DAVID GREENE, HOST:
The Boy Scouts of America filed for bankruptcy overnight in federal court in Delaware. The reason - roughly 300 lawsuits from former Boy Scouts who say they were sexually assaulted by their troop leaders. The organization is facing the prospect of massive liability. This Chapter 11 filing by the organization is an attempt to protect the valuable land assets held by the independent local Boy Scout councils. From Dallas, NPR's Wade Goodwyn has more.
WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: The problem of troop leaders sexually assaulting Scouts has plagued the Boy Scouts of America for decades. In 2010, plaintiff's lawyer Paul Mones won a signature case in Portland, Ore., that not only resulted in a nearly $20 million verdict for his sexually abused client but caused the public release of what became known as the perversion files. It was a secret Boy Scouts of America list of troop leaders who'd sexually abused their Scouts.
PAUL MONES: The purpose was to try to prevent these Scout leaders from reenlisting. But the problem was they never really told any of the Scouts about it. When Scout leaders were found out, they were allowed to resign. Boy Scouts had a policy of not calling law enforcement about it until very, very recently. In fact, in my trial, one of the executives was asked about, when did you first recognize the problem of sexual abuse in scouting? And the response was, what do you mean by the word problem?
GOODWYN: Since that trial, hundreds of men, former Scouts, have come forward to say they, too, were abused. And the Boy Scouts' insurance companies have refused to pay any claims, saying the Boy Scouts of America knew they had an epidemic of sexual abuse but hid it from their insurers. In a statement to NPR, the BSA said, the Boy Scouts of America is working with experts and exploring all options available, so we can live up to our social and moral responsibility to equitably compensate victims who suffered abuse during their time in Scouting while also ensuring that we carry out our mission to serve youth, families and local communities through our programs.
The national BSA has $1.4 billion in assets, while the independent local councils have around $3.3 billion. Much of the valuable assets are prime real estate, beautiful camps scattered throughout the country. Current Michigan Eagle Scout Will Ellsworth is heartbroken about the sexual assault allegations, but the 17-year-old urges the country not to turn its back on Scouting.
WILL ELLSWORTH: The Boy Scouts, as an organization, has been through quite a lot in terms of allegations of sexual abuse. They're kind of dealing with those consequences right now. But I wish more people would see the real power that this organization has for youth and for teaching values that carry people throughout the rest of their lives.
GOODWYN: Since Theodore Roosevelt, every U.S. president has been named honorary president of the Boy Scouts of America. The institution is woven into the cultural fabric of the country. The organization's desire to protect its reputation at the expense of all other considerations has jeopardized everything it stands for and put its very future at risk.
Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas.
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