Dozens allege child sexual abuse in Maryland treatment program under newly filed lawsuits

Mar 12, 2024, 12:17 PM | Updated: 2:20 pm

BALTIMORE (AP) — More than three dozen people allege in two lawsuits filed Tuesday that they were sexually abused as children at a Maryland residential program for youths that closed in 2017 following similar allegations.

In the separate lawsuits, atorneys detailed decades of alleged abuse of children by staff members of the Good Shepherd Services behavioral health treatment center, which had billed itself as a therapeutic, supportive environment for Maryland’s most vulnerable youth.

The program was founded in 1864 by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, a Catholic religious order focused on helping women and girls. It began at a facility in Baltimore before moving to its most recent campus just outside the city.

Tuesday’s lawsuits add to a growing pile of litigation since Maryland lawmakers eliminated the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse cases last year.

Many of the plaintiffs — almost all of them women — reported being injected with sedatives that made it more difficult for them to resist the abuse. Others said their abusers, including nuns and priests employed by the center, bribed them with food and gifts or threatened them with violence and loss of privileges.

The claims were filed against the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services and Department of Human Services, agencies that contracted with Good Shepherd and referred children there for treatment. The lawsuits also named the state Department of Health, which was tasked with overseeing residential facilities. The Sisters of the Good Shepherd religious order wasn’t a named defendant in either suit.

In a joint statement Tuesday afternoon, the three state agencies said they had not yet been served with the court papers.

“However, the Departments of Health, Human Services and Juvenile Services work to ensure the safety and well-being of all children and youth placed in state care. We take allegations of sexual abuse of children in our care seriously,” the statement said.

Many of the children referred to Good Shepherd were in foster care or involved in the state’s juvenile justice system.

“The state of Maryland sent the most vulnerable children in its care to this facility and then failed to protect them,” said Jerome Block, an attorney representing 13 plaintiffs in one of the lawsuits filed Tuesday.

Good Shepherd was closed in 2017 after state agencies decided to withdraw children from the program, which had been cited the previous year for not providing proper supervision after one patient reported being sexually assaulted and others showed signs of overdose after taking medicine stolen from a medical cart, according to The Baltimore Sun.

“The sexual assault of vulnerable teenagers by state employees is horrific, but the fact clergy were also complicit is one of the many truly sickening aspects of what transpired at Good Shepherd Services,” said Adam Slater, an attorney representing 26 plaintiffs in the second lawsuit.

One of the plaintiffs said in that suit that she told a priest during confession about being abused by two women employees at the center, telling him she was afraid “God would be disgusted” with her. She said that instead of doing anything to help her, the priest sexually assaulted her and kept abusing her every two weeks for the rest of her stay, according to the suit.

Since the state law change that went into effect in October, a flurry of lawsuits have alleged abuse of incarcerated youth. Lawmakers approved the change with the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal in mind after a scathing investigative report revealed the scope of the problem within the Archdiocese of Baltimore. But in recent months, an unexpected spotlight has settled on the state’s juvenile justice system.

While attorneys said they plan to file more complaints under the new law, their cases could be delayed by a widely anticipated constitutional challenge that’s currently winding its way through the courts.

A Prince George’s County Circuit judge ruled last week that the law was constitutional in response to a challenge filed by the Archdiocese of Washington, which also spans parts of Maryland, but the decision is expected to be appealed. The underlying case accuses the archdiocese of failing to protect three plaintiffs from clergy sexual abuse as children.

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Dozens allege child sexual abuse in Maryland treatment program under newly filed lawsuits