When an icon is brought down, the suffering is spread among many. This is the case with the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) and the massive number of people who have now filed claims of sexual abuse at the hands of their scout leaders.
The numbers are staggering, constituting a record in terms of reported cases, at more than 10 times the number reported to the Catholic Church. As of Sunday, the number of claims had already reached 82,000, as reported by the New York Times—one day ahead of a Monday, November 16th deadline established in bankruptcy court in Delaware, where the Boy Scouts hope to weather the demands for damages.
After 5 pm on Monday, when the filing deadline had closed, CNN reports that the final total number of claims had increased to an even higher 92,700, according to attorney Andrew Van Arsdale.
“I knew there were a lot of cases. I never contemplated it would be a number close to this,” said Paul Mones, a lawyer who has been working on Boy Scouts cases for nearly two decades.
This is a story NPQ has followed from its beginnings. When the issue of nonprofits filing for bankruptcy protection as a shield from sex-abuse charges surfaced in 2018, NPQ compared the Boy Scouts’ response to that of USA Gymnastics. Both organizations expressed similar concern and compassion for the victims as they worked to protect their fiscal assets. In July 2020, NPQ again raised the question of whether the Boy Scouts’ bankruptcy filing was a means of hiding assets as the numbers of accusers continued to grow. Given the hundreds of affiliates with claims of independent status from Boy Scouts of America, this may yet remain unanswered.
The Boy Scouts national organization claims more than $1 billion in assets in their bankruptcy filing. But even more assets could be found in their network of local Boy Scout councils, which own camps and properties across the nation. The Boy Scouts will now seek to reorganize and set up a victims’ compensation fund under their Chapter 11 filing.
All of the 92,000-plus people who have made claims will eventually have to undergo a vetting process. The organization, in a statement, said it was “devastated by the number of lives impacted by past abuse in Scouting.” Its website adds that, “The Boy Scouts of America believes our organization has a social and moral responsibility to equitably compensate all victims who were abused during their time in Scouting.”
Just who were those survivors? Those accusing the Boy Scouts of abuse range in age from 8 to 93; almost all are male, with a few women filing complaints. They come from all 50 states and from some overseas military bases. It makes one wonder how many have not yet come forward.
When one puts the issue of exposing child abuse within trusted organizations in context, the Boy Scouts case seems to only scratch the surface. The abuse of athletes in USA Gymnastics should sound the alarm for all youth sports programs. But the extraordinary numbers of claimants in the BSA case should also raise questions for the Catholic Church.
According to Terry McKiernan, the president of BishopAccountability.org, a watchdog group that tracks abuse in the Catholic Church, more than 9,000 victims have come forward over the years. He believes this number is quite small. Based on the numbers of those claiming abuse in the Boy Scouts, McKiernan may be correct.
The question is, can anything be done to ease the path of stepping forward? As one victim of abuse at the hands of a Boy Scout leader pointed out, he had hopes “a window into the magnitude of the problem and the accountability coming in the bankruptcy process could help force lasting change in the Boy Scouts.” We might extend this to the promotion of change in other organizations where awareness and accountability measures on sexual abuse remain weak. The number of survivors with legal standing and the dollar price of the abuse that occurred within the Boy Scouts will now begin to be negotiated, but the fathomless cost of the actual damage will never be fully recompensed.—Carole Levine