have no one to blame but themselves.

Kelly Clark

About Kelly Clark

Most centrally, for nearly twenty years, Kelly Clark was a leading advocate for victims of ...