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Lawsuit: Illinois Failed to Prevent Widespread Child Sexual Abuse in Juvenile Detention Centers

— May 8, 2024

The lawsuit claims that Illinois corrections officials spent decades turning a blind eye to repeated reports of sexual abuse in juvenile detention centers statewide.

A recently-filed lawsuit claims that child sexual abuse was a widespread and tolerated practice within Illinois juvenile detention centers, with attorneys recounting numerous instances of gang rape, assault, and beatings at the hands of state corrections officials.

According to The Associated Press, the lawsuit was filed earlier this week in an Illinois Court of Claims. In the complaint, attorneys say that many former juvenile detainees—more than 90 of whom are listed as plaintiffs to the claim—were threatened or rewarded to maintain their silence.

“The State of Illinois has allowed a culture of abuse at Illinois Youth Centers to flourish unabated,” the lawsuit alleges, adding that officials have “had notice of such abuse for decades and nonetheless neglected to protect … confined youth from sexual abuse and failed to implement policies necessary to ensure such protection.”

One of the plaintiffs, Jeffrey Christian, told the New York Times that he was abused at two youth detention centers. At one of the facilities, a guard “forcibly masturbated” him when he was either 13 or 14. And, at another, a counselor repeatedly made sexual overtures.

Of the 95 plaintiffs listed in the lawsuit, Christian is one of three who agreed to be identified by their real names. Speaking to The Associated Press, he said that he hopes his public stance will encourage others to step forward.

“I want to shed light on what’s going on,” Christian said. “I want justice in any form I can get.”

Image via Pixabay/user:ErikaWittlieb. (CCA-BY-0.0)

Christian said that, although he reported the alleged abuse shortly after it occurred, facility administrators made no effort to address it. After being released from the state’s custody, he became increasingly withdrawn and anti-social.

“It prepared me to start looking at the world differently,” Christian said. “It took some light out of me.”

Todd Mathews, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, emphasized that employees who witnessed or learned about the abuse rarely did anything to stop it.

“The systems are broken,” Mathews told The New York Times, saying that the lawsuit is a means to “demand justice for every soul scarred by the system’s negligence.”

Although the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice has since said that it “takes seriously the safety of youth in the care of the department” and has investigated all of the allegations of misconduct detailed in the complaint, it cannot comment on active or pending litigation.

The department also stated that it “has enacted policies and protocols to ensure the safety of youth and staff and identify any possible instances of abuse or misconduct” in its facilities.

“[Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice] protocols comply with both state and federal safety standards, and IDJJ completes ongoing policy and protocol evaluations,” the agency said, stressing that its staff must “undergo background checks and training, along with participating in ongoing professional development.”

However, the attorneys representing the plaintiffs indicated that—no matter what safeguards the state may claim to have had in place—Illinois broadly failed to protect young detainees who had no means to protect themselves from predation.

“Children, that are detained in juvenile detention centers, are especially vulnerable to sexual abuse,” attorney Jerome H. Block said. “That’s because staff working at these juvenile detention centers have complete and total control over these children.”

“There is no way for these children to escape abuse,” Block said.

The lawsuit is seeking at least $2 million in damages per plaintiff, the largest amount allowed by state law.


Lawsuit alleges decades of child sex abuse at Illinois juvenile detention centers statewide

Lawsuit Claims Widespread Sex Abuse at Illinois Youth Detention Centers

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