My name is James Kretschmer. I am a 56-year-old man who was repeatedly sexually assaulted by my scout leader when I was a 12-year-old Boy Scout. My experience with the Scouts destroyed my childhood, led to depression, drug and alcohol abuse, loneliness, despair, four failed marriages, and a failed suicide attempt. I have built walls around me so thick and so tall that even my family will say that I am distant. This is the legacy of the Boy Scouts in my life.
My story is not unique. There are thousands of men (and possibly more) who say they have the same or a similar story, making this one of the largest sexual abuse scandals in modern history. Now, according to a court document filed this Tuesday, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) has declared bankruptcy in the face of hundreds of sexual abuse lawsuits. That means that all civil litigation brought against the organization is for now on hold. It’s a tragedy for those who have bravely come forward about some of the worst moments of their lives. Why and how could this have happened? I’m of the opinion that it was simply a case of greed.
Jim Turley, the national chair of the Boy Scouts of America, wrote in an open letter that the organization went into bankruptcy so it could pay victims fairly. But I believe that, once again, the Boy Scouts are trying to escape responsibility for their actions.
It’s a pattern for the organization. Its own internal records, brought to light by court testimony rather than of its own volition or internal reckoning, show that more than 12,000 children have reported sexual abuse spanning back to the 1940s. The fact that these files — called the “perversion files” — were kept hidden by the organization is damning. Why didn’t the leadership do anything when they first got the reports 70 or 80 years ago? If they had, I might have never been assaulted decades later.
Local Boy Scouts leaders and other officials allegedly suppressed the stories of child abuse because they were trying to protect the organization’s good name. But that excuse is not good enough.
I believe greed was the driving force behind the actions of the Boy Scouts organization, whose leaders sacrificed the childhoods of their scouts for growth and money. BSA has assets of over $1 billion, and the CEO and the board of directors make incredibly large salaries. I believe that burying these stories was a way to protect their bottom line. For decades, it’s been the same song and dance.
The Boy Scouts has already paid out over $150 million in settlements and legal fees in recent years. This week, leadership says they are filing for bankruptcy because they want anyone who has an abuse claim to come forward and be fairly compensated. But given just how many victims there likely are, I question whether the Boy Scouts will ever be able to truly pay out these claims. Will it ever cover the years of psychiatrists’ visits, counseling sessions, and medications needed to help start the healing? And what about the thousands who might not be ready to come forward? What will be left for them when and if they choose to tell their stories? Nothing?
What’s so tragic about this is that the Boy Scouts of America’s core principles are beautiful. To teach children to always be helpful to others, physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight are powerful lessons to learn and live your life by. If Boy Scouts leadership had followed the same values that every child in the organization swore an oath to, the Boy Scouts would not be under such a dark cloud today. I, along with thousands of other scouts, deserved better from the Boy Scouts leadership we looked up to.
It is so very important for all of those who have been abused to come forward now (you can start by contacting Abused in Scouting). If you don’t come out and report now, you could lose your chance to seek the justice and help you deserve from the organization. There most likely will be a date set by the bankruptcy court, and afterward, the Boy Scouts might not have to worry about any further action against them since they will legally be considered financially unable to pay out further claims (the organization could fold, though it’s likely it will be able to survive this).
We all need to say enough is enough. Let’s not sit back and let the Boy Scouts of America off the hook this time. We need to do our very best to hold it fully accountable for the harm it allowed to happen.
James Russell Kretschmer is a survivor of Boy Scout sexual assault. He lives in Houston, Texas, and is a self-taught network engineer.