A few decades ago, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) seemed to be the epitome of clean-cut wholesomeness. An image that saw its membership climb to 4 million during the 1970s. Flash forward to 2020, and BSA is trying desperately to restore a reputation left in tatters by dozens of sexual abuse allegations.
The number of lawsuits filed against the organization was enough to prompt BSA to file for chapter 11 bankruptcy in February. This put the brakes on hundreds of lawsuits brought against the BSA by individuals and saw the creation of a fund to compensate men who had been abused by scout leaders.
The move may also help the organization, which plans to continue its scouting mission, to protect the more than $3.3 billion held by its various councils. Abuse survivors have until November 16 to file a claim in the case.
Twenty-one new lawsuits were filed at the Manhattan Supreme Court in July. According to reports, the new suits are based on allegations of abuse by 14 adult scout leaders. Some of the allegations date back to the 1950s, and the suits claim that sexual abuse within BSA was systematic and covered up since the organization’s 1910 founding.
One of the 14 scout leaders named in the new suits was Maurice Meyers, a Jesuit priest. Meyers, who died in 1980, worked at the Ten Mile River scout camp in Narrowsburg, New York. The clergy member allegedly abused a nine-year-old boy in 1973 and 1974 and two other children.
According to the new suits, the pressure placed on children by the BSA’s “culture of obedience” discouraged them from reporting their abuse. They also claim that the organization’s failure to train or supervise their agents and volunteers was a dereliction of duty to children and parents.
The plaintiffs were able to bypass statutes of limitations due to the introduction of New York’s Child Victims Act, which took effect in August 2019. Valid for one year, the act allows survivors to file lawsuits against abusers and organizations or institutions that protected those abusers from facing the might of the law. A vote by the state’s lawmakers in May extended the Act for a year.
BSA released a statement in response to the new suits in which the organization said that the abuse suffered by children during their involvement with the scouting movement was heartbreaking. The organization added that it was serious about protecting children from sexual predators. It said that, to this end, it has developed protective policies with the help of experts in psychology, law enforcement, and child safety.
In 2019, 14 former scouts filed a suit in which they accused several scout leaders in California of abuse. The leaders named in the court papers include James David Taff of Downey, Daniel Montoya of Long Beach, Edgard M. Rincon of Orange County, Harry C. Goodwater of San Francisco, Robert Pankey of Santa Rosa, Jeffrey Paul Miller of Simi Valley, and William Walter Thill of Turlock. The plaintiffs are based in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sonoma, Stanislaus, Ventura, and Orange counties.
The plaintiffs’ attorney, Gilion Duman, said that, after struggling for decades due to the sexual abuse they suffered during their involvement with BSA, his clients were finally able to seek justice. He added that the organization failed to protect his clients when it knew there was the danger of sexual abuse by adult volunteers.
One of the plaintiffs, who was identified as John Doe, told reporters that the abuse he suffered went on for almost three-and-a-half years. He alleged it took place at his own home, BSA jamborees, and during backpacking trips. Doe said the abuse ended when his abuser arrived at his house one day, and he (Doe) fled out the back door and down the street. He added that was the last time he saw his abuser.
In response to the Boy Scouts sexual abuse lawsuit, the organization apologized to survivors of abuse that occurred during their involvement with scouting. BSA said that it cared about all abuse survivors and was outraged by the predators who misused the organization to abuse children.
The organization added that it believed and supported survivors and would pay for counseling by providers of the survivors’ preference. The statement explained that it was the organization’s policy to report suspected abuse to law enforcement and that it had ramped up its efforts to deal effectively with allegations.
BSA claimed that one way it has responded to reports of inappropriate behavior by leaders or volunteers was to remove those individuals. However, the organization admitted that there were occasions in its 110-year history when reports of abuse were dealt with in a way that was not aligned with its principles and its responsibility to protect scouts.
2019 also saw the filing of a suit against BSA and California Inland Empire Council at the San Bernardino County Superior Court by attorney Paul Mones. According to reports, the suit alleged that a teenage boy was abused by scout leader Charles Yotter of Riverside, California, in 2018. The plaintiff claimed Yotter started grooming him shortly after their first meeting in 2012.
The 70-year-old troop leader was arrested and charged in September, and he was then released on $250,000 bail. He was found dead by apparent suicide at his home less than a week later.
BSA has lost almost 1 million members since 2008, and the steadily increasing number of abuse-related allegations and lawsuits has left the organization’s reputation virtually in tatters. It suffered another blow to membership with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, once BSA’s largest sponsor, removed more than 400,000 children from the scouting organization to a program of its own.
With BSA’s membership less than half of when the organization was at its strongest during the 70s, there’s little doubt it will survive the spate of lawsuits. How long it will survive for remains to be seen.