While the Boy Scouts of America has been besieged by child sexual abuse allegations for years, little has been known of the full extent of the epidemic. On Tuesday, however, victims’ rights attorney Jeff Anderson held a press conference calling for the release of names of “ineligible volunteers,” a database containing the names of Boy Scout troop leaders who had been accused of or were suspected of sexually abusing young boys within the troop. Anderson claimed that there are more than 7,000 perpetrators on the list, as well as more than 12,000 potential victims. Some of the allegations date as far back as the 1940s.
While the existence of the database has been known for years, the number of victims and alleged perpetrators had not been made public. The files surfaced as a result of expert testimony from Dr. Janet Warren, a child sex abuse researcher who was hired by the Boy Scouts to evaluate its handling of sexual abuse allegations between 1944 and 2016. Warren testified in court in January as part of a sex abuse case at a children’s theater in Minnesota.
“That is a number not known before today or ever revealed by the Boy Scouts of America,” Anderson said during the press conference.
Pressure to release the names in the files is the culmination of a joint class action suit from three law firms on behalf of former victims of the Boy Scouts of America. According to USA Today, the law firms began running ads online and on television at the end of last year urging victims to come forward, following news that the Boy Scouts of America was potentially preparing to file for bankruptcy. More than 200 men have since come forward alleging that they were victims of sexual abuse while they served as Boy Scouts. One victim, Kendall Kimber, alleged that he was sexually abused by his troop leader when he was a child in the 1970s, and that the man forced him to perform oral sex on him. When he told his family, Kimber’s brothers also alleged they were abused by the same man; one of his brothers later took his own life. Kimber says he was reluctant to tell anyone because the culture of secrecy in the organization prevented him from doing so, and he “probably would have gotten kicked out” if he came forward.
The existence of the “perversion files,” as they have become known, has been previously reported: in 2010, a jury ordered the Boy Scouts of America to pay $18.5 million to a man who claimed that he was molested by a former Scoutmaster, who was allowed to continue serving in the organization after he told Scout officials that he had molested 17 boys; and in 2012, more than 14,500 pages of the files were released to the public following a court order by the Oregon Supreme Court. The documents consisted of newspaper clippings and handwritten testimonials from victims, and though they were ostensibly compiled to prevent alleged pedophiles from ascending to leadership roles in the organization, they also include evidence that some alleged pedophiles were allowed to continue to serve as Scouts due to pressure from local organization officials.
What has not been made public, however, is the full breadth of the epidemic of sexual abuse within the organization, and exactly how many victims there are. The newly released court documents suggest that the number of abused children could be as high as 12,200, with more than 7,800 perpetrators on file. What’s more, Anderson said that 130 of these perpetrators are in New York, and could face criminal charges based on a recently passed Child Victims act, which increases the amount of time that alleged perpetrators can be held liable.
What is most shocking about the files, Anderson said, is how they reveal the extent to which the Boy Scouts of America concealed abusers within their ranks. “The alarming thing about this is not just the numbers,” he said during the press conference. “The fact is that the Boy Scouts of America has never actually released these names in any form that can be known to the public. They may have removed them from scouting, they may have kept them in their perversion file, but they never alerted the community.”
Founded in 1910, the Boy Scouts of America has served as an American institution for more than 100 years. Although membership rates have fallen in recent years, to date, nearly 105 million men and boys have participated in the Boy Scouts.
In response to a request for comment, the BSA sent Rolling Stone the following statement: “We care deeply about all victims of child abuse and sincerely apologize to anyone who was harmed during their time in Scouting. We believe victims, we support them, and we have paid for unlimited counseling by a provider of their choice. Nothing is more important than the safety and protection of children in Scouting and we are outraged that there have been times when individuals took advantage of our programs to abuse innocent children.” The statement also noted that the list of alleged offenders in New York State is publicly available, and that “every instance of suspected abuse is reported to law enforcement.”