As word came that the Boy Scouts of America had filed for bankruptcy protection, one alleged abuse survivor was moved to come forward with a story of being abused and threatened that he says he’d been living with for six decades.
The man told NBC News he was a 14-year-old Boy Scout in Louisiana working on an astronomy merit badge when a scoutmaster invited him to go by the lake to look at the stars.
“I was very naïve,” he said. “But when he grabbed my groin, I immediately reacted.”
So did the scoutmaster.
“He threatened me with a machete,” the 73-year-old said, asking not to be identified. “Even now, when I think about it, I get this gut-wrenching feeling. Because of his threats, I never told anybody.”
But now that the Boy Scouts are seeking Chapter 11 protection, the alleged abuse survivor said he’s ready to join the more than 3,000 men who are suing the nonprofit for allowing pedophiles inside the organization to prey on the boys.
“What happened to me was brief but traumatic,” he said. “It’s one reason why I carry a gun with me everywhere I go.”
That survivor, a prominent Louisiana resident who still supports the Boy Scouts, has plenty of company, the lawyers who have sued the organization said.
Dozens of other alleged victims have come forward to join the lawsuits while they still can, their representatives said Tuesday.
“It is crucial for all those who were victims of childhood sexual abuse to come forward now, so that their claims can be handled in bankruptcy court,” said Stewart Eisenberg, one of the Abusedinscouting.com lawyers who represent thousands of alleged victims. “We think that all victims of Boy Scout-related sex abuse should receive a meaningful measure of justice.”
Michael Mertz, a Chicago-based lawyer who has represented Boy Scouts victims, said that by declaring bankruptcy, the organization is trying to limit the damages.
“This is an effort by the national organization to avoid paying full and fair compensation to victims of abuse,” Mertz said. “Those who’ve been hurt by the Boy Scouts should consider acting now while they still can.”
Attorney Michael Barasch, who represents hundreds of sex abuse survivors, agreed.
“For far too many years, the Boy Scouts of America turned a blind eye to credible allegations of sexual abuse,” Barasch said. “Now, instead of recognizing its responsibility to fully compensate survivors, the organization has decided to hide behind the Bankruptcy Code. In my experience representing individuals with sexual abuse claims, it has become clear that the enforced silence — the refusal of adults who should have known better to acknowledge serious trauma and make amends — only exacerbates their suffering.“
In Oregon, attorney Stephen Crew told a local NBC affiliate that just because the Boy Scouts declared bankruptcy doesn’t mean the organization is broke.
“What it means is the number of claims against the Boy Scouts has gotten to the point where they're having difficulty managing them and they're having difficulty with their cash flow,” he said.
In their statement, the leadership of the Boy Scouts, national Chair Jim Turley, national Commissioner Ellie Morrison, and President and CEO Roger Mosby, conceded that the organization sought Chapter 11 protection because it was facing mounting legal costs from defending itself against lawsuits alleging sexual abuse of boys.
“The BSA intends to use the Chapter 11 process to create a Victims Compensation Trust that would provide equitable compensation to victims,” a Boy Scouts spokesman said earlier, after the bankruptcy move was announced.
The Boy Scouts said that only the national organization had filed for Chapter 11 and that local councils that provide programming and other services are financially independent.
The Boy Scouts leadership also insisted that scouting “is safer now than ever before” and 90 percent of the claims against the organization “occurred more than 30 years ago.”
“From mandatory youth protection training and background checks for all volunteers and staff, to policies that prohibit one-on-one interaction between youth and adults and require that any suspected abuse is reported to law enforcement, our volunteers and employees take youth protection extremely seriously and do their part to help keep kids safe,” they wrote in a statement to the “Scouting Family.”
Mitchell Garabedian, whose efforts to go after predatory Roman Catholic priests were dramatized in the Oscar-winning movie “Spotlight” and who also represents Boy Scouts victims, said the move to bankruptcy court could force the organization to open all its so-called “perversion files.”
Those files, which were collected by the Boy Scouts and go back to 1944, contain the names of 7,819 Scout leaders who allegedly preyed on boys, as well as the names of 12,254 victims, experts and attorneys involved in the cases have said.
So far, only the files from 1965 to 1985 have been made public.
“They kept those under lock and key and basically the perversion files were files on scoutmasters or other volunteers who had sexually abused Scouts or others, and the purpose of the list was to keep them out,” Crew told the NBC affiliate.
“However, the Boy Scouts also had a program called the probation program whereby they put Scout leaders, who had been caught sexually abusing Scouts, put them on probation and allowed them to continue in scouting, often with disastrous results.”