As It Happens

Former boy scout says U.S. bankruptcy filing 'only the very beginning' for victims

Robbie Pierce says he was abused by a Boy Scouts of America employee in 1994. Now, he's hopeful that the organization's bankruptcy filing could facilitate justice for him and other claimants.

Warning: This story contains descriptions of sexual assault

Robbie Pierce (pictured here as a child and as an adult) is a former boy scout who alleges that he was abused by a Boy Scouts of America employee during a camping trip with his scout troop. (Submitted by Robbie Pierce)

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Facing a mountain of sexual abuse claims, the Boy Scouts of America is filing for bankruptcy protection

Several thousand former scouts have alleged they were abused by scout leaders and other staff. The 110-year-old organization says bankruptcy protection will help compensate those victims. 

In a statement, Boy Scouts of America chief executive Roger Mosby said the organization, "cares deeply about all victims of abuse and sincerely apologises to anyone who was harmed during their time in scouting. We are outraged that there have been times when individuals took advantage of our programs to harm innocent children."

Robbie Pierce is a former boy scout in Los Angeles who says he was abused on a scouting trip in 1994. The CBC has not been able to independently verify his claim and it has not been proven in court. But Pierce says he would trade every positive experience he had in scouting to undo its damaging effects on his life. 

Here is part of his conversation with As It Happens host, Carol Off. 

Former boy scout Robbie Pierce grills hot dog buns in 1989. (Submitted by Robbie Pierce )

Robbie, this bankruptcy announcement today came with an apology from the Boy Scouts of America. What does that apology mean for you? 

You know, I never expected to get that apology. Even as we were hoping to make this organization take some responsibility, there was a part of me that feared that they would avoid an outright apology. And so it's been pretty meaningful. 

Do you think that it shows the organization and its leaders have taken responsibility? 

No. I think that this is only the very beginning of taking that responsibility. This is not enough. It's not going to fix or undo anything that was done by the organization, but it is ... the beginning of a new day with the Boy Scouts [of America]. And it's very encouraging for me that we have them on-record taking responsibility, acknowledging that there were things they could have done to prevent the scale of this abuse, and that they didn't do [those things]. 

Next we will see them in bankruptcy court. 

The head of Boy Scouts America, Roger Mosby, says he believes bankruptcy will actually help victims ... What do you hope that this bankruptcy filing will do? 

I think that's true. I think that there are both positives and negatives to what's happening because it means that individuals can no longer sue the Boy Scouts [of America], which is a way to get another kind of closure for victims. But this also means that as a whole the group of victims of the Boy Scouts of America are able to move forward. 

So what happens next is we no longer go and sue the Boy Scouts of America. What happens next is we file claims with the bankruptcy court and [they] will be decided there. 

Robbie Pierce poses for a photo in his Boy Scouts of America uniform in 1990. (Submitted by Robbie Pierce)

The Boy Scouts of America acknowledged that there were thousands of perpetrators ... and thousands of victims of [abuse]. Each one of those represents a story like your own. Every single one is somebody who was affected by that. Your experience of this abuse came when you were 13 years old on a scout camping trip, is that right? 

Yeah, that's right. I have a brother just a year younger than me and we were both at a scout camp up in the Sierras. And one evening, shortly after we had gone to bed, a few of the scouts became sick. I was among them ... So the five of us went up to the medic lodge and the medic wasn't there [so] we rang a bell and a man came. We recognized him as one of the leaders of the Boy Scout camp that we were staying at. 

He had us come into the medic's lodge one-by-one and he had me disrobe when it was my turn and he told me he was checking for a hernia and fondled me for a little while. I remember him saying, 'Are you shaking because my hands are cold or because I'm not a real doctor?' And that stayed with me for a long time. And when I was done I went out and one of the other boys went in. And we went back and we didn't talk about what had happened. 

All I care about is that this doesn't happen to more children.- Robbie Pierce

It was years before I came to understand ... just how frightening that was for me, and how I had bottled a lot of things up. And how it really just did a number on me psychologically. I had thought that what had happened was my fault for a long time. And I didn't understand that it was a thing that had happened to more kids. 

It wasn't until a year or two ago that I was listening to the radio and heard a story about other victims coming forward that I realized that there were many of us. I didn't even then realize that it was thousands of us, but I knew that there were many and I thought that I should add my voice

Many are saying the Boy Scouts of America can't be reformed ... That the whole structure, the whole organization of the scouts just lends itself to this kind of abuse. What do you say to that? 

There has to be a way to work with children. To have adults guiding children and teaching them and helping them to have positive experiences. I don't believe that nobody could do it. I don't know if the Boy Scouts — at this point — can do it ... if they're really willing to execute the complete overhaul that it will take. 

I have had so many positive, formative experiences in the scouting program ... but I would trade them all up, to get rid of what they did to me or to any of the other boys. So that's what will be decided next — through this bankruptcy hearing: whether they will be able to continue to function, or whether they will be done for. 

Frankly, all I care about is that this doesn't happen to more children.  

If anyone hears this and is a victim and hasn't come forward, this is the time. This bankruptcy hearing means the clock is ticking now on new claims ...  come forward and let their voice be added to this chorus. 

Written by Chloe Shantz-Hilkes and Kate Swoger, with files from The Associated Press. Interview with Robbie Pierce produced by Kate Swoger. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.