Boy Scouts of America filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Tuesday in the face of a crippling wave of lawsuits alleging that its employees and volunteers sexually abused the children in their care.
The Delaware filing will help shield the Boy Scouts’ coffers while the organization faces the prospect of compensating hundreds, if not thousands, of alleged sex abuse victims. The national Boy Scouts council has roughly $1.4 billion in assets. Its affiliated nonprofits, like its local councils, have another $3.3 billion in assets, a Wall Street Journal analysis found in January.
“While this is financial bankruptcy, it really also shows the moral bankruptcy of the problems that the Boy Scouts created,” said Paul Mones, a sex abuse attorney who’s spent more than a decade litigating Boy Scout-related cases. “I can’t tell you the number of men who break down in tears when they’ve talked to me, over the years, how what’s happened to them as a 12-, 13-, 14-year-old boy has just devastated their lives.”
The filing was expected, as the Boy Scouts of America have repeatedly said that the organization is exploring all of its options as it grapples with the onslaught of sex abuse accusations. Many alleged victims have recently come forward thanks to new “lookback window” laws, in highly populated states like California and New York, that let victims sue their attackers no matter how long ago the abuse took place.
In a statement, the Boy Scouts of America said the group hopes to create a trust to compensate survivors.
“The BSA cares deeply about all victims of abuse and sincerely apologizes to anyone who was harmed during their time in Scouting.”
“The BSA cares deeply about all victims of abuse and sincerely apologizes to anyone who was harmed during their time in Scouting,” Roger Mosby, the Boy Scouts of America’s president and CEO, said in a statement. “While we know nothing can undo the tragic abuse that victims suffered, we believe the Chapter 11 process — with the proposed trust structure — will provide equitable compensation to all victims while maintaining the BSA’s important mission.”
The bankruptcy proceedings will halt all civil litigation against the national council. Instead, any alleged victims — including people who’ve already sued the group — must file a claim with the bankruptcy court.
The court is also expected to set a deadline by which people must file claims; if someone misses that deadline, they could be forever barred from making a sex abuse claim against the Boy Scouts.
The Boy Scouts have acknowledged that abuse took place under the watch of the organization, which was founded in 1910 and has a congressional charter. In 2019, an expert hired by the Scouts found its records — sometimes known as the “ineligible volunteer files” or the “perversion files” — show about 12,000 boys have been sexually abused through Scouting.
Volunteers named in the files were kicked out of the Scouts, but the group didn’t always report them to law enforcement. (Today, the Boy Scouts say they report all sex abuse allegations to the police.)
While a fraction of those files have been made public, many remain secret. Attorney Tim Kosnoff of Abused in Scouting, a coalition of firms that represent more than 1,800 alleged victims of Boy Scouts-related sex abuse, told VICE News that the vast majority of the coalition’s clients have named abusers who do not appear in the ineligible volunteer files.
Michael Pfau, a lawyer whose firm represents about 300 people who say they were abused through Scout programs, believes that the Boy Scouts may be filing bankruptcy because they want to limit the public release of records that could show what the Boy Scouts knew about sex abuse and what, if anything, they did about it.
“A worst case scenario for them is facing hundreds of lawsuits across the country in various courts where every single plaintiffs’ lawyer — folks like me — are trying to get as many of the ineligible volunteer files into evidence as possible and into the public domain,” Pfau said. “I think that’s kind of a risk for the Boy Scouts, because they may or may not be able to keep a lid on the release of those files.”
One of the biggest battles of the bankruptcy will also likely be whether the proceedings should include the assets that belong to the hundreds of local councils. While the locals were not included in the Tuesday filing, Abused in Scouting attorney Ken Rothweiler argues that they should be.
“They’re clearly part of the Boy Scouts’ overall operation,” Rottweiler told VICE News prior to the filing. “They just happen to be separate in terms of their location and so forth. But they all come under the rubric of the Boy Scouts of America.”
Twenty-three Catholic dioceses and religious orders have filed for bankruptcy in the wake of childhood sex abuse allegations, according to Bishop Accountability, which tracks the Catholic abuse crisis. But attorneys say that the Boy Scouts’ bankruptcy filing is unprecedented, thanks to the size and scope of the Boy Scouts, whose membership now totals in the millions.
“Particularly if the local councils are involved, you’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars that could potentially be paid out,” Pfau said. “Because [of] what we know — from the limited files we’ve seen — there are thousands of Boy Scout perpetrators and likely tens of thousands of potential victims. So the courts have not seen a bankruptcy of this size involving the abuse of children.”
Cover: Boy Scouts from the Long Beach troop prepare a US flag besides the graves of war veterans during the annual ‘Flag Placement ceremony’ to honor the fallen for Memorial Day at the Los Angeles National Cemetery, California on May 25, 2019. (Photo: MARK RALSTON/AFP via Getty Images)