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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.”