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In Scouting reports, a pattern of molestation

INSIDE THE 'PERVERSION'
FILES

There is no single predator profile, but analysis of confidential files shows 'grooming behavior,' a gradual seduction. For years, Scout officials ignored the advice of experts to study the files.

October 17, 2012|By Jason Felch and Kim Christensen, Los Angeles Times
  • 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.
Map shows locations of troops and units referenced by the Boy Scouts of America… (Ken Schwencke / Los Angeles…)

The thousands of men expelled from the Boy Scouts of America on suspicion of molesting children 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.

As the Scouts long have said, the files suggest no single profile of a predator. 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.

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.

According to the Times analysis of thousands of case summaries, at least 47% of the men expelled from the Scouts for suspected abuse were single, and at least the same portion did not have a child in the program. Those numbers could both be higher, because in many files this information was not recorded.

FULL COVERAGE: Inside the 'perversion files'

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.

Many of the men who were ultimately expelled from the Scouts were highly decorated troop leaders and respected members of the community. Dozens had been honored with Scouting awards such as the Silver Beaver, a distinguished service award for adult troop leaders.

John McGrew was a Dallas scoutmaster who had been recognized as teacher of the year and received a proclamation from City Hall for his work with disadvantaged youths. Two months before he was arrested on molestation charges, he was featured in Scouting Magazine, where his supervisor praised his "personal dedication and genuine love for these kids."

In 1988, 16 boys testified in court that McGrew had abused them. He was convicted on several counts and sentenced to life in prison.

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.

Darrald Timmie Ostopowich, an assistant scoutmaster in Los Angeles, told a psychiatrist that over four years he had sex with more than 50 boys, most of whom were Cub Scouts, according to his file. Scouting officials only learned about the abuse years later after news of his 1981 conviction was published. He is now in jail.

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

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