The filing by the Boy Scouts of America for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection is not about money. It’s not about transparency or accountability or even making things right with adult survivors of child sexual abuse by BSA volunteers or staff. This bankruptcy is not about keeping kids safe.
This bankruptcy is about secrecy and self-preservation.
The Boy Scouts of America has had countless opportunities over the past century to come clean about the sexual abuse perpetrated by Scout leaders, Scoutmasters and other adults within the organization. Dating back to the 1920s, the Boy Scouts’ “Perversion Files” — their words — document nearly a century of child sexual abuse reports submitted by survivors and their families to BSA leadership. These files include the identities of alleged and confirmed perpetrators within the Scouts, locations of the reported abuse, and thousands of pages of supporting documents. Although it would be incredibly helpful to survivors seeking justice and to parents seeking to keep their children and current Scouts safe, the majority of this information is not available to the public. In fact, the BSA has worked diligently to keep it from the public. The archive is a reputational hand grenade with the pin pulled, clutched in the white-knuckled hand of BSA leadership. This bankruptcy is the BSA’s tactic to keep it from blowing the credibility of organization to pieces. This is not an exaggeration.
In 2012, the Boy Scouts were ordered by a judge to disclose the Perversion Files of 1,247 alleged sexual abusers associated with the Scouts between 1965 and 1985. These are now public. The number is shocking to the general public, but hardly representative of the true nature of abuse within the Scouts. In 2019, a child sex abuse expert from the University of Virginia, Janet Warren, testified that she was contracted by the Boy Scouts of America to review all the Perversion Files the BSA had compiled from 1944 through 2016. Warren testified that her review of the files identified 7,819 perpetrators believed to have been involved in sexually abusing children. According to Warren, her review also identified 12,254 victims. The Boy Scouts have refused to make this information public despite our law firm’s recent attempts to bring it out into the light.
Each of these thousands of Perversion Files — again, their words — represents a moment in time when the Boy Scouts of America were faced with a moral choice: protect the children entrusted to their care or protect the reputation of the organization? Every file, every shred of documentation, be it public or private, was — and still is — a chance to come clean, to live the values the Scouts espouse, and to do their best to do their duty to God and their country — once again, their words. Their choices are not only clear, but consistent: Status quo over scandal.
Over the years, the BSA has consciously chosen not to alert legal authorities to claims of sexual abuse against its volunteers and staff. It has chosen to handle these potentially scandalous situations “in-house,” keeping the information under its control. It is making the same choice with the Chapter 11 filing. In so doing, the BSA bankruptcy will not only close the doors to survivors seeking justice, it will keep secret knowledge of predators past and present hidden forever. The pain and shame of abuse survivors will continue. The threat to children is real and immediate. The means to come clean, to do the right thing, to release the Perversion Files, is literally in BSA leaders’ hands. There is no undoing the damage done, but there is a real chance — here, now — to prevent it from happening again. It’s time.
Jeff Anderson is widely recognized as a pioneer in sexual abuse litigation and a champion of survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Beyond the courtroom he is a frequent lecturer, survivor advocate and author. His law firm, Jeff Anderson & Associates, has offices in Minnesota, New York, California, Illinois and New Jersey. On Twitter: @AndersonCause.