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  • Sarah Rainey-Smithback

Boy Scouts and Bankruptcy

The Boy Scouts' chapter 11 bankruptcy filing is hardly surprising. There have been speculations that the organization was headed this way for well over a year. Faced with hundreds of lawsuits from survivors of sexual abuse and harassment, as well as declining membership, the organization has been having difficulty meeting its financial obligations.

The bankruptcy filing effectively suspends the civil litigation against the organization. Survivors will still be entitled some amount of compensation, but the claim amount and process allowed in bankruptcy court will be decidedly different than in civil court. Although this may be less than ideal for survivors, it does appear that the organization is trying to remain accountable. As CNN reported in April of 2019, in court testimony, the BSA has acknowledged that "more than 7,800 of its former leaders were involved in sexually abusing children over the course of 72 years," which is "about 2,800 more leaders than previously known publicly."

And, in their recent open letter to survivors, Jim Turly, the National Chair of the BSA wrote "we believe you, we believe in compensating you, and we have programs in place to pay for counseling for you and your family by a provider of your choice." The BSA has also announced a partnership with 1in6, an organization that provides counseling and treatment to survivors of sexual abuse and harassment.

These public moves of accountability are fantastic, and based my ongoing interviews with BSA members, scouts are welcoming these more public proclamations of support. However, my research is also uncovering another need that the BSA has yet to address--prevention efforts. The BSA has made several important policy and procedure changes to address prevention, including the "2 Deep Leadership Rule"; however, sexual health education remains off-limits, seriously curtailing the organization's ability to address social and cultural issues that foster abuse and harassment. Real prevention of sexual abuse and harassment involves teaching about healthy relationships, gender stereotypes, consent, sexual autonomy and subjectivity, so that potential victims are empowered with information and a voice to say no and speak out. Sex education certainly cannot prevent all instances of abuse and harassment, and more research is desperately needed on which types sex education programs are most successful at prevention, but including sexual health education would certainly be a positive step in changing culture norms that permit and even encourage exploitation. The adult scouts and leaders I have interviewed indicate that they would welcome resources from the BSA on sexual health and education. Maybe now is the time for change.

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