The Boy Scouts of America's own records show that more than 12,000 children have been sexually assaulted while participating in the organization's programs. The documents came to light through court testimony given by a researcher whom the Scouts had hired to do an internal review. The records reveal allegations against thousands of Scout leaders — allegations that date from the 1940s.
With such a huge number of victims, the organization could be facing multiple lawsuits and, as a result, bankruptcy.
The research also revealed significantly more abusers than previously thought. The names of Scout leaders deemed ineligible because of "reasonable allegations of child sexual abuse" were entered into the Boy Scouts of America's files, and those leaders were subsequently excluded from working with children.
This secret file of sexually abusive Scout leaders stretches back nearly 100 years. But only in the past decade has the scale of abuse begun to emerge.
This week, plaintiff's attorney Jeff Anderson released sworn testimony from University of Virginia professor Janet Warren, who was hired by the Boy Scouts to conduct a study of the organization's sexual abuse files. That report found that 12,254 children were allegedly abused by 7,819 Scout leaders.
During a news conference on Thursday, Anderson said the list still may not be complete. "The bad news is this is far from a full disclosure of what the Boy Scouts actually knew," Anderson said, "because all the files have not been excavated."
Anderson said he believes the information needs to be known, so he sounded the alarm now.
However, he said that the identities of the alleged perpetrators remain hidden with the organization's files.
"The fact is that the Boy Scouts of America have never actually released these names in any form that can be known to the public," he said, "and they may have removed them from scouting, they may have kept them in their perversion file — but they never alerted the community."
About 2.4 million children participate in Boy Scouts, and the possibility that hundreds or even thousands of victims may file lawsuits alleging abuse and demanding financial restitution is profound. One prominent sexual abuse attorney has already signed more than 180 clients.
The Scouts have extensive land holdings across the United States where members hike, camp and play. The prospect that the Boy Scouts may declare bankruptcy has victims and their lawyers crying foul, arguing that this would end up shortchanging sexual abuse victims.
A bankruptcy filing could allow the 109-year-old organization to continue operating by shielding assets and information.
In a press call, Boy Scouts of America Chief Executive Michael Surbaugh offered an apology.
"I want to reiterate our steadfast support for victims of abuse," he said. "We are outraged that there have been times when individuals took advantage of our programs to abuse innocent children."
Surbaugh went on to say that the Boy Scouts of America cares deeply about all victims of child abuse and sincerely apologizes to those who were harmed during their time in the Boy Scouts.
"We believe victims," he said, "and we pay for unlimited counseling by a provider of their choice, and we encourage them to come forward."
The Boy Scouts filed suit last year against half a dozen of its insurers for refusing to cover its sexual abuse legal liabilities. The insurers responded that the Boy Scouts' coverage is invalidated because the Scouts neglected to take meaningful precautionary action. Those cases are pending.