Boy Scouts say they have worked harder than most organizations to keep children safe

Apr 25, 2019

The Boy Scouts of America are hitting back at lawyers who say the BSA will be sued in New York State late this summer over sexual abuse by scouting leaders. National scout leaders say they have actively barred possible abusers from the organization's activities.

There are a lot of files of information about sexual abuse within the organization. Lawyer Jeff Anderson, who is representing aleged victims, said Tuesday that incomplete records list nearly 8,000 abusers and more than 12,000 victims, with more expected if all files were opened.

The BSA faces massive lawsuits when New York's Child Victims Act allows suits beginning Aug. 14.

Michael Surbaugh, Chief Scout Executive of the Boys Scouts of America
Credit Boy Scouts of America

Chief Scout Executive Michael Surbaugh said the organization has been keeping records for a century, but lawyers who have sued the BSA say many older records were destroyed years ago. Surbaugh said his group has worked harder than most to keep scouts safe from predatory adults.

"While it has often been misunderstood and criticized, time and time again those IV files have successfully prevented potential predators from rejoining our organization and gaining access to youth," he said. "That is precisely why we have been maintaining these records since the 1920s."

Those files were known as the Perversion Files within the scouting organization. A University of Virginia researcher who has spent years probing the records said the screening procedures to keep out predatory adults worked, even in the days of papers and pencils, well before today's computerized records.

UVA Professor Janet Warren said her research found every case reported in the last 50 years was reported to law enforcement. However, the records indicate a need for better protections of all children.

University of Virginia Professor of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences Janet Warren
Credit University of Virginia

"The research underscores the need for a national database for persons unsuitable to work with youth, similar to the one that the BSA has used for almost a hundred years," Warren said. "Criminal record checks and sex offender registries based simply on criminal convictions are inadequate to protect against offenders who have never been arrested or convicted."

Scouting Chief Strategy Officer Erin Eisner said a national database would prevent potential abusers from moving on to another organization after being removed from the BSA.

"To serve as a clearing house for all youth-serving organizations," Eisner said. "Our vision and one that is shared by others who are working diligently in the space to protect youth is that all youth-serving organizations would be required to track and document those adults who have harmed children or who have even been suspected of harming children and report this information into a national registry."

Attorney Jeff Anderson, who plans to sue the BSA in New York, later issued his own statement:

"All the pledges and promises from the Boy Scouts of America fall short. The reality is, they have to identify the names of thousands of offenders from their secret files. The Boy Scouts need to come clean and inform the communities who these people are, what they did, and where they are today. Through a simple keystroke, they have the ability today to release the names and locations of every offender that sexually abused children. Absent that, any effort, promise, pledge, practice is falling short of protecting kids. This is a time for action and truth, not a time for excuses, promises or policies.”