From an early age, young scouts learn about obedience and loyalty, reciting an oath to stay “morally straight.” The organization has said that some 130 million Americans have gone through its programs over the years, including the likes of John F. Kennedy, the astronaut Neil Armstrong, the Civil Rights icon Ernest Green and the film director Steven Spielberg.
While the Boy Scouts count some 2.2 million current members, those numbers have been on the decline from a peak of around five million in the 1970s. In 2017, the organization expanded to allow girls to participate, although that effort has frayed relationships with the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A.
But even in the organization’s early years, abuse files maintained at the Boy Scouts headquarters detailed troubles. In 1935, the organization described having files on hundreds of “degenerates” who had served as scout leaders, according to a New York Times article from the time.
Lawyers, including Mr. Mones, later pressed to release some of those files in a case in Oregon, where a 2010 jury verdict held the Scouts liable for $18.5 million in punitive damages. The Oregon Supreme Court later ordered that the case records be made public.
Although many of the abuse cases occurred in decades past, some states in recent years have passed laws giving older victims a chance to pursue accountability in the courts. That includes New York, which approved a one-year window that opened last year, prompting a stream of new lawsuits with defendants from organizations such as schools, the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts.
Terry McKiernan, the president of BishopAccountability.org, a watchdog group that tracks abuse in the Catholic Church, said more than 9,000 victims had come forward over the years, although he believed that number represented only a small fraction of those who suffered abuse in the church.
Frank Spinelli was 11 years old on Staten Island when he joined the Boy Scouts in 1978. He said his scoutmaster, a police officer named Bill Fox, began to groom him, taking him out for ice cream, pressing to have Mr. Spinelli sleep at his home and turning their conversations toward sex. It ultimately led to three years of sexual abuse, Mr. Spinelli said.