About 800 men have come forward this year alleging they were sexually abused as boys by Boy Scouts of America leaders, a group of lawyers said Tuesday.
The announcement at a news conference in Washington came a day after two Center City lawyers in the group filed a lawsuit in Philadelphia on behalf of a 57-year-old Luzerne County man who says he was sexually abused starting around age 12 by a troop leader in the 1970s.
“There is a crisis in the Boy Scouts,” Center City attorney Stewart Eisenberg said during the news conference at the National Press Club, which was live-streamed on Facebook.
Eisenberg and the other lawyers at the news conference formed a group called Abused in Scouting in February to encourage victims to come forward in the aftermath of news reports about a possible bankruptcy filing by the Boy Scouts of America amid escalating legal costs related to sex-abuse lawsuits.
As a result, Eisenberg said, about 800 men nationwide with allegations of sexual abuse have contacted the group.
In a phone interview Monday, Eisenberg said more lawsuits may be coming.
The Abused in Scouting group gave reporters a list of 547 of the alleged victims, who were not identified by name. It includes about 40 men allegedly abused in Pennsylvania as Boy Scouts and about 20 in New Jersey.
Seven people on the list allegedly were abused in Philadelphia or belonged to a troop in the city when allegedly abused in another jurisdiction. Several other alleged abuses occurred in Philadelphia’s four neighboring counties.
The plaintiff in the lawsuit filed Monday in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court does not want to be identified by name but by the initials S.D., Eisenberg said. S.D. was a member of Boy Scout Troop 100 in Plains Township, near Wilkes-Barre. Starting around 1975, when he was age 12 or 13, S.D. was sexually abused for about five years by an assistant scoutmaster in his troop, the suit says.
The lawsuit names as defendants Texas-based Boy Scouts of America; the Penn Mountains Council, which administered programs in and around Luzerne County for the Boy Scouts; and S.D.’s alleged abuser, Paul Antosh, of the Wilkes-Barre area.
Two phone messages left on a home number listed for Antosh were not returned Tuesday.
The Penn Mountains Council is now part of the Boy Scouts’ Northeastern Pennsylvania Council. Its scout executive did not return a voice mail or email for comment Tuesday.
In an emailed statement Tuesday, the Boy Scouts of America did not specifically address the lawsuit, but said: “We care deeply about all victims of abuse and sincerely apologize to anyone who was harmed during their time in Scouting. We believe victims, we support them, we pay for counseling by a provider of their choice, and we encourage them to come forward.”
For nearly a century, the Boy Scouts of America has kept a list of thousands of leaders suspected of preying on young boys — called “perversion files” or “ineligible volunteers files” — and kicked out of scouting.
At Tuesday’s news conference, the lawyers called on Congress, which granted the Boy Scouts of America a charter in 1916, and other authorities to act.
“Congress can hold hearings,” said Eisenberg. “Congress can call on victims to testify.”
And if Congress won’t act, local and state prosecutors can, said Houston attorney Tim Kosnoff, a member of the group that held the news conference. Kosnoff — who has represented plaintiffs in sex-abuse cases involving the Catholic Church — began looking into the Boy Scouts in the mid-1990s and eventually obtained thousands of “perversion files.”
Kosnoff estimated that more than a million Boy Scouts had been sexually abused throughout the organization’s history.
“You can’t look at these files and do the math and come away with anything but the conclusion that this was a massive problem that was successfully kept hidden from the very people that needed to know this,” Kosnoff said, adding: “The kind of numbers we’re talking about now dwarf what we’ve seen in the Catholic Church cases.”
Josh Schwartz, a partner with Eisenberg at the firm Eisenberg Rothweiler, said that the Boy Scouts of America is the “18th-largest nonprofit organization in the United States,” but that it is unique because it receives federal subsidies and thus is funded by taxpayers.
The lawyers said they had shared their working list of the alleged victims and perpetrators with the Boy Scouts, but contended that the organization did not help identify alleged perpetrators whom victims knew only by nicknames or first names.
Although some of the alleged perpetrators were identified in the Boy Scouts “perversion files,” the majority were not, the lawyers said. They said they had identified about 350 alleged predators whose names were not in the files.
The Boy Scouts, in the emailed statement, said that the organization “immediately investigated the limited information provided and our efforts have already resulted in approximately 120 reports to the lead law enforcement agency in each state with an accusation of abuse. We have also contacted local law enforcement for all the cases in which enough information was provided to identify the correct agency.”
The statement added: “We are continuing to manually search paper records at the local level to see if we can identify more information about the additional alleged perpetrators identified in the plaintiff’s attorneys’ list. As we identify sufficient information, we will immediately notify law enforcement.”