October 18, 2012

Scout cases reveal predators' 'grooming behavior'

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

JASON FELCH and KIM CHRISTENSEN / Los Angeles Times

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.

Peter Janci
click image to enlarge

Attorney Peter Janci arranges boxes of records from the Boy Scouts of America in Portland, Ore., after the Oregon Supreme Court in June approved the release of nearly 20,000 pages of so-called perversion files compiled by the Boy Scouts of America. More records are to be released Thursday.

File photo/The Associated Press

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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.

"He combs the boys' hair and buys them clothes and dinner," one mother wrote to a Scouting official in 1985 about an Orange, Calif., 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 Los Angeles 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 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 percent 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.

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 non-sanctioned camping trips.

Many of the men ultimately expelled from the Scouts were highly decorated troop leaders and respected members of the community.

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 "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.

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