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Lawsuit Alleges Sexual Abuse In Boy Scouts

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The Boy Scouts of America has referred over 100 cases of abuse by scout leaders to law enforcement. A lawsuit filed earlier this week alleges that the Boy Scouts is covering up a, quote, "pedophilia epidemic within their organization." The suit focuses on one case in particular, but the lawyers anticipate it's the first in a wave of new sexual assault allegations against the Boy Scouts. A note that the content you'll hear over the next three minutes is disturbing. Here's Nick Pugliese of member station WHYY in Philadelphia.

NICK PUGLIESE, BYLINE: The boy in the Pennsylvania lawsuit is identified only by his initials, S.D. He was 12 when the abuse allegedly began on camping trips in the 1970s. The suit claims an assistant scoutmaster would ply him with drugs and alcohol and sexually assault him. The abuse continued for years. Philadelphia attorney Stewart Eisenberg represents S.D. as an adult. He says the Boy Scouts' inability to prevent the abuse points to a larger problem within the organization.

STEWART EISENBERG: There is a crisis in the Boy Scouts. And there has been for many years, many decades - in fact, since the early 1900s.

PUGLIESE: He's referring to thousands of documents kept by Boy Scouts of America known as the perversion files that detail sexual abuse allegations against scout leaders. Eisenberg says S.D. is the first of what could be many new accusers to come forward. He says hundreds of former Boy Scouts responded to an outreach campaign launched earlier this year. Marci Hamilton leads the advocacy group CHILD USA.

MARCI HAMILTON: We're finally shifting the power over to victims so that victims are able to go to court, to get discovery and to show the world the truth.

PUGLIESE: Hamilton says New York and New Jersey recently extended their statute of limitations to help victims revive expired claims of sexual abuse. And other states are considering similar steps.

HAMILTON: If we don't open the statute of limitations, we'll never really know the full scape (ph) of the Boy Scout crisis. But at least for these states right now, there is a possibility that we're going to learn about hundreds of cases because the statute of limitations are opening up.

PUGLIESE: The Boy Scouts said in a written statement that they sincerely apologize to anyone who was harmed during their time in scouting. The statement said they had recently received information about new allegations from victims' attorneys and had referred about 120 cases to law enforcement. Stewart Eisenberg, who's representing the Pennsylvania victim, says there's another reason to bring these suits now.

EISENBERG: In December and January of last year, it was reported that the Boy Scouts were considering bankruptcy.

PUGLIESE: Such a move, Eisenberg says, could make it harder for victims to bring cases and limit any damages they could be awarded. For NPR News, I'm Nick Pugliese in Philadelphia.

(SOUNDBITE OF BRAMBLES' "TO SPEAK OF SOLITUDE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.