By Gilion Dumas, Andrew Willis and Melanie Blow
The Boy Scouts of America has reportedly joined the Catholic Church in fighting the Child Victims Act, legislation that protects children from sexual abuse by giving adult victims access to justice. This means traditionally trusted organizations are lobbying in favor of protecting the people who sexually abuse children, and not for the safety of children.
This decision is consistent with Boy Scouts’ history of protecting sexually abusive scout leaders, as documented in thousands of BSA’s “Ineligible Volunteer” or “Perversion” files. In 2012, a court order unsealed hundreds of files created between 1960 and 1985, revealing allegations of child sexual abuse by adult leaders that resulted in BSA removing the leader from Scouting, but doing nothing else.
These publicly available “IV files” reveal decades of official BSA policy to quietly push child molesters out of the organization, without informing law enforcement, the community, or even the parents of Scouts that the man had abused children. File after file shows an intent to cover up the problem in order to save the good reputation of the Boy Scouts. This successful plan of concealment meant the Boy Scouts knew they were setting sexual predators lose in New York and communities across the country, with apparently clean backgrounds and the ability to volunteer in other youth-serving organizations.
For example, in 1985, BSA accepted Philip Warner’s resignation as the Executive Director of the Allegheny Highlands Council of the Boy Scouts of America in New York, after an internal BSA investigation concluded that Warner had sexually molested a boy he met at Scout camp, beginning when the boy was 12. Warner’s successor at the Allegheny Highlands Council assured Warner that the Boy Scouts kept the matter secret:
“You should know that I have handled this situation (including this letter) personally and that no one connected with this Council, either staff or volunteer, except former Council President Ken, is aware of these circumstances and that confidentiality will be maintained as long as I am here.”
The problem with keeping the matter secret was that Warner was able to go on to volunteer for the very same Allegheny Highlands Council for three more years before even BSA figured it out in December 1988. Again, BSA told no one outside the organization and Warner simply sidestepped and started volunteering in Connecticut with the National Eagle Scout Association (NESA). In 1991, when BSA learned that Warner was a member of NESA, BSA took no steps to get him removed from NESA or even warn NESA (whose members work with boys trying to become Eagle Scouts). All BSA did was inform the head of the Boy Scout Council in Connecticut that Warner was not eligible to volunteer for Scouts. BSA did not even state the reason for his ineligibility.
In 2001, Warner was convicted of felony sexual crime against a minor. His BSA Ineligible Volunteer file is just one of hundreds of “confidential” files telling similar tragic tales of protecting Boy Scout leaders and the organization, and putting children at risk.
Like with the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts’ successful cover up of its child sexual abuse problem meant that thousands of young boys sexually molested and exploited by adult leaders never received care for, or even acknowledgement of, their abuse when they were children. Instead, many carried the secret of their abuse with them for years, burdened by feelings of shame and guilt.
These victims should have their chance for a day in court, which is why statute of limitations reform is so important. Many of the perpetrators kicked out of the Boy Scouts but concealed by BSA ― just like many of the abusive priests shuffled around by the Catholic Church ― are still alive and still a danger to children. Reforming the statute of limitations would allow the claims of earlier victims to go forward against these perpetrators, exposing them and protecting today’s children from abuse.
The proposed reform includes a modest one year civil lookback window, which is necessary for those victims whose claims have expired under the current statute through no fault of their own. These victims should be allowed to seek justice also from organizations like the Boy Scouts and the Catholic Church for their role in fostering and then covering up the sexual abuse of these children.
For decades, both the Boy Scouts of America and the Catholic Church failed the children they served by hiding predators and protecting their own reputations. Now they spend millions to keep their victims quiet, even if it puts today’s children in danger. Enough. It is time for the cover-up to end.
Gilion Dumas is an attorney and advocate for survivors of sexual abuse. She was one of the trial attorneys in the case that lead to the public release by court order of over 1,200 BSA “Perversion” files.
Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.