The Boy Scouts of America has filed for bankruptcy protection in the wake of thousands of child sex abuse lawsuits nationwide, though a lawyer representing some of the alleged victims believes that “probably 100,000 [young boys] were abused.”
“Since the news broke [of the bankruptcy filing] we’ve been getting calls and emails,” says Peter Janci, a victims’ rights attorney whose firm, Crew Janci LLP, is representing hundreds of victims. “So I expect that number will continue to grow.”
By filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the Boy Scouts of America is taking a page from the playbook of Catholic Church dioceses, many of which have filed for bankruptcy protection in the face of mounting sexual abuse allegations. Yet the Boy Scouts of America’s bankruptcy filing is virtually unprecedented in terms of the “size and scope” of the number of allegations against the organization, as well as the fact that this is the largest bankruptcy of a youth-serving organization in American history.
In a statement sent to Rolling Stone, a spokesperson for the Boy Scouts of America said the goals of the filing were “to equitably compensate victims while ensuring Scouting continues across the country.” Janci says that the goal of the filing was in part to bring all of the state court sexual abuse claims across the United States under the umbrella of one large claim. “It’s costly for them to defend these cases as individual pieces of litigation,” he says.
In the filing, the Boy Scouts of America also requested that the court give victims an 80-day window to come forward with abuse allegations from the date notices are sent to potential victims. Janci believes this stipulation is intended as a protective measure against the possibility of states following in the footsteps of states like New York and California, which have recently expanded the statute of limitations for victims to come forward with sexual abuse claims. “They’re worried about how many more of these claims are out there and coming down the pike in the future,” he says.
Yet this presents a pressing issue for victims who have yet to come forward, who may not have fully grappled with the consequences and emotional fallout of their abuse and may be “still trying to understand what happened to them as youth,” Michael Mertz, attorney at Hurley McKenna & Mertz, which is also representing victims of the Boy Scouts of America, said in a statement to Rolling Stone. “The process of moving from recognition of the abuse to a place of taking action can be slow and painful, and often only occurs after long periods of counseling.”
Founded in 1910, the Boy Scouts of America has long been considered a wholesome bastion of American boyhood, and currently has 2.2 million members between the ages of five and 21. Over the past few years, it has been reported that the organization took painstaking efforts to cover up abuse within its ranks, keeping internal files on accused predators as early as the 1920s without alerting police, parents, or the scouts themselves. In many cases, Janci says, accused scoutmasters were allowed to continue to stay on within the organization after a member had accused them of abuse.
“Part of the reason it was so prevalent is it was very easy to become a scoutmaster and you were allowed to take boys out into the woods for multiple nights, which we now know is a situation that is rife with danger,” he says. It wasn’t until the mid-1980s that the organization amended its policies to ensure that scoutmasters would have less one-on-one time with members. (In a statement on a website it has set up to address questions about the restructuring, the Boy Scouts of America states that “90% of pending and asserted abuse claims against the BSA relate to abuse that occurred more than 30 years ago.”)
Janci’s firm alleges that the organization has continued to maintain internal files about “ineligible volunteers,” which are intended to keep accused predators from volunteering within the organization. While reporting from the Los Angeles Times has published the records of many of these accused predators, thousands of names have yet to be disclosed to the general public, with the Boy Scouts of America citing an emphasis on confidentiality to protect victims. “They are still keeping that information secret. They haven’t been transparent and now they are trying to use the bankruptcy protection to control the whole process,” he says.
By filing for bankruptcy protection, Janci says, the organization is hoping to be able to continue to operate its more than 260 local chapters and protect its assets. (The organization in general is estimated to be worth more than $1 billion, while the combined worth of the local chapters, for which the Boy Scouts of America has also requested protection to prevent them from facing lawsuits going forward, is estimated at between $3 and $5 billion.) “The hope is for a fresh start and to continue the organization without these abuse claims hanging over their heads.”
The problem, says Janci, is that the institutional issues that have facilitated sexual abuse claims continue to linger within the organization. Janci’s firm, for instance, is representing victims who are still minors, including one whose abuse by a scoutmaster allegedly occurred between 2014 and 2015. And by requesting a short window of time for victims to file claims, Janci believes the BSA is attempting to maintain control over survivors’ ability to come forward, which he says is especially egregious given that “at the core of what they suffered was having control taken away from them,” he says. “The voices of victims have not even be fully heard yet. There needs to be an opportunity to hear from them.”