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Billions of dollars are at stake in the Boy Scouts of America abuse settlement

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Eighty-two thousand men have sued the Boy Scouts of America for sexual abuse by scoutmasters. And after the organization denied it for decades, the Boy Scouts now admit to the victims' allegations. Now, we want to warn you that this conversation discusses the sexual abuse of children. Here's NPR's Wade Goodwyn in Dallas.

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: From almost its very beginning, the Boy Scouts of America have been targeted by sexual predators. The Scouts began keeping a secret list of accused scout predators back in 1919 in a mostly failed effort to keep them out. Scoutmasters when caught could independently relocate to a different state, join a new scout troop and start over with no one knowing. Local chapters had no idea the national organization had secret folders full of known and suspected sexual predators.

FRANK SPINELLI: It institutionalized child molestation. And it's perpetuated and it's protected these perpetrators.

GOODWYN: In the late 1970s, Frank Spinelli was a 10-year-old Boy Scout living on Staten Island with his parents and sisters. He was brutally sexually assaulted for three years by Bill Fox, a scoutmaster who was also a New York City policeman. Spinelli's parents loved Fox and the way he took Frank under his wing. Here's Spinelli speaking with NPR last year.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

SPINELLI: One day, he said to me, I want you to tell your parents you're going to sleep over at my house. My father drove me to his house. Bill took me upstairs. You know, this is the first time I'm seeing a naked man. I mean, this is the first time I'm seeing a naked person other than myself, you know?

GOODWYN: With more than 82,000 victims, 27 law firms and over 7,800 perpetrators, it's not surprising there are divisions about whether the compensation is adequate. It's currently over $1.5 billion, with the negotiations ongoing. Victims could receive as little as $3,500, with the top award for those suffering repeated aggressive abuse around $60,000. However, it's likely these numbers will increase as mediation continues. Ken Rothweiler is a lawyer whose firm represents nearly 17,000 survivors. His advice is to take the settlement offer.

KEN ROTHWEILER: What we realize is no amount of money can appropriately compensate these men for what they've been through. Their stories are horrific. But in terms of doing the best that we can possibly do under the circumstances, yeah, I am somewhat pleased with where we are. I mean, we're probably only half done. We've got to - you know, still negotiating on a daily basis.

GOODWYN: An official committee appointed by the Justice Department to protect the victims' self-interest opposes the settlement, saying it pays too little. The current offer will leave the Scouts with about a billion dollars over the minimum it would need to survive. In a statement, the Boy Scouts of America wrote, we are deeply saddened by the pain and suffering that survivors of past abuse have endured and are committed to fulfilling our social and moral responsibility to equitably compensate survivors while also ensuring the scouting mission continues. NPR spoke with Dr. Frank Spinelli again. After suffering three years of sometimes violent sexual abuse at the hands of his scoutmaster, the settlement is not enough. And it's not just about the money either.

SPINELLI: I don't feel there's any cosmic calculation that is going to equal the damage that I've endured. But I think what we want is to see constructive changes in the Boy Scouts of America. And the only way you can do this is by winning damages. And it's certainly not going to amount to $3,500. There may be somebody in Texas who needs $3,500. That's not the case with me. And that's why I will not vote for this. We cannot give in to bullying. And we cannot be victimized again by an organization who is tone deaf to what we are really in search of.

GOODWYN: The survivors will now vote on the proposed settlement. The deadline is in two months, December 14.

Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas.

(SOUNDBITE OF HOWARD SHORE'S "SPOTLIGHT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.