Twenty years’ worth of secret records detailing allegations of sexual abuse by Boy Scout leaders were cast into public view last week, revealing that one of the country’s oldest youth organizations systematically failed to report abuse and often covered up allegations in order to protect its reputation. Boy Scout officials had fought in court for years to prevent the release of the so-called “perversion files,” 15,000 pages detailing allegations of molestation by more than 1,200 Scout leaders between 1965 and 1985. But the Oregon Supreme Court ordered the documents released with victims’ names redacted, and many accused abusers now face public exposure for the first time. “The secrets are out,” said Kelly Clark, a lawyer who successfully sued the Scouts in 2010.
Yet another institution has betrayed the public trust by protecting predators, said Donn Esmonde in The Buffalo News. As in the abuse scandals involving the Catholic Church and Penn State, leaders hid troubling allegations from authorities and parents for decades, thereby fueling “the cycle of abuse.” Sadly, these files are probably just “the tip of an iceberg,” said The New York Times in an editorial, since we don’t know how many reports were lost or purged. The files also “lay bare an appalling dissonance.” Here is an organization that has fought bitterly to protect its right to exclude homosexuals, even while “hiding sexual predators.”
The Scouts have made some recent progress in confronting the organization’s “ignominious history of sexual abuse,” said the Los Angeles Times. But only a truly independent review of remaining files, both public and secret, can establish that the Boy Scouts “is no longer the organization that dealt with sexual abuse so inadequately for so many years.”
If there is any upside to this wave of abuse scandals, it is that “the victims are winning,” said Patrick Boyle in CNN.com. Increased awareness has driven a “cultural shift in which kids are more likely to report abuse and to be believed.” Youth organizations are running more background checks and enforcing mandatory reporting. That offers little solace to the many victims who were long ignored. But it is an important step toward preventing such horrors in the future.
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