A lawsuit alleging sexual abuse at a state youth correctional facility is calling attention to the responsibility Oregon and other states have to protect young people placed in their care. According to a recent article in The Oregonian a man in his early 40s has filed a suit in Marion County court alleging that “as a teenager in 1991 he was repeatedly coaxed into a laundry room and a bathroom and then sexually abused by two female staff members at MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility in Woodburn.”
This case caught my eye because it is a powerful reminder that injuries to, and sexual abuse of, children can and should be addressed by our justice system even if a significant amount of time has passed. According to the paper the victim, identified in the suit only as “John Doe” had not “reported the MacLaren employees to police or others, the suit says, because he didn’t see the behavior for what it was.” No person who has suffered in this way should be denied justice solely because they were too afraid to come forward at the time the offense was committed. Therefore it is heartening to see this case proceeding despite the passage of nearly 25 years.
Even more importantly, “the suit states that sexual abuse at the youth prison in the 1990s wasn’t just isolated to Doe. The suit claims that the two women abused at least three other boys – and that one of the women ended up marrying a youth offender after the two had a sexual relationship at MacLaren. The lawsuit faults the Oregon Youth Authority for allegedly ‘fostering’ an atmosphere where sexual abuse of youths was known and ignored or condoned.”
That last sentence gets to the heart of the issue. Whether a child has been placed in foster care or in juvenile detention or even if they are simply at school, once the state takes responsibility for a young person’s well-being it has a duty to see that its employees act in a proper manner and that the facility or school where the child is placed is safe and secure.
As a Portland attorney with a practice focusing on injuries to children I will be following this case as it unfolds in the weeks and months to come. Beyond the issue of the physical and psychological injuries allegedly suffered by the boy at the center of this case I hope our courts and the media will explore the broader culture of youth correctional facilities and ask whether the situation today echoes in any way the alleged conditions of the 1990s.