New Lawsuit Claims Dozens of Juveniles Subjected to Sexual Abuse in Illinois Detention Centers

The office building at 100 North Western Avenue in Chicago, on Monday, May 6, 2024, where an office of the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice is located. (AP Photo / Charles Rex Arbogast)The office building at 100 North Western Avenue in Chicago, on Monday, May 6, 2024, where an office of the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice is located. (AP Photo / Charles Rex Arbogast)

Nearly 100 people are claiming in a new lawsuit that they were subjected to sexual abuse and assault at the hands of correctional officers and staffers at facilities in Chicago and across the state.

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The lawsuit claims sexual abuse was allowed to persist inside Illinois Youth Centers (IYC) statewide for decades.

“Illinois’ past is stained with the tears of innocent children, victims of unspeakable horrors ignored by those entrusted with their care,” Todd Mathews, an attorney for the Bailey Glasser Institutional Abuse litigation team which filed the lawsuit, said in a statement. “But today, their silence is shattered: ‘No More.’ No more turning a blind eye, no more excuses. Today, we demand justice for every soul scarred by the system’s negligence. The time for accountability is now.”

The lawsuit was filed Monday against the state of Illinois as well as its departments of Corrections and Juvenile Justice.

A spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice said they were unable to comment on active litigation, but added the department is aware of the lawsuit and “takes seriously the safety of youth in the care of the Department.”

“All allegations of staff misconduct are immediately and thoroughly investigated in partnership with the Department of Corrections, the Illinois State Police and the Department of Children and Family Services,” the spokesperson said.

The department said it has “enacted policies and protocols to ensure the safety of youth and staff” and identify any possible instances of abuse or misconduct. Those protocols comply with state and federal safety standards, the department said, adding that all staff working in its facilities undergo background checks and training.

The alleged sexual abuse in these cases occurred between 1996 and 2017, and the complaint claims that similar abuse at these juvenile detention facilities “continues to this day.” The victims were all minors — some as young as 12 — when the alleged abuse occurred, according to the complaint.

Several plaintiffs claimed they were forced into sexual interactions with staffers.

One of the plaintiffs named in the suit, Jeffery Christian, claimed that he was repeatedly sexually abused by a female staffer at IYC-Pere Marquette while he was housed there in 2001 or 2002, according to the lawsuit.

According to the complaint, other staffers knew of the abuse and made jokes to him about it, and while he reported what happened to his mother, no one followed up with her when she notified the facility’s warden.

Christian claimed he was later housed at another IYC in Chicago in 2003 or 2004, where he said in the lawsuit he was repeatedly groped by a female counselor.

Like many of the plaintiffs, Christian said the abuse was reported at the time, but facility administrators did nothing to address it. He said reporting the abuse made him more of a target. After the incidents, he became withdrawn and anti-social.

“It prepared me to start looking at the world different,” he told the Associated Press. “It took some light out of me.”

Another plaintiff alleged that he was sexually abused by a male chaplain when he was at IYC-St. Charles in 2004.

They claimed that in some instances, those staffers would withhold things from them, like a mattress to sleep on or their phone privileges, unless they agreed to keep quiet about the abuse or have continued sexual interactions with them, the complaint states.

Some plaintiffs claimed they were subjected to repeated strip searches, during which they alleged they were abused.

The lawsuit claims the state and its employees failed these children because they knew or should have known about the alleged abuse.

The lawsuit also cited a 2013 survey from the U.S. Department of Justice, which found that Illinois was among the worst states in the nation in terms of sexual abuse in its juvenile detention facilities, with 15% of youth inmates reporting that they had experienced some form of sexual victimization.

“The State of Illinois,” the complaint states, “has allowed a culture of abuse at IYC’s to flourish unabated.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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