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Boy Scouts Bankruptcy Filing Puts Justice for Sex Abuse Victims in Jeopardy

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Facing over $150 million in outstanding settlements with alleged sex abuse victims, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) organization filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in a Delaware court today. The filing is reportedly an attempt to restructure the numerous sex abuse settlements through a mass tort compensation system, potentially similar to the 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting compensation fund. Approximately 275 lawsuits pertaining to alleged sexual abuse crimes are currently ongoing throughout various state and federal courts, with an additional 1,400 potential cases pending, according to the BSA organization’s restructuring advisor, Brian Whitman.

According to the New York Times, the Delaware bankruptcy court handling the case is likely to freeze the lawsuits against the Boy Scouts, and set a deadline for filing any further claims. As a result, hundreds of sexual abuse survivors are now faced with uncertainty as to whether or not they will ever receive their day in court, let alone obtain justice.

The group’s national chairman, Jim Turley, issued an open letter to victims of sexual abuse asserting that the Boy Scouts “were not trying to dodge responsibility for compensating them” by filing for Chapter 11 protection. Rather, Turley stated that the motivation behind the filing was to compensate victims “as equitably as possible through a victim’s compensation trust, rather than piecemeal in lawsuit after lawsuit.”

Last April, exposed court testimony revealed that the organization maintained internal files on suspected pedophiles. Janet Warren, an expert on child sex abuse and professor from the University of Virginia, was hired by BSA to review records from their “volunteer screening database.” Through her investigation, Warren uncovered alarming figures detailing the scope of the abuse, including that the organization believed more than 7,800 of its former leaders were “perpetrators” involved in sexually abusing more than 12,000 children over the course of 72 years.

Moreover, evidence of the organization’s failure to act for decades, despite their awareness of such pervasive sexual abuse, can be found as early as 1935, when a New York Times article reported that the organization described having files on hundreds of people who had been scout leaders but had been labeled “degenerates.”

Despite the organization’s contention that filing for Chapter 11 is not an attempt to evade responsibility for sexual abuse crimes, the end result — regardless of whether or not it entails the organization’s survival — will likely come at the expense of the victims. Samuel Dordulian, a California civil sexual assault attorney, prosecuted dozens of sex crime cases as a former Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles County. Speaking to PINews, Dordulian urged all survivors to come forward immediately, given the uncertainty over deadlines for filing a claim that may be imposed by the bankruptcy court.

“It’s a truly unfortunate situation,” he said. “It’s tragic, but undoubtedly there will be survivors who will not get the justice they deserve. The extent of that injustice will eventually play out in the courts, but what’s critical is that survivors don’t wait [to file a civil lawsuit].”

Via court filings, the Boy Scouts estimated their liabilities to be between $100 million and $500 million, with estimated assets of between $1 billion and $10 billion. How any assets are distributed to survivors in the form of settlements is purely speculative at this point, but the bankruptcy filing included a motion seeking to appoint a judicial mediator to handle disputes over claim resolution. Additionally, language in the filing specifically cited the organization’s intention to form “an ad hoc committee of scouting councils and establishment of a deadline, or bar date, for filing of ‘proofs’ of claims by victims as well as creditors.” The initial hearing for the case, assigned to U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Laurie Selber Silverstein, is set for Feb. 19.

“The time to come forward is now, because not taking action may potentially foreclose the opportunity of getting any justice at all,” said Dordulian. “Once the bankruptcy court takes over, the deadlines they set will mean that by waiting, survivors are left without any options.”

To call the future of the Boy Scouts of America organization uncertain would be a gross understatement. Nevertheless, it’s fair to say that, presuming the organization survives bankruptcy proceedings, a systemic transformation will be required if its continued existence is to be a reality. That said, the Boy Scouts of America have historically been slow to embrace change.

The organization just celebrated its 110th anniversary on February 8. One week earlier, the organization officially renamed their flagship program, Boy Scouts, to Scouts BSA, signaling their first change in policy to allow girls to join in separate, gender-specific troops.

Lisa Bloom, a Los Angeles attorney and author, is well known for many high profile cases, including representing Janice Dickinson in her sexual assault trial against Bill Cosby. Another well-known case of Bloom’s came over two decades ago against the Boy Scouts of America for sex discrimination on behalf of Katrina Yeaw, a teenager who was denied admission to the organization as a girl.

In response to the organization’s Chapter 11 filing, Bloom provided the following statement to PINews:

“The Boy Scouts has had decades of warnings that it needed to modernize or die. Ignoring those warnings and lawsuits, it clung to racial and gender segregation, anti-LGBTQ policies, and it turned a blind eye to molestation of children. Its bankruptcy now should be a wake-up call to other organizations to embrace diversity and protect children’s safety.”