Memo Outlines How Boy Scouts Respond To Abuse Allegations

Internal Memo Written In 1972, Does Not Mention Reporting Abuse To Authorities

The 10News I-Team has obtained a secret memo kept by the Boy Scouts of America that appears to set the stage for how the group handled allegations of sexual abuse within the organization since the early 1970s.

 

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The memo, which is dated December 4, 1972, is titled "personal and confidential" and explains to scout executives:

"This is the first time such information has been printed, and because of the misunderstandings which could develop if it were widely distributed, we suggest that after you have read it, you file it with other policy statements without making photocopies or sharing it beyond the top management of your council."

The memo sets guidelines "to protect the youth of America," and it explains what to do "when a registered leader commits an act or conducts himself in a manner that would seem to cause him to be unfit."

It tells scout executives to "inform the national office," "secure hard evidence" and then "tell the individual ... BSA is not sharing this information with anyone."

However, the memo never says anything about informing authorities about illegal activity.

*Click here to view the entire memo

"We take our responsibility to protect youth from abuse very seriously," Boy Scouts of America CEO Bob Mazzuca said in a message posted on the BSA website.

The Boy Scouts of America declined an on-camera interview with 10News. BSA also declined the chance to talk about 20 years worth of Scout documents detailing alleged sexual abuse within the organization. Those documents range in date from 1971 to 1991, and many after 1972 appear to follow the guidelines of the 1972 memo.

"These files are just one part of a very stringent set of youth protection policies and procedures," Mazzuca said.

"If you as an institution decide you're going to handle something internally, you've just exposed an entire community to a predator and dangers," former San Diego prosecutor Phyllis Shess said.

Shess prosecuted crimes against children in San Diego for 15 years and prosecuted three cases involving the Boy Scouts of America. She said in the cases she worked, the Boy Scouts never reported the abuse to authorities.

"One cancer like that in an organization where we send our children means that the entire organization can be infected, and as a parent, as a community member, I would never trust them," she said.

Shess claims the Boy Scouts' culture of how they handled abuse claims seemed to be evident in the confidential files dating between 1971 and 1991 based on her review of some of those files.

Inside the hundreds of cases reviewed by the I-Team, there was no evidence the scouts took abuse concerns to police.

There were several form letters addressed to soon-to-be dismissed scout leaders. The original form letter was part of the 1972 scout memo. It read: "We are making no accusations and will not release this information to anyone, so our action in no way will affect your standing in the community."

While the Boy Scouts haven't answered questions about the letter, a BSA spokesman said in an email, "Youth protection is a serious matter to the BSA and it is inaccurate to indicate otherwise or that the organization values its reputation above the well-being of its members."

Former Boy Scouts leader and now convicted sex offender Al Stein's molested scouts in his Santa Barbara troop in 2007.

During a deposition, Stein was asked a series of questions about how scouts protect children.

"While you were involved as an adult, was there any kind of background check done on you?" Stein was asked.

"No, No.," Stein said.

"Have you ever been aware of anyone affiliated with scouting reporting childhood sexual abuse to any law enforcement agency?" Stein was asked.

"No," he said.

The Boy Scouts of America denied Stein's claims, saying they have conducted background checks for adults in scouting since 1994 and have continued updating their youth protection programs since.

Santa Barbara attorney Tim Hale sued the Boy Scouts and won after Stein was convicted of molesting his client. Part of the court decision forced the Boy Scouts to release all its confidential files since 1992, but those files remain hidden because the organization is appealing the decision.

"One of the most disturbing things we've discovered is for decades, they've been receiving reports of abuse and quite often not reporting them to law enforcement," Hale said.

The Boy Scouts' national spokesman told 10News the confidential files are "simply a list of individuals the BSA either wants to remove from or prevent from joining the organization" and that "they are not used for any other purpose."

"Confidentiality encourages prompt reporting of questionable behavior," Mazzuca said. "There still have been times where the best practices of the time have been insufficient and for that we're deeply sorry."

While producing this story, the question about whether or not the Boy Scouts of America are legally obligated to report alleged abuse came up.

In California, the mandatory reporting law states "an administrator or employee of a public or private youth center, youth recreation program or youth organization" must report abuse.

This section has been in effect since 1991.