With enormous legal costs looming ahead due to sexual abuse allegations, the Boy Scouts of America has filed for bankruptcy protection.
The BSA filed for protection from creditors under Chapter 11 bankruptcy laws reports the Washington Post.
The move comes as the organization scrambles to handle thousands of claims from potential victims who say they were abused as Scouts.
Membership in the 110-year-old organization has dropped dramatically since the 1970s when the BSA had nearly five million members. Today, the organization reports only half that.
In response, the Boy Scouts have attempted to change with the times by adjusting membership requirements. In 2013, openly gay scouts were allowed to take part, followed by openly gay leaders in 2015. And in 2017, rules were changed to allow girls to participate.
But over the last decade, media investigations and lawsuits have uncovered internal Boy Scout documents that reportedly show years and years of alleged abusers were accused of preying on Scouts.
Legal teams across the U.S. have begun signing up clients in anticipation of lawsuits.
One lawyer, Michael Pfau, says he now represents nearly 300 alleged victims. He says the bankruptcy filing “is an acknowledgment finally on the part of the Boy Scouts that they had this enormous problem and the problem is so large they can’t deal with it themselves.”
According to the New York Times, the legal maneuver is “likely to freeze the lawsuits against the group and set a deadline for filing any more claims.”
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“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 president and CEO of the Boy Scouts of America, said in a statement released shortly after midnight Tuesday. “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.”
BSA’s national chairman, Jim Turley, said the organization isn’t trying to avoid responsibility for compensating victims but plans to do so through a victim’s compensation trust as opposed to piecemeal lawsuits.
“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 by a provider of your choice,” read Turley’s statement in part.
Some of the files that came to light were released in an Oregon case where a jury ultimately held the Scouts liable for $18.5 million in punitive damages in 2010.
A group called Abused in Scouting has been reaching out to individuals who were abused as scouts urging them to come forward. They report finding nearly 2,000 people with complaints.
But time could be of the essence as time limits in bankruptcy cases often have windows of between three to nine months to come forward.
Additionally, statutes of limitations have been a problem for some folks who were sexually abused many years ago.
But several states have moved to set aside those limitations temporarily for sexual abuse victims.
New York state passed a one-year window for such filings last summer, and New Jersey put in place a two-year window in December.
Tim Kosnoff, a lawyer for Abused in Scouting, told the Times, “If you’ve ever considered coming forward, now is the time.”
It’s worth noting today’s bankruptcy filing is a response to alleged sexual abuse that happened long before openly LGBTQ people were allowed to participate. In nearly all of the cases, the alleged abuse occurred decades ago in Boy Scout chapters that were operated by Christian churches.
That said, this writer fully expects the virulently anti-LGBTQ activists to seize on these developments and somehow try to blame the advent of openly gay scouts and leaders.
Legal experts say they see parallels between the Boy Scouts and other organizations that have looked to bankruptcy filings to cope with numerous lawsuits involving sex abuse scandals.
USA Gymnastics filed for bankruptcy in 2018 after 350 sexual assault victims came forward accusing team physician Larry Nassar of inappropriate behavior. And several Catholic dioceses did the same after clergy were accused of covering up sexual abuse of children spanning decades.