Chicago/Portland, Oregon - The Boy Scouts of America knew for decades that it attracted paedophiles as volunteers but failed to protect children or warn parents of the risk, according to lawsuits filed against the youth organisation in Illinois and Oregon on Tuesday.
In the Illinois case, a former Boy Scout who says he was sexually assaulted when he was 10 by his now-imprisoned former troop leader cites as evidence recently released files the organisation secretly maintained on suspected molesters in its ranks.
In the Oregon case, a former Eagle Scout who claims he was molested by his troop leader when he was 11 says the group knew there was a “institution-wide problem of Scout leaders sexually abusing” children but that it “actively concealed the problem”.
Kelly Clark, the attorney in the Oregon lawsuit, said the two cases filed on Tuesday were “the same vintage” and reflected the same basic failure by the group's leadership to warn parents of the risks.
“By the mid 1960s the Boy Scouts knew everything they needed to know to protect those kids and they weren't doing it,” Clark said. “Kids continued to get abused.”
The Illinois lawsuit claims the Scouts allowed Thomas Hacker, a Scout leader barred from the group after a 1970s felony sex abuse conviction in Indiana, to rejoin as a volunteer in Illinois in the 1980s, where he went on to molest more boys, including the plaintiff.
Hacker was arrested in 1988 and convicted in 1989 of the aggravated sexual assault of a 11-year-old member of his troop in the southwest suburbs of Chicago.
Now 75, Hacker is currently serving two concurrent 50-year prison terms as a result of his conviction. His defence attorney in the 1989 case called him “a classic paedophile - and sick beyond that,” according to a Chicago Tribune story at the time.
The Illinois lawsuit filed on Tuesday by a man identified only as John Doe claims Hacker sexually assaulted him when he was 10 years old after the disbarred Boy Scout leader and convicted sexual molester was allowed to re-join the Scouts in Illinois because no one ran a background check on him.
In the Oregon suit, a former Scout identified as “Henry Doe” alleges the Boy Scouts did not protect him from being repeatedly sexually molested by a Scout troop leader.
The troop leader, identified as James J. Jones in the lawsuit, molested the boy weekly for a year, or about 50 times, the suit says. Jones fondled and had oral and anal sex with the boy, some of it forced, the suit says. Jones threatened to kill the boy if he resisted, the suit says.
In a statement, the Boy Scouts said, “we deeply regret that there have been times when Scouts were abused, and for that we are very sorry and extend our deepest sympathies to victims”.
The Illinois suit draws on details unearthed this fall when the Boy Scouts of America, one of the country's largest youth organisations, was forced by an Oregon court to release internal documents they kept on Scout leaders and volunteers who were suspected sexual predators.
The files go back almost to the organisation’s founding in 1910 and were known as the “red files”, the “perversion files” and the “ineligible volunteer files”.
Roughly 20,000 pages of files, spanning from 1965 to 1985, were released this fall by order of the Oregon Supreme Court, after a jury in the state found the Scouts liable in a 1980s paedophile case and ordered it to pay nearly $20 million in damages.
The Boy Scouts of America says it now requires even suspected cases of child molestation to be reported immediately to law enforcement and says keeping the old files secret protects victims.
Last week, a Texas appeals court sided with the group, saying the Scouts did not have to turn over its post-1985 files describing sexual abuse complaints against volunteers.
“The Boy Scouts have taken the view that keeping these files secret protects the children,” said Christopher Hurley, the Chicago attorney representing John Doe in the Illinois case filed Tuesday.
“But in this case it obviously didn't work. It may protect the molesters and the Boy Scouts, but it's not in the best interests of children.”
The Scouts say the group has added background checks and training programs and now requires law enforcement to be told when there are “even suspicions” of abuse. - Reuters