Facing a Wave of Sex-Abuse Claims, Boy Scouts of America Files for Bankruptcy

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Leroy N. Soetoro

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Feb 18, 2020, 2:47:12 PM2/18/20
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https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/18/us/boy-scouts-bankruptcy-sex-abuse.html

The nonprofit group, which counts more than two million youth
participants, follows Catholic dioceses and U.S.A. Gymnastics in seeking
bankruptcy protection amid sex-abuse cases.

The Boy Scouts of America, an iconic presence in the nation’s experience
for more than a century, filed for bankruptcy protection early Tuesday,
succumbing to financial pressures that included a surge in legal costs
over its handling of sexual abuse allegations.

Founded in 1910, the Boy Scouts have long maintained internal files at
their headquarters in Texas detailing decades of allegations involving
nearly 8,000 “perpetrators,” according to an expert hired by the
organization. Lawyers have said in recent months that former scouts have
come forward to identify hundreds of other abusers not included in those
files.

The bankruptcy filing, in Delaware, is expected to disrupt continuing
litigation and establish a deadline for when former scouts can pursue
claims.

“If you’ve ever considered coming forward, now is the time,” said Tim
Kosnoff, a lawyer who has long worked on Boy Scouts cases and is part of a
team of attorneys who created an Abused in Scouting victims’ group.

Jim Turley, the national chair of Boy Scouts of America, said in an open
letter that the organization was entering bankruptcy in order to equitably
compensate all victims of abuse through a trust.

“I want you to know that we believe you, we believe in compensating you,
and we have programs in place to pay for counseling for you and your
family,” Mr. Turley said.

It is unclear how much of an overhaul the bankruptcy process will bring to
the Boy Scouts, which reports having 2.4 million youth participants, but
Mr. Kosnoff said the filing seemed necessary given the totality of the
claims that have emerged. At a minimum, Mr. Kosnoff said he would like to
see the organization clean out its management and end lucrative salaries
for leaders, some of whom earn more than half a million dollars annually.

Even then, Mr. Kosnoff said that he finds it “difficult to impossible” for
him to envision a new structure that would give him confidence that the
nonprofit has sufficiently changed. He said the organization, which has
operated under a congressional charter since 1916, may need to liquidate
and allow some new organization with better controls come in to fill the
void.

The Boy Scouts have already sought ways to navigate the organization’s
dwindling influence among American children — the 2.4 million youth
participants the group claims now are about half the number that were
involved in the 1970s. In recent years, the group has changed membership
requirements to allow openly gay scouts in 2013, then openly gay leaders
in 2015, and then expanding to allow girls to participate starting in
2017. But legal pressures have only grown.

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Other organizations, including Catholic dioceses and U.S.A. Gymnastics,
have also sought bankruptcy protection in recent years as they have faced
sexual-abuse lawsuits.

The Boy Scouts’ troubles have lingered for decades. In a 1935 article in
The New York Times, the organization described having files on hundreds of
people who had been leaders in the scouts but had been labeled
“degenerates.”

While their records date back a century, the Boy Scouts fought the release
of some of the files in an Oregon case in the early 2000s — a case that
led a jury to hold the Scouts liable in 2010 for $18.5 million in punitive
damages. The records in that case stayed private until a ruling from the
Oregon Supreme Court in 2012 made them public.

Paul Mones, a lawyer in that case, said he recalled musing with his co-
counsel at the time that the files may just be the tip of the iceberg that
could ultimately send the Boy Scouts toward bankruptcy. But instead of
trying to establish a compensation fund for victims over the years, he
said, the organization continued trying to protect its reputation.

Mr. Mones said that the bankruptcy filing will deny other victims an
opportunity to hold the scouts accountable in court.

“The justice that they so well deserved will unfortunately escape them in
the end and that is a true tragedy,” Mr. Mones said.

Victims and their lawyers have argued that the files hid the problem and
left scouts at risk. The Boy Scouts of America has said that it put in
safeguards over the years to require background checks for volunteers,
mandatory training and a policy that prohibits one-on-one situations
between children and adults.

Last year, the Abused in Scouting group began advertising around the
country and has since found nearly 2,000 people with complaints, including
one in every state. The clients range in age from 8 to 93. When the
attorneys brought forward more potential suspects of abuse, the
organization said it began an investigation and made 120 new reports to
law enforcement agencies.

Robbie Pierce, 39, of Los Angeles, was involved in scouting throughout his
childhood, with a mother who ran a Cub Scout day camp in California. In
August of 1994, when he was 13, Mr. Pierce said he was on a weeklong
outing at Camp Wolfeboro in the Sierra Nevada Mountains when he and
several other children, including Mr. Pierce’s brother, showed signs of
illness and went to the medic lodge.

There, a man who was not a medic but a leader of the camp examined each of
the boys in private, Mr. Pierce said. He said the man had him take his
clothes off and then fondled his genitals, saying he was looking for a
hernia.

Mr. Pierce said the boys did not discuss what happened until Mr. Pierce
said his brother brought it up years later and laid out what happened to
him that night.

Mr. Pierce said he did not know until much later that there was a systemic
problem in the Boy Scouts. He said that while the organization helped
shape him and gave him many positive experiences, he now believes it must
be abolished or radically changed.

“It provides pedophiles with access to boys,” Mr. Pierce said. “That has
to stop. I don’t know if that means getting rid of the Boy Scouts or some
new oversight.”

While statutes of limitations may be a problem for many complainants, a
new state law in New York opened a one-year window last summer for sexual
abuse victims of any age to take legal action. New Jersey opened a two-
year window in December. Last month, eight men filed a lawsuit against the
Boy Scouts in Washington, D.C., contending that a lawsuit window and the
organization’s ties to the city could provide a venue for claims around
the country.

The Boy Scouts’ charter from Congress, signed by President Woodrow Wilson
in 1916, lauded the organization’s role in teaching boys patriotism,
courage and self-reliance. More than 110 million Americans have
participated in Boy Scouts programs over the years.

Under bankruptcy proceedings, organizations are able to halt lawsuits and
then get a deadline under which people must file claims. Mr. Kosnoff said
those are often between 90 days and nine months, but he plans to advocate
a yearlong window in this case.

He also would like to see the case lead to a robust process to seek out
potential victims who might have a claim.


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