It’s not pleasant to contemplate the sexual abuse suffered by some members of the Boy Scouts of America, especially local boys who participated in Scouting. Fortunately, steps have been taken to prevent such abuse in the future. And thanks to recent changes in state laws, the victims of unscrupulous and perverse scout leaders from as far back as the 1920s will now be allowed to find some measure of justice.
The Boy Scouts of America — the national organization — declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy last week following sex abuse lawsuits filed by thousands of former scouts. The filing will allow the organization to put the court cases on hold while it works out a strategy to pay its victims, which will likely involve selling assets such as campgrounds and hiking trails. More than 12,000 boys have been molested by 7,800 abusers since the 1920s, according to Boy Scout files revealed in court papers. An estimated 1,000 to 5,000 victims will seek compensation, which could require a victims’ fund of more than $1 billion to settle.
“The BSA cares deeply about all victims of abuse and sincerely apologizes to anyone who was harmed during their time in Scouting. We are outraged that there have been times when individuals took advantage of our programs to harm innocent children,” BSA president and CEO Roger Mosby said in a statement last week. “While we know nothing can undo the tragic abuse that victims suffered, we believe the Chapter 11 process — with the proposed Trust structure — will provide equitable compensation to all victims while maintaining the BSA’s important mission.”
It’s admirable that BSA is owning up to its responsibilities.
The bankruptcy of the national organization won’t affect local groups, which have separate holdings and properties, according to Drew Armstrong, the chief executive for the Old Hickory Council of the Boy Scouts of America, which is based in Winston-Salem.
“Meetings and activities, district and council events, other scouting adventures and countless service projects are taking place as usual,” Armstrong told the Journal in an email. “In short, there should be no change to the local scouting experience.”
That’s good to know.
Unfortunately, at least six men with area ties can be found among the thousands of accused in BSA documents, with the majority of known abuse happening in the late 1970s and mid-’80s. Five of those six have been tried and convicted of sexual abuse. The sixth died in 2010.
Fortunately, changes in policy and practice make the likelihood of a repeat of such abuse much less likely. The changes include requiring a minimum of two adults to be present during all activities and separating accommodations for youth and adults while camping.
The fact that such a trusted organization with a wholesome reputation became a hunting ground for predatory sexual behavior is a betrayal of those who were abused and their parents and guardians — especially in the few incidents when it seems that Scout leaders knew what was happening, and either glossed over or buried the abuses. Those involved deserve all the punishment the law will allow.
But this doesn’t have to end Scouting. It’s an American institution that provides a good environment for boys to learn important, universal values and skills. Many adults treasure their experiences with the Scouts.
Despite the abuses, Scouting remains a central experience for many boys. We hope in the long run these trials will lead to a stronger organization. There’s still a place — and a need — for Scouts today.