An Unspoken Norm
Bankruptcy, sexual abuse, and the tainted legacy of the Boy Scouts of America

According to reports in 2020, approximately 92,700 people filed sexual abuse claims against the Boy Scouts of America by a November 16, 2020 deadline.

The Boy Scouts of America filed for bankruptcy in February 2020, under the increasing fiscal burden of sex abuse lawsuits. Under the Chapter 11 filing, the organization will reorganize and establish a reparation fund. A judge set the November 16 deadline to permit alleged victims a last chance to file claims.

The New York Times reported in 2020 that the Boy Scouts of America has over $1 billion in financial holdings. This 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.”

The BSA began addressing the problem of sexual abuse in the 1980s, according to lawyer Jason Amala, a partner in his Seattle based law firm which often represents child sexual abuse plaintiffs. Amala told the Albany Times Union in 2020 that “If the bankruptcy had happened 10 or 20 years ago, it may have topped 150,000 abuse claims.”

Hundreds of sex abuse lawsuits have been filed against the BSA over the last 20 years, and courts were presented evidence of the organization’s leadership “attempting to cover up these complaints or firing the alleged assailants but not reporting the criminal acts to the police,” according to Time magazine.

In 2010, an Oregon jury delivered a guilty verdict against the Boy Scouts of America in a sex abuse case. The court instructed that the organization pay $18.5 million to the victim and, publicize an internal document listing men accused of sexual abuse. This case is considered crucial in bringing to light the extent of sexual abuse in the Boy Scouts of America.

The Los Angeles Times made the list public in 2012. Throughout the 2010’s, there were so many cases brought against the Boy Scouts of America that the organization started to disintegrate under the liability of payments to be made to boys and men that numerous courts discovered had been victimized by the organization or settled out of court.

Many larger states in the U.S., like New York, California, and Texas recently passed overarching laws to broaden the statutes of limitations on child sexual abuse. This led to the BSA coping with a torrent of lawsuits alleging child sexual abuse and coverups by scoutmasters in America writ large.

Amala went on to say that “The BSA likely had the most serious child sexual abuse problem in the country. On some level, the Catholic church problem might pale in comparison, and that says a lot. We focus a lot on the Catholic church problem and deservedly so, but these numbers—they are staggering.”  

Sexual misconduct in the BSA was an “unspoken norm,” according to council Andrew Van Arsdale, a primary attorney who has addressed thousands of people that have accused the organization of sexual abuse. In a 2020 interview with CNN Van Arsdale stated, “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.”

illustration by Greer Siegel

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