The organization, which just recently celebrated its 110th anniversary on February 8, listed its liabilities as between $100 million and $500 million, but its assets at $50,000 or less, per court documents filed in the Delaware bankruptcy court.
Due to the filing, all civil litigation against the organization has ground to a halt. Thousands of people had filed accusations that they faced abuse while they were scouts and myriad others had also been expected to come forward.
Los Angeles-based attorney Paul Mones, who represents hundreds of sexual abuse victims in individual lawsuits, described the bankruptcy filing as a “tragedy,” according to CNN. He said:
“These young boys took an oath. They pledged to be obedient, pledged to support the Scouts and pledged to be honorable. Many of them are extremely angry that that’s not what happened to them and the Boy Scouts of America did not step up in the way they should have.”
The Boy Scouts of America—a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote patriotism, courage, self-reliance, and kindred virtues, according to its 1916 congressional charter—is swamped in hundreds of sexual abuse lawsuits at present, including several that allege repeated fondling, exposure to pornography, and forced anal or oral sex.
In an open letter, BSA National Chairman Jim Turley said that the organization doesn’t plan to dodge responsibility for compensating victims, but instead hopes to do so equitably through a victim’s compensation trust rather than through a piecemeal lawsuit-by-lawsuit process, reports the New York Times.
In the letter, Turley wrote:
“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.”
According to court testimony that went public last April, the organization’s own internal documents show that it suspected that over 7,800 child molesters existed within the ranks of its former leaders and were involved in the probable sexual abuse of over 12,000 children dating back to the 1940s.
According to Mones, the new bankruptcy filing could mean that alleged victims will need to file claims in a bankruptcy court rather than having their full day in court.
Michael Pfau, a Seattle-based attorney whose firm represents 300 alleged victims, explained:
“They won’t have to give depositions involving their life history. Their lives won’t be scrutinized, but they lose their right to a jury trial. For a lot of abuse survivors, telling their story in a court of law and forcing the organizations to defend their actions can be cathartic. That won’t happen with a bankruptcy.”
The filing also complicates matters gravely for hundreds of adult males who are demanding justice but live in states where statutes of limitations have winnowed down their legal options.
Pfau believes that the number of claimants could dwarf those of the Catholic church, which has also historically struggled with rampant sexual abuse allegations against clergy. Pfau said:
“The Catholic bankruptcies are limited in geographic scope. Here there will be claimants from all 50 states and the American territories … We can talk about files and numbers, but in reality if you step back and realize the scope of the human carnage, it’s stunning.”
Just last year, the advocacy group Abused in Scouting advertised its cause throughout the country, leading to around 2,000 people stepping forward with complaints, including at least one in every state. Clients ranged in age between 8 and 93.
However, attorneys fear that the bankruptcy filing could rob many victims of their ability to hold BSA accountable in court. Mones said:
“The justice that they so well deserved will unfortunately escape them in the end, and that is a true tragedy.”
Yet Pfau believes that while the field of battle may have drastically changed the fight must go on. Pfau said:
“We need to make sure we receive some accountability and if (bankruptcy court) is how we have to do it, then so be it.”