More than 81,000 people have come forward with sex-abuse claims against the Boy Scouts of America, describing a decades-long accumulation of assaults at the hands of scout leaders across the nation who had been trusted as role models.
The claims, which lawyers said far eclipsed the number of abuse accusations filed in Catholic Church cases, continued to mount ahead of a Monday deadline established in bankruptcy court in Delaware, where the Boy Scouts had sought refuge this year in a bid to survive.
Paul Mones, a lawyer who has been working on Boy Scouts cases for nearly two decades, said the prevalence of abuse detailed in the filings was breathtaking and might reflect only a fraction of victims.
“I knew there were a lot of cases,” Mr. Mones said. “I never contemplated it would be a number close to this.”
The avalanche of claims, approximately 81,500 as of Sunday and rising rapidly as the deadline looms, set up a monumental task for the bankruptcy case as the Boy Scouts seek to one day emerge with its operations intact.
Although the national organization has more than $1 billion in assets, according to its bankruptcy filing, the organization also has a network of local Boy Scouts councils that own hundreds of camps and other properties across the country where scouts can advance their skills and values along lake shores and in mountain valleys.
As the Boy Scouts seek to reorganize and set up a victims’ compensation fund under the Chapter 11 filing, a judge set Monday as the deadline for victims to come forward with claims that will ultimately undergo a vetting process.
In a statement, the Boy Scouts of America said the organization was “devastated by the number of lives impacted by past abuse in Scouting.” The organization said it had sought an accessible process for survivors to seek compensation.
“The response we have seen from survivors has been gut wrenching,” the organization said in the statement. “We are deeply sorry.”
Founded in 1910, the Boy Scouts grew under a rare congressional charter in 1916 that detailed scouting values of “patriotism, courage, self-reliance and kindred virtues” — goals that shaped the civic ideals for generations of American boys.
From an early age, young scouts learn about obedience and loyalty, reciting an oath to stay “morally straight.” The organization has said that some 130 million Americans have gone through its programs over the years, including the likes of John F. Kennedy, the astronaut Neil Armstrong, the Civil Rights icon Ernest Green and the film director Steven Spielberg.
While the Boy Scouts count some 2.2 million current members, those numbers have been on the decline from a peak of around five million in the 1970s. In 2017, the organization expanded to allow girls to participate, although that effort has frayed relationships with the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A.
But even in the organization’s early years, abuse files maintained at the Boy Scouts headquarters detailed troubles. In 1935, the organization described having files on hundreds of “degenerates” who had served as scout leaders, according to a New York Times article from the time.
Lawyers, including Mr. Mones, later pressed to release some of those files in a case in Oregon, where a 2010 jury verdict held the Scouts liable for $18.5 million in punitive damages. The Oregon Supreme Court later ordered that the case records be made public.
Although many of the abuse cases occurred in decades past, some states in recent years have passed laws giving older victims a chance to pursue accountability in the courts. That includes New York, which approved a one-year window that opened last year, prompting a stream of new lawsuits with defendants from organizations such as schools, the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts.
Terry McKiernan, the president of BishopAccountability.org, a watchdog group that tracks abuse in the Catholic Church, said more than 9,000 victims had come forward over the years, although he believed that number represented only a small fraction of those who suffered abuse in the church.
Frank Spinelli was 11 years old on Staten Island when he joined the Boy Scouts in 1978. He said his scoutmaster, a police officer named Bill Fox, began to groom him, taking him out for ice cream, pressing to have Mr. Spinelli sleep at his home and turning their conversations toward sex. It ultimately led to three years of sexual abuse, Mr. Spinelli said.
Mr. Fox was eventually convicted of abusing three boys and later died in prison.
Years ago, Mr. Spinelli said he approached lawyers to talk about pursuing a case against the Boy Scouts, but they told him the statute of limitations had long passed. But after New York approved its new look-back law, the lawyers returned to say that he now might have a case. He is among those filing as part of the bankruptcy proceeding.
Mr. Spinelli said he was not surprised to see so many men coming forward with claims. He said that it was not something that was gratifying to see and that financial compensation wasn’t the important thing to him. Instead, he said he was hopeful that a window into the magnitude of the problem and the accountability coming in the bankruptcy process could help force lasting change in the Boy Scouts.
“I truly believe it’s these uncomfortable conversations we need to have to recognize a path moving forward,” Mr. Spinelli said.
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