3 survivors of alleged child sex abuse at Illinois juvenile detention centers share their stories

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

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Tuesday, May 7, 2024
Victims of alleged juvenile detention center sex abuse share stories
Jeffery Christian, Calvin McDowell and Stephen Lucas shared their stories of alleged child sex abuse at Illinois juvenile detention centers on Tuesday.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Nearly 100 people have filed a lawsuit claiming they were victims of child sex abuse at detention centers across Illinois.

The lawsuit details alleged incidents of abuse from 1996 to 2017, including gang rape, forced oral sex, beatings and groping of children by corrections officers, sergeants, nurses, therapists, a chaplain and others at nine youth centers. Many plaintiffs said they were threatened or rewarded to keep quiet.

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Survivors of that alleged sexual abuse spoke out on Tuesday. One of the plaintiffs, Jeffery Christian, shared a hard-learned truth learned far too young.

"I learned at too young of an age that the system wasn't going to make me a better man, just hurt me," Christian said.

Christian stood alongside self-proclaimed survivors of alleged child sex abuse at Illinois juvenile detention centers.

"I want the world to know what happened to me and the rest of the survivors standing with me today," Christian said.

Calvin McDowell says he was 16 years old when he says was victimized by a chaplain at an Illinois youth center.

"Instead of being cared for, I felt more I felt more alone than ever," McDowell said.

Stephen Lucas says he was just 13 years old.

"I was preyed upon by a dangerous man who held a position of power over me during my time at IYC Harrisburg," Lucas said. "He had me feel hopeless, helpless and alone at a time in my life where I needed help and guidance the most."

Now, these three men are part of a lawsuit involving nearly 100 men and women who detailed alleged incidents of abuse at nine Illinois youth centers. The lawsuit accuses the state of failing to investigate the alleged abusers.

"They were raped, forced to perform oral sex and a vast variety of other atrocities," said Bailey Glasser LLP Attorney Todd Matthews.

According to paragraph 109 of the lawsuit, some of the 95 plaintiffs who've signed onto the complaint - mostly with pseudonyms - alleged "severe abuse by the same abuser," including a former supervisor at the facility in Harrisburg who also serves as mayor in a nearby town. Other frequent abusers, the lawsuit alleges, include a chaplain at the facility in St. Charles.

One plaintiff, identified only by the initials "K.J.," claims he was abused by "dozens" of correctional officers and sergeants at five different facilities he lived in between 2000 and 2004.

K.J. was 13 when he first experienced sexual abuse at the facilities, which the lawsuit alleges continued until he was 17. The abuse ranged from strip searches where he was allegedly fondled, penetrated with a finger and forced to give and receive oral sex at the St. Charles facility, to an instance of gang rape at the Joliet facility.

At the Kewanee facility, the suit alleges, K.J. "was strip searched daily without suspicion, which provided a false guise under which K.J. abusers then sexually abused him and his cellmate."

"This sex abuse happened under the threat of physical beatings," according to the filing.

Another former IDJJ detainee, referred to in the suit as "A.B.," was 14 when he was allegedly abused at the St. Charles facility between 1998 and 1999. According to the lawsuit, A.B. had two abusers who forced him to administer oral sex and receive anal penetration.

Both were correctional officers who allegedly punished A.B. for protesting his sexual abuse by revoking yard time and phone privileges - or otherwise forced him to stay in his cell if he refused to comply.

When he did comply, the suit alleges A.B. was rewarded with extra recreation time.

"They want justice, and they want sexual abuse in the Illinois Juvenile justice system to stop," said Jerome Block with Levy Konigsberg LLP.

The lawsuit, filed in the Illinois Court of Claims, follows similar harrowing allegations of child sex abuse at juvenile detention centers in Maryland, New Jersey, New Hampshire, California and New York City. Some cases have gone to trial or resulted in settlements; arrests have been infrequent.

The Illinois lawsuit contends the state failed to supervise, discipline, remove or investigate alleged abusers, enabling the abuse to continue. The complaint alleges the abuse happened at youth centers in locations all over the state including Chicago, Joliet, Harrisburg, Murphysboro and Warrenville. Several locations have since closed.

The lawsuit names the state of Illinois, the state's Department of Corrections and Department of Juvenile Justice as defendants. It seeks damages of roughly $2 million per plaintiff, the most allowed under law.

The Department of Juvenile Justice said it cannot comment on active litigation.

Attorneys representing the 95 plaintiffs say this is only the beginning, and they anticipate filing more lawsuits in the coming weeks.

The three men who spoke on Tuesday hope by sharing their stories, more people will step forward knowing they are not alone.

"Today, I am not alone. Today, I take my life back from the man who preyed upon me. Today, I begin the road to recovery," McDowell said.

The Associated Press and Capitol News Illinois contributed to this report.