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Boy Scout files reveal pattern of molestation

October 17, 2012 |  7:31 am
Scouts

As the Boy Scouts of America long have said, the files related to the thousands of men expelled from the organization on suspicion of molesting children suggest no single profile of a predator.

The men came from all walks of life — teachers and plumbers, doctors and bus drivers, politicians and policemen. They ranged in age from teens to senior citizens and came from troops in every state.

But a close look at nearly 1,900 confidential files opened between 1970 and 1991 revealed a pattern: Many suspected molesters engaged in what psychologists today call "grooming behavior," a gradual seduction in which predators lavish children with attention, favors and gifts.

In hundreds of cases, Scout leaders allowed the boys to drive cars, drink alcohol or look at pornography. They gradually tested physical boundaries during skinny dipping, group showers, sleepovers and one-on-one activities.   

DATABASE: Tracking decades of allegations

"He combs the boys' hair and buys them clothes and dinner," one mother wrote to a Scouting official in 1985 about an Orange scoutmaster. "He takes them to church, motorcycle riding, skiing, flying .... Everybody thought he was a real nice guy. Now we know why he did these things."

Boys in a York, Pa., troop alleged in the 1980s that their 28-year-old scoutmaster invited them for sleepovers at his house, then plied them with beer and pornography.

"And then as they become further inebriated and perhaps sexually excited from viewing the pornographic films, he touches them and tries to undress them, and then proceeds to do other things if he is successful," an assistant scoutmaster noted in a memo in the file.

FULL COVERAGE: Inside the 'perversion files'

The confidential files, kept by the Scouts for nearly 100 years, were intended to permanently bar suspected molesters from the organization. 

The Times obtained two decades of files, submitted as evidence in a court case, as well as case summaries from an additional 3,100 files opened between 1947 and 2005. Both were provided by Seattle attorney Timothy Kosnoff, who has sued the Boy Scouts more than 100 times.

The dossiers — which included biographical data, legal records, Scouting correspondence, boys' accounts of alleged abuse and media reports — represent all surviving files kept by the Scouts as of January 2005. The Scouts have destroyed an unknown number of files over the years.

Hundreds of files from the 1960s to the 1980s are set to be released Thursday by order of the Oregon Supreme Court, giving the public its first broad view of the documents.

The full case files showed that nearly all the cases arose from situations in which troop leaders were alone with boys — a practice the Boy Scouts has long discouraged and officially prohibited since 1987. At least a quarter of the cases involved contact with boys outside of official Scouting activities, at scoutmasters' homes for instance, or on nonsanctioned camping trips.

The grooming process and rule-breaking often ensured boys' silence, allowing some men to serially abuse boys over a span of years before being caught. In more than 50 cases, Scout leaders were alleged to have abused 10 or more boys by the time they were expelled.

Scouting officials declined to be interviewed for this report. The organization released a prepared statement by Mike Johnson, its national youth protection director, who underscored the difficulty in identifying predators before they strike.

"My nearly 30 years of experience as a detective who investigated child sexual abuse confirms what leading youth protection professionals know: There is no profile of a potential abuser," he said.

"This is precisely why, in addition to using these files as a background screening tool, Scouting requires a multitiered approach to youth protection, including criminal background checks, two adult leaders at all activities and the training of all youth in personal safety awareness, including teaching them to recognize, resist and report abuse."

Many of those reforms were adopted in the late 1980s and early 1990s, as the Scouts were named in a growing number of lawsuits and cited in reports on sexual abuse. The Times analysis found a sharp increase in the number of files opened at that time — something experts say probably reflected an increasing awareness of the problem.

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— Jason Felch and Kim Christensen

Map shows locations of troops and units referenced by the Boy Scouts of America in the expulsions of thousands of men following allegations of sexual abuse. The Times has created a database of those so-called perversion files. Credit: Ken Schwencke / Los Angeles Times

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