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The names of more than 1,200 Boy Scout leaders accused of abusing children years ago were released to the public yesterday. Lawyers who've spent time with the documents say they paint a picture of volunteers and staff repeatedly abusing children in their charge. As Kristian Foden-Vencil of Oregon Public Broadcasting reports, a judge ordered the release of the files after a long court battle.
KRISTIAN FODEN-VENCIL, BYLINE: The unprecedented release of so many records stems from the conviction of just one man. In 2010, a jury found assistant scoutmaster Timur Dykes had repeatedly abused a teenager in his Scout troop back in the 1980s. At that time, Dykes told a supervisor that he had molested more than a dozen boys. But instead of kicking Dykes out, the supervisor placed him on probation and allowed him to keep volunteering. Margaret Malarkey was a juror in that case and remembers reading through the files.
MARGARET MALARKEY: There were so many instances where there would be a volunteer who was abusing Scouts and would be asked to leave or voluntarily left when he was found out and then literally just pop up a few months later in another Scout troop, in another city, or in another region. And there were times when these files would be like a couple decades long.
FODEN-VENCIL: After the trial, the Boy Scouts asked the files be kept secret. But media organizations, including Oregon Public Broadcasting, appealed for public access. A judge agreed and yesterday 20,000 pages of what the Scouts used to call the Perversion Files were released with the identities of accusers blacked out.
Kelly Clark was the attorney in that original case. He says the files, which stretch from 1965 to 1985, show a pattern of alleged abusers moving from troop to troop.
KELLY CLARK: You can read these files and say, wow, probably they should have had a rule that said Scouts couldn't spend the night in Scout leaders' homes, because an awful lot of abuse happened there under the pretext of working on Scouting projects or come over on Friday night, spend the night with me and we'll head out early for the camping trip tomorrow morning. And that's when the abuse would happen.
FODEN-VENCIL: Another lesson, he says, is that the alleged abusers were often the guys who had kids around them 24/7, to a point where an adult might wonder what he was doing for a living, because he appeared to be a full-time scoutmaster. Clark says at some point the Scouts should have looked at its files, recognized the pattern of abuse, and come up with ways to stop it.
CLARK: So a Cub Scout master is caught sleeping in the nude with Cub Scouts and showing them pornography. And the letter from the Boy Scout executive says, well, I agree that that's really bad judgment but I'm not sure that in and of itself it's enough to kick the man out of Scouting.
WAYNE PERRY: You know, I think as we review the files we see that we did fall short.
FODEN-VENCIL: Wayne Perry is the national president of the Boy Scouts. He says that in certain cases their response to allegations of abuse was insufficient, inappropriate or wrong.
PERRY: To the extent that we fell short of where we should have been, protecting every kid, we're profoundly sorry.
FODEN-VENCIL: Earlier this month, the Scouts outlined their new safety plans. For example, volunteers must have a criminal background check, complete youth protection training, and they have to report any instance of even suspected abuse. The Scouts now dictate that no youth can ever be alone with a Scout leader. At least two adults need to be present.
Similar precautions have been taken by other large organizations that have dealt with allegations of child abuse. David Clohessy is the executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. He says it takes an institution like the church or the Scouts a long time to change.
DAVID CLOHESSY: Our advice to parents and the public is to, you know, remain skeptical and remain vigilant and assume, until the Scouts prove otherwise, assume that these longstanding patterns and practices of secrecy and recklessness are still, in fact, in force.
FODEN-VENCIL: Yet those who study child sex abuse say statistics show parents should focus closer to home. David Finkelhor is the director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire.
DAVID FINKELHOR: Young people's risk of victimization is highest in their families and their close social networks. No one should imagine that simply by participating in Scouting or some other youth-serving organization, that kids are increasing their risk.
FODEN-VENCIL: One final point. The Boy Scouts is a congressionally chartered organization. So the child abuse lawyers who brought the original case are asking Congress to audit the Scouts' child protection efforts to make sure they're working.
For NPR News, I'm Kristian Foden-Vencil in Portland. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.