PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The online release of files showing the Boy Scouts of America's cover-up of decades of sexual abuse has created interest among Americans who want to know who the alleged abusers are and whether people who molested them as Scouts are in the files.
The 14,500 pages of Scout files, from 1959-1985, were posted Thursday on the website of Kelly Clark, the Portland attorney who used the files as evidence in a 2010 lawsuit he won against the Scouts.
The website got more than 200,000 hits within the first few hours of the files' posting, crashing the site.
Release of the files has also prompted a debate on the Boy Scouts' Facebook page. Some people said they'd never allow their children to be involved in the organization and criticized the secrecy of the files. Others described positive experiences in the Scouts for themselves or their children, saying the organization's efforts to prevent abuse have improved significantly.
Clark said his firm has received about four dozen emails from people about the documents. About half came from people who say they were abused when they were in the Scouts and were interested in filing lawsuits.
Some of the emails have given details about alleged abuse, Clark said.
There are also emails from people who tell of other alleged perpetrators who are not in the files.
"We had many people say thank you for posting the documents," Clark said.
At least six people have contacted reporters for The Associated Press with questions about reporting sex abuse when they were in the Scouts. None agreed to speak to the AP on the record.
The Scouts have said they plan to review every file from 1965 to the present and, in cases where it's unclear whether the incident was reported to police, the Scouts said they'll contact authorities.
Deron Smith, spokesman for the Scouts, said Thursday the organization is currently looking through those files to find cases of "good-faith suspicions" so they can be reported to police. The Scout files are filled with unsubstantiated allegations.
In their own review of the files that were released on Thursday, the Scouts found that law enforcement had been involved in about two-thirds of the cases. The organization is going through the remainder to find cases where there seem to be good reasons to alert law authorities.
The Scouts have apologized for not following up. The files were created for the purpose of registering Scout leaders, Smith said, and were considered internal, confidential documents, which is why they weren't always shared with authorities.
Attorney Paul Mones, Clark's colleague, said uploading the files "democratized" information that was only available to lawyers and the Scouts.
"It's a testament to the new generation of communication," Mones said.
The files have been maintained by the Scouts since soon after their founding in 1910. They consist of memos from local and national Scout executives, handwritten letters from victims and their parents and newspaper clippings about legal cases.
The files contain details about proven molesters, but also unsubstantiated allegations. People paging through the files would find both. Clark says there are undoubtedly some people in the files who were wrongly accused, and the Scouts point out that many cases of abuse were dealt with properly.
For those who say they were molested, statutes of limitations in most states would prevent many people from filing lawsuits or criminal charges, Clark said. But in some cases — like a first-degree sexual assault in New York — the state has set no time limit.
Legal experts say that aside from the statute of limitations, it could be difficult to bring charges against suspected molesters in the files because victims need to be found, and they need to be persuaded to give evidence.
"Trying to prosecute a case that old, you need to have a willing victim," said Josh Marquis, district attorney for Clatsop County in Oregon.
Victims of abuse years ago may be unwilling to come forward because it would create upheaval in their lives, Marquis said.
With the files now available, law enforcement and the public can do their own checking, something David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said should have been available to those groups all along.
"The Scouts have got to expose, list and severely punish every former employee or volunteer who ignored or concealed child sex crimes," Clohessy said. "Nothing will have a quicker and more long-lasting impact of changing the culture of recklessness and secrecy."