NYC sees 154 new lawsuits alleging sexual abuse in city juvenile detention centers

people outside on stairs discussing lawsuits filed against NYC over sexual abuse in city juvenile detention centers
A group of legal advocates and survivors gathered to announce 154 lawsuits they had filed over sexual abuse people experienced under the city’s juvenile detention system.
Photo by Max Parrott

A group of 154 people filed lawsuits on Monday against New York City over sexual abuse they experienced under the juvenile detention system as minors.

Levy Konigsberg, a law firm dedicated to representing victims of sexual violence, filed the group of civil lawsuits against the City of New York, including the Administration for Children’s Services and the Department of Correction, on behalf of the survivors at juvenile detention facilities in the Bronx including Spofford Juvenile Detention Center, Horizon Juvenile Center and Rikers Island.

Attorneys Jerome Block and Madeleine Skaller gathered with several of the survivors, legislators and advocates on the steps of Bronx County Court to announce that they had filed the lawsuits.

“Our clients want justice. They want accountability, and they want sexual abuse in juvenile detention centers to stop,” Block said.

The cases were filed under the gender-motivated violence law, a version of which first passed the City Council in 2000 to allow victims of domestic violence or gender-based offenses to sue their attackers and institutions for damages. This law was amended and enacted in 2022 by the council to create a two-year window for alleged victims of gender-based violence to file lawsuits that might have passed the statute of limitations. Under the law, the legal advocates will seek to prove that someone committed violence against their clients because of their gender.

Though City Hall did not respond directly to an amNewYork Metro request for comment on the lawsuits by deadline, a spokeswoman told the New York Times that the Law Department is reviewing them and takes the allegations very seriously.

Mary Soto, one of the two survivors who joined advocates on the court steps, described how when she arrived at the city-operated Horizon Juvenile Detention Center at 14 she was groomed and sexually abused by a staff member who would exchange gifts for sexual favors.

“I was naive and impressionable and was taken advantage of. I want accountability. I want for the people that are responsible for what happened to us to be taken accountable. We need juvenile reform programs,” Soto said.

The legal advocates allege that the City of New York allowed a culture in its juvenile detention facilities where sexual abuse continued across decades, and claimed that sexual abuse of minors of the sort alleged in the lawsuits likely continues to exist to this day.

The advocates were joined by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Council Member Althea Stevens, chair of the Committee on Children and Youth, who both condemned the incidents as a byproduct of a criminal justice system that prioritizes punishment above rehabilitation.

“As council member and chair of children and youth and having oversight of [Administration for Children’s Services] I’ll use all my time and authority to make sure that we put in place systems to ensure that this never happens again. You can guarantee that this will be a priority not only for me, but for counsel, because this is unacceptable,” said Stephens.

Stephens added that she would continue to meet with survivors to consider what types of legislative reform would address the types of abuse they experienced. Block, the attorney, said that the system needs safeguards that could “hold the perpetrators accountable” and prevent “a culture of secrecy.”