Facing a Wave of Sex-Abuse Claims, Boy Scouts of America Files for Bankruptcy

The Boy Scouts of America, an iconic presence in the nation’s experience for more than a century, filed for bankruptcy protection early Tuesday, succumbing to financial pressures that included a surge in legal costs over its handling of sexual abuse allegations.

Founded in 1910, the Boy Scouts have long maintained internal files at their headquarters in Texas detailing decades of allegations involving nearly 8,000 “perpetrators,” according to an expert hired by the organization. Lawyers have said in recent months that former scouts have come forward to identify hundreds of other abusers not included in those files.

The bankruptcy filing, in Delaware, is expected to disrupt continuing litigation and establish a deadline for when former scouts can pursue claims.

“If you’ve ever considered coming forward, now is the time,” said Tim Kosnoff, a lawyer who has long worked on Boy Scouts cases and is part of a team of attorneys who created an Abused in Scouting victims’ group.

Jim Turley, the national chair of Boy Scouts of America, said in an open letter that the organization was entering bankruptcy in order to equitably compensate all victims of abuse through a trust.

“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,” Mr. Turley said.

It is unclear how much of an overhaul the bankruptcy process will bring to the Boy Scouts, which reports having 2.4 million youth participants, but Mr. Kosnoff said the filing seemed necessary given the totality of the claims that have emerged. At a minimum, Mr. Kosnoff said he would like to see the organization clean out its management and end lucrative salaries for leaders, some of whom earn more than half a million dollars annually.

Even then, Mr. Kosnoff said that he finds it “difficult to impossible” for him to envision a new structure that would give him confidence that the nonprofit has sufficiently changed. He said the organization, which has operated under a congressional charter since 1916, may need to liquidate and allow some new organization with better controls come in to fill the void.

The Boy Scouts have already sought ways to navigate the organization’s dwindling influence among American children — the 2.4 million youth participants the group claims now are about half the number that were involved in the 1970s. In recent years, the group has changed membership requirements to allow openly gay scouts in 2013, then openly gay leaders in 2015, and then expanding to allow girls to participate starting in 2017. But legal pressures have only grown.

Victims and their lawyers have argued that the files hid the problem and left scouts at risk. The Boy Scouts of America has said that it put in safeguards over the years to require background checks for volunteers, mandatory training and a policy that prohibits one-on-one situations between children and adults.

Last year, the Abused in Scouting group began advertising around the country and has since found nearly 2,000 people with complaints, including one in every state. The clients range in age from 8 to 93. When the attorneys brought forward more potential suspects of abuse, the organization said it began an investigation and made 120 new reports to law enforcement agencies.

Robbie Pierce, 39, of Los Angeles, was involved in scouting throughout his childhood, with a mother who ran a Cub Scout day camp in California. In August of 1994, when he was 13, Mr. Pierce said he was on a weeklong outing at Camp Wolfeboro in the Sierra Nevada Mountains when he and several other children, including Mr. Pierce’s brother, showed signs of illness and went to the medic lodge.

There, a man who was not a medic but a leader of the camp examined each of the boys in private, Mr. Pierce said. He said the man had him take his clothes off and then fondled his genitals, saying he was looking for a hernia.

Mr. Pierce said the boys did not discuss what happened until Mr. Pierce said his brother brought it up years later and laid out what happened to him that night.

Mr. Pierce said he did not know until much later that there was a systemic problem in the Boy Scouts. He said that while the organization helped shape him and gave him many positive experiences, he now believes it must be abolished or radically changed.

“It provides pedophiles with access to boys,” Mr. Pierce said. “That has to stop. I don’t know if that means getting rid of the Boy Scouts or some new oversight.”

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