In a stunning development, an Oregon jury has awarded $18.5 million in punitive damages to a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of a Boy Scouts leader in the 1980s. The verdict was the largest ever against the Scouts in a jury trial. The same jury previously awarded the man, Kerry Lewis, $1.4 million in compensatory damages.
As the New York Times article details, the Boy Scouts have long kept secret files to document claims of sexual abuse by troop leaders and volunteers. Known variously as the “perversion files,” the “red flag files,” the “confidential files,” and the “ineligible volunteer files,” the documents have been maintained for more than 70 years at the Scouts’ national office in Texas. Yet after scores of abuse cases against the Scouts in recent decades, the Oregon case is one of the few times that substantial portions of the files have been made accessible to a jury. Most abuse cases against the Boy Scouts have ended in private settlements, with strict confidentiality provisions prohibiting the parties and lawyers from discussing how much the group has paid to victims. The Boy Scouts’ history in covering up sexual abuse is still unknown to the average American, unlike the Catholic Church scandals which have received vast publicity.
Patrick Boyle, whose 1994 book “Scout’s Honor” drew in part from access he gained to about 2,000 files kept by the Scouts, told the New York Times that releasing the files even in redacted form would benefit the public and the Scouts.
“The astonishing thing about this for the Scouts is how something that was so good turned out so bad for them,” said Mr. Boyle, editor of Youth Today, which covers the youth service industry. “This started out as a valuable system for child protection and it’s turned into a major headache, largely because of the way they’ve handled it.”
The New York Times has filed a motion to gain access to all of the confidential files. If they are successful, it will help shine a greater spotlight on the way the Scouts have handled sexual abuse cases over the years.