LOS ANGELES — US scout leaders covered up generations of sexual abuse inflicted on its young members, victims' lawyers said Thursday, as thousands of pages of so-called "perversion files" were published online.
Unveiling details from the 14,500 pages of documents, including handwritten notes, the lawyers said Boy Scouts of America still had not done enough to root out pedophiles using the youth movement to prey on minors.
In response, the US scouting body's head apologized to victims, and admitted that its response had in some cases been "plainly insufficient, inappropriate or wrong."
The previously confidential files, officially called the "Boy Scouts Ineligible Volunteer Files," reveal details of alleged abuses by more than 1,200 scout leaders and other adults between 1965 and 1985.
They were released in response to an order by the Oregon Supreme Court.
"What these files represent is ... the pain and the anguish of thousands" of scouts, said lawyer Paul Mones, while presenting details of the files at a press conference in the northwestern US state.
Mones said the files "demonstrate the depth and breadth of the BSA's vast knowledge about the threats to scouts by scoutmasters and adult leaders who used their authority ... to sexually molest generations of boys."
The lawyers highlighted a 2010 court case, in which an assistant scoutmaster in a Mormon Church-sponsored troop sexually molested a boy in the 1980s.
The abuser involved had previously confessed to molesting 17 other boys in the troop, but was allowed to return to scouting within a few months and then found a new victim.
"Child abuse thrives in secrecy, and secret systems are its breeding ground. These files are perhaps the most complete and comprehensive example we have ever seen of that sad reality," said Kerry Clark.
"It is our hope that other youth organizations will learn the lessons from these files, and as a result, do a better job of protecting children," said Clark, whose law firm published the files online.
Responding to the release, Boy Scouts of America national leader Wayne Perry reiterated an apology to the victims.
"There have been instances where people misused their positions ... to abuse children, and in certain cases, our response to these incidents and our efforts to protect youth were plainly insufficient, inappropriate or wrong," he said.
"Where those involved in Scouting failed to protect, or worse, inflicted harm on children, we extend our deepest and sincere apologies to victims and their families," he said.
In a statement on its website, the organization also said it has improved its procedures to ensure safety, including now requiring background checks and training programs of its leaders.
But Mones said the organization has not done enough.
The Boy Scouts of America have "made some improvements, but we think there's more still to be done," said the lawyer, noting that on average each abuser typically molested between five and 25 scouts.
"We know the numbers are in the thousands, and most of these people will never ever, ever come out," Mones said.
Although the US scouting organization, which counts nearly four million adult and youth members, has long sought to keep the files out of public view, it could face a damning wave of lawsuits and bad publicity.
The organization, founded in 1910, is best-known for promoting outdoor activities and community service for boys aged seven to 21.
It also faces protest over its ban on openly gay members and leaders, a policy it reaffirmed in July after a secret review, despite calls to overturn it.