By the time the 5 p.m. deadline arrived on Monday, at least 92,700 former scouts had filed claims of sexual abuse against Boy Scouts of America, one of the largest youth organizations in the U.S.
The century-old group — once considered as American as the Norman Rockwell paintings that immortalize its three-fingered salutes — filed for bankruptcy in February amid declining membership and an avalanche of sexual abuse allegations.
The scouts began taking steps to address the problem of abuse in the 1980s, which suggests the problem had been widespread for decades, according to Jason Amala, whose Seattle law firm represents survivors of child sexual abuse. If the bankruptcy had happened 10 or 20 years ago, it may have topped 150,000 abuse claims, Amala told the Times Union.
The Boy Scouts crisis parallels the one facing the Catholic Church in the U.S., Associated Press reported. Both face thousands of lawsuits alleging negligence and cover-ups, mostly decades ago, whether by priests or scout leaders.
The total number of claims against the U.S. Catholic Church is unknown, but more than 6,700 priests and other members of the clergy were accused of abuse between 1950 and 2016, according to data from the nonprofit BishopAccountability.org. Just half of the names of accused priests have been made public, according to ConsumerSafety.org.
“On some level, the Catholic church problem might pale in comparison, and that says a lot,” Amala said. “We focus a lot on the Catholic church problem and deservedly so, but these (Boy Scouts) numbers — they are staggering.”
Sex abuse in Boy Scouts of America was an “unspoken norm,” according to Van Arsdale, a lead attorney who has communicated with thousands of alleged survivors over the past 19 months. “Based on what we are hearing from survivors, sexual abuse was a rite of passage in troops across the country, similar to other tasks where children had to … perform certain duties to earn their coveted merit badges,” Arsdale said in a statement to CNN.
Boy Scouts of America has more than $1 billion in assets, according to its most recent tax filings, New York Times reported. That includes financial investments like stocks and bonds ($680 million), cash in the bank ($55 million), and property ($102 million).
“But much more is held by the more than 250 local councils, which own hundreds of camps, reservations and other properties across the country,” NYT reported. For example, the Sam Houston Area Council, which is developing the new Texas facility, Camp Strake, has $150 million in assets, half of it in publicly traded investments.
The Boy Scouts argue that the local councils are legally and financially independent, and not part of the bankruptcy filing. The national organization proposed a 90-page reorganization plan that it said would allow the local councils to be shielded from the abuse lawsuits.
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The future of the Scouting movement may rest on the distinction of ownership, Mike Baker wrote for the Times.
“They are not independent organizations,” said Gilion Dumas, a lawyer who represented about 200 clients involving the Boy Scouts. “They are part of the Boy Scouts of America.”
Local councils were often aware of abuse problems in their regions and they cannot be kept completely out of the case, Dumas said. To be shielded from the lawsuits, she said local councils will have to contribute substantially to the victims’ compensation trust that the Boy Scouts have proposed to settle current and future claims.
Black or African American Boy Scouts of America members represented 12.8 percent of total members in 2014 versus 12.7 percent in 2009, according to Scouting.org. In 2020, Boy Scouts of America reported 2.2 million youth members age 5 to 21 and about 800,000 volunteers in local councils throughout the U.S.
The organization claims that it helps young people to be “prepared for life.”
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