With a Deluge of Sex-Abuse Claims, Bankruptcy May Not Save the Boy Scouts

The Boy Scouts fought the release of some of the files in an Oregon case in the early 2000s — a case that led a jury to hold the Scouts liable for $18.5 million in punitive damages in 2010. The records in that case stayed private until a ruling from the Oregon Supreme Court in 2012 made them public.

Paul Mones, a lawyer for the plaintiffs in that case, said he recalled musing with a colleague that those files might be the tip of an iceberg that could ultimately drive the Boy Scouts toward bankruptcy. But instead of trying to establish a compensation fund for victims over the years, he said, the organization continued trying to protect its reputation.

Mr. Mones expressed concern that the bankruptcy filing on Tuesday would rob other victims of the opportunity to hold the scouts accountable in court. “The justice that they so well deserved will unfortunately escape them in the end, and that is a true tragedy,” he said.

Last year, the Abused in Scouting group began advertising around the country for people who were abused as scouts to come forward, and found nearly 2,000 people with complaints, including one in every state. The clients range in age from 8 to 93. Mr. Kosnoff said hundreds of the claimants are people who do not appear in the Boy Scouts’ internal files.

With the group now seeking bankruptcy protection, he said, “If you’ve ever considered coming forward, now is the time.”

Over the years, the Boy Scouts held a singular position in the shaping of American boyhood, with a scout law that demands loyalty, obedience and reverence. Former scouts who rose to prominence include presidents John F. Kennedy and Gerald Ford, the astronaut Neil Armstrong, the Civil Rights icon Ernest Green, and the film director Steven Spielberg.

But the group, which had around five million members in the 1970s, has only half that number now. In response, the Boy Scouts have tried to shift closer to evolving societal norms. Membership requirements were changed to allow openly gay scouts in 2013, and then openly gay leaders in 2015. The Boy Scouts expanded to allow girls to participate starting in 2017. But the legal pressures from past sexual abuse continued to mount.

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