A reckoning for the Boy Scouts
The organization faces a mounting number of sexual abuse claims
For 62 years, Bob Grier never spoke of the sexual abuse he experienced as a teenager in a South Miami, Fla., Boy Scout troop during a three-year span in the late 1950s. But when he saw a YouTube advertisement from a law firm asking abuse victims to come forward, he decided it was time. The 76-year-old attorney said his abuse is still difficult to discuss. But he has found a sense of purpose fighting for other alleged victims. Grier calls them “brothers.”
Monday was the deadline for people to submit claims in the bankruptcy case Boy Scouts of America (BSA) filed in February amid hundreds of lawsuits alleging decades-old sex abuse by Scout leaders. The organization received a staggering 98,000 sex abuse claims, far exceeding what lawyers across the country estimated.
“I was surprised, but in hindsight, I should not have been,” said Christopher Hurley, a Chicago attorney who has handled Boy Scouts abuse cases for 15 years and represents 4,000 alleged victims, mostly men between the ages of 40 and 70.
Grier has served since March on a nine-member committee appointed by the U.S. Trustee’s office to represent tort claimants in the BSA bankruptcy case. Each of the committee members says a scout leader sexually abused him.
The number of claims presents an enormous task. A third party must vet each one and set up a victims’ compensation fund. BSA has more than $1 billion in assets, but negotiations will determine the size of the fund. The organization has already spent $41 million in bankruptcy costs. Its financial investments and real estate are at stake, and its insurers—including companies that insured it in the past—and 260 local councils are expected to contribute. It has until the end of next summer to reach a settlement.
“From the standpoint of men I represent, it’s not going to be okay if [the Boy Scouts organization] comes out of this with all of their assets intact,” Hurley said. Of the thousands of alleged victims he has spoken to, “not one of them has ever made compensation his priority … but they want to see justice served.”
Critics have accused the Boy Scouts of failing to screen and report sexual predators who went on to abuse children. Under the supervision of a bankruptcy judge, the organization began a nationwide advertising campaign on Aug. 31 to alert victims that they had until Nov. 16 to seek recompense.
“We intentionally developed an open, accessible process to reach survivors and help them take an essential step toward receiving compensation,” the organization said. “The response we have seen from survivors has been gut-wrenching. … We are deeply sorry.”
More than 130 million youth and 35 million adult volunteers have participated in Boy Scouts programs since it began 110 years ago. It was once a beacon of patriotism and civic duty that shaped generations of American boys.
In the past decade, the Boy Scouts’ membership steadily declined, dropping below 2 million from a peak of 6 million in the 1970s. Many families and key partners, such as the Latter-day Saints’ organization, left the group after it began allowing openly homosexual youth members and adult volunteers, transgender individuals, and girls to participate in its programs. In 2019, the organization mortgaged Philmont Scout Ranch, its premier 220-square-mile property in New Mexico, to help pay off mounting debts.
Jessica Boelter, an attorney for the Boy Scouts, told The Wall Street Journal the bankruptcy case and recent COVID-19 pressures created “the perfect storm,” and survival of the organization is on the line.
Meanwhile, Grier, who as a teen achieved Eagle, scouting’s highest rank, is still looking for closure.
“With sexual abuse, you can go a long time holding yourself up with two-by-fours and toothpicks, any way you possibly can, to get through the next day,” he said. “You can keep kicking the can down the road for 62 years.”
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