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Abuse Survivors Face Time Limit to Come Forward as Boy Scouts of America Files for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy

"When you fight transparency, protect reputations that don't deserve protection, and create practices that protect abusers, you put your entire organization at risk."

Victims' rights attorney Jeff Anderson speaks to media during a press conference on April 23, 2019, in New York, showing a map of known abuse cases in New York state. (Photo: Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/AFP via Getty Images)

Hundreds of alleged victims of abuse by leaders of the Boy Scouts of America may have a severely limited time to come forward following the national organization's decision to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Tuesday.

The group filed for bankruptcy as it faces scores of potential lawsuits from former members who say they were sexually abused by volunteers and staffers at the organization, with cases going back decades. The Chapter 11 filing will allow the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) to keep operating as it reorganizes its finances and arranges for compensation to an estimated 1,000 to 5,000 victims.

More than 12,000 former members have reported abuse, some of whom reported they were driven to do so by the #MeToo movement. In recent years, as media investigations and lawsuits revealed decades of abuse, several states have lifted statute-of-limitations laws to encourage victims to come forward. 

Now that the BSA has filed for bankruptcy, however, alleged victims will likely have a matter of months to publicly accuse the group.

"If you're not ready to come forward by then…then you do lose your claim, and you lose your voice," Pamela Foohey, a law professor at Indiana University, told the Washington Post. "That's part of why bankruptcy is useful for the Boy Scouts. It cuts off the claims."

Women's rights advocate Julie Lalonde tweeted that the filing represents "the latest profound example of how rape culture operates."

Victims who have already come forward may be able "to have a collective voice and to negotiate with the Boy Scouts and its insurance companies to figure out how much property the organization truly has and how much compensation should be paid out," Foohey told the Post.

"It's pretty typical for the abuse survivors we represent at first to be angry" about a defendant's bankruptcy filing, victims' attorney Michael Pfau told WBUR, "because it's viewed as a legal ploy or a legal tool used by the Boy Scouts to avoid really, fully being exposed."

The organization may sell off some of its properties, which are owned by local councils across the country, to raise money for a compensation fund that could exceed $1 billion. In its statement on the bankruptcy filing Tuesday, the BSA urged victims to come forward and said it was committed to compensating survivors equitably.

Last week, the BSA announced it was partnering with 1in6, an advocacy group for survivors of sexual abuse. Considering an Associated Press report last year which revealed the organization has allowed many known predators to serve in leadership positions, however, an attorney for some of the survivors said the gesture and an apology issued by the BSA last week were insufficient.

"Sadly, this is extraordinarily late in the game, particularly given the Boy Scouts knew that perpetrators had been infiltrating their ranks for 100 years," Pfau, who represents about 300 survivors, told HuffPost.

Shannon Coulter, creator of the anti-Trump boycott campaign Grab Your Wallet, tweeted that the BSA's bankruptcy filing should "serve as a lesson to organizations."

"When you fight transparency, protect reputations that don't deserve protection, and create practices that protect abusers, you put your entire organization at risk," Coulter tweeted.

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