DOVER, Del. — Attorneys have agreed on a November deadline for victims of child sex abuse to file claims in the Boy Scouts of America bankruptcy case.
The Nov. 16 date presented to a judge Monday was worked out after attorneys for the official committee representing abuse victims objected to a proposed Oct. 6 deadline and argued that victims should have at least until Dec. 31.
“At a time when millions of Americans are unemployed and preoccupied with basic survival, sexual abuse survivors need and are entitled to a reasonable period of time after they receive notice from the bankruptcy Court to reflect seriously and make a decision whether to file a claim in this case,” attorneys for the victims committee wrote in a court filing.
After filing for bankruptcy, the Boy Scouts initially proposed a deadline of 80 days after notice of the claims process was published, drawing immediate opposition from attorneys for abuse victims. The Boy Scouts later proposed the October deadline. They argued that it allowed more time than in many Catholic diocese bankruptcy cases, and that it provided sufficient time to conduct a nationwide program of print, television, radio and online notices and allow claimants to submit claim forms.
Jessica Boelter, an attorney for the Boy Scouts, said the notification program is expected to reach more than 100 million people, including more than 95% of the primary target audience of men 50 and older. An expert for the Boy Scouts estimated that men in that age group account for more than half of former Boy Scouts and at least 71% of abuse survivors with pending claims against the BSA.
The Boy Scouts sought bankruptcy protection in February in an effort to halt hundreds of individual lawsuits and create a huge compensation fund for men who were molested as youngsters decades ago by scoutmasters or other leaders.
More than 12,000 boys have been molested by 7,800 abusers since the 1920s, according to Boy Scout files revealed in court papers. Most of the more recent cases date to the 1960s, ’70s and ‘80s, before the Boy Scouts adopted mandatory criminal background checks and abuse-prevention training and protocols for all staff and volunteers.
In conjunction with the bankruptcy case, the Boy Scouts obtained an injunction halting lawsuits against the organization’s 261 local councils as “related parties.” The local councils, which run day-to-day operations for local troops, are not listed as debtors in the bankruptcy and are considered by the Boy Scouts to be legally separate entities. Attorneys for abuse victims have nevertheless made clear that they will try to go after campsites and other properties owned by the local councils to contribute to the fund for victims.
The injunction does not prevent litigation going forward against individual alleged abusers. It also does not prevent the filing of complaints against BSA-related parties while the stay is in place. The injunction had been set to expire Monday, but Judge Laurie Selber Silverstein agreed to extend it to June 8, which coincides with a scheduled court hearing.
Meanwhile, attorneys argued at length Monday over the bankruptcy claim form that child sex abuse victims will have to fill out. The form proposed by the Boy Scouts includes boxes to check for describing the nature and impact of the abuse. It also includes narrative sections asking a claimant, for example, to describe the sexual abuse, and the harm it caused, “in as much detail as you can recall.”
Silverstein agreed with victims’ attorneys that the narrative information should be made optional on the initial proof of claim form.
Jon Conte, a child sex abuse expert hired by the victims committee, told Silverstein that it would be better to ask for summary information initially, while letting the claimant know that more detail might be requested later.
“A narrative is potentially traumatic,” Conte said.
Attorneys for the victims also took exception to the form allowing sexual abuse claims involving nonconsenting adult Scouting participants. Boelter noted that some Boy Scout programs allow participants up to age 21.
“We are not trying to diminish child sexual abuse in any way by including adults in this proof of claim form,” she said.
Silverstein said she would allow attorneys time to work out a solution for handling sexual abuse claims by adult victims.
Randall Chase, The Associated Press