Los Angeles Times Database Yields Information About Boy Scout Abuse In Vermont
11/13/12 7:50AM By Charlotte Albright  Download MP3
This fall, the Los Angeles Times released what it called "The Perversion Files."
It's a documented list supplied by the Boy Scouts and assembled by the LA Times of more than 5,000 Boy Scout employees and volunteers accused of sexually abusing boys between 1947 and 2005.
The names were revealed as part of a court case in Oregon, but the list covers almost every state.
Compared to other states, sexual abuse in Vermont was not rampant. But it did exist, and according to the LA Times, the Boy Scouts did not always remove or report suspects. Instead, the files suggest, they kept confidential records and tried to alert scout troop sponsors of potential problems with accused leaders.
In Vermont, the files document and name six abusers between 1961 and 1985. Fourteen other suspected molesters are identified only by numbers, because the Scouts have not released those names-only towns and troop numbers.
Robert Kumbara was Scout Executive of Vermont's Green Mountain Council between 1983 and 1989. He is now eighty, and living in Wisconsin. "We did the best job we were capable of," he said in a phone interview with VPR.
Here's how he remembers handling allegations of abuse, which he says usually came from parents.
"We would start out and talk to parents and get information and then try to verify information with other people involved in the unit. And if it sounded like there was something wrong, then we would form a committee of volunteers that would investigate it. And they would give a recommendation. And then we would, if there was legal action to be taken, then we would go to police. But often times that would happen before we even got there, you know, the parents would instigate it," he said.
Kumbara can now remember only one allegation coming across his desk, and recalls that it was unfounded. But the files cited in the Los Angeles Times project show that during his six years in charge he sent the names of two alleged abusers to the Boy Scouts national office, who banned them from further service. Kumbara said he didn't always have enough evidence to notify local police about possible abuse.
"There were cases where we found that there was no proof at all against it," he said.
But counselors say many young victims are afraid to come forward. Robert Belenky was a psychologist in Vermont whose frightened client many years ago reported that a scoutmaster sexually abused him.
"He still talks about that whole thing," Belenkey said. "It was very scary for him because this man on the one hand presented himself as a surrogate father who would somehow take care of - it was a single parent family - take care of the boy. And on the other hand when the boy tried to resist the man became threatening and scary."
That case drew headlines.
The files also include a memo from a Scout Executive named Bartley Nourse. Nourse wrote in the memo that he convinced authorities and a Rutland Herald editor not to mention the Boy Scouts in 1964 in connection with a case against a man accused of abusing a scout.
Now 87, Bartley Nourse told the Herald that his memory is foggy and declined to discuss details.
That doesn't surprise Tom Stewart, a victim from Washington State, who believes publicity is important. He believes publishing the files will spur important conversations.
"I think it really heightens awareness for the American public on how dangerous Boy Scouting is and that they have not been honest with parents or you know, they didn't report a lot of these cases to police, which is very similar to the Catholic Church, where they kind of dismissed these pedophiles quietly," Stewart said.
And yet, Stewart loved scouting so much that he became a scoutmaster for his own children's troop, so he would know they were safe.
Scouting officials say they have designed a model program for preventing child abuse. The Vermont Chapter says it has no records of abuse since 2005.
Boy Scouts Say They Have Model Program for Preventing Sex Abuse