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Chicago area man is among 95 alleging sexual abuse at Illinois juvenile detention centers

Chicago area man says he was sexually abused at two juvenile detention facilities
Chicago area man says he was sexually abused at two juvenile detention facilities 03:40

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A Maywood man says he is one of 95 people alleging decades of sexual abuse at Illinois juvenile detention centers.

Those 95 people filed a lawsuit Monday, describing a culture of sexual abuse at the hands of juvenile detention staff as pervasive and clouded in secrecy.

One of those people, Jeffery Christian, said he was about 13 when he was arrested on drug charges.

"If you be around the wrong friends, you end up doing the wrong things," Christian said.

He was sent to Pere Marquette, a state youth center just north of St. Louis operated by the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice.

Christian said he still remembered the number he was assigned at the facility - D39792. He said the D stood for "delinquents."

"I think I may never forget it," he said. "It's like when you're faced with pain, that's something you can push to the back of your mind - but it always comes back to the front."

Decades later, that pain is still fresh for Christian. He said he was groomed and sexually abused repeatedly while in custody by the staff at two state youth centers.

He said his first abuser was a guard.

"It started with the rubbing and the touching, to her starting playing with my private parts," he said. "She would come talk to me, which led to her buying me little things."

Christian said the guard told him, "You're cute, and I could see… I wish you was my man."

Years later, Christian said the sexual abuse continued when he was just about 15 or 16. He said it was both verbal and nonverbal in nature, and happened at the hands of a counselor assigned to him at the Chicago Juvenile Youth Center.

De Mar: "Do you think the state failed you?

Christian: "I know the state failed me."

Christian joined those 94 other former juvenile offenders, who said they too were sexually assaulted in Illinois youth centers.

"The cases are filed under the Illinois Child Sexual Abuse Act," said attorney Jerry Block.

Block represents Christian and the other alleged sexual abuse victims in a new lawsuit.

"We have, in this case, children who went into the system already struggling - really needing help," said Block, "and what happened to them was they were traumatized - and they were traumatized in the worst way."

According to the complaint, the abuse happened between 1996 and 2017. More than a third of the alleged victims said they were sexually abused by the staff at the St. Charles Youth center, now known as the Peace Center at St. Charles.

"I think what's stood out to me in these cases is just the culture of secrecy - the culture that normalized and enabled the sexual abuse," said Block.

CBS 2 asked Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker about the lawsuit Monday.

"I just heard about this. I don't want to comment too much about it because it's ongoing litigation," said Pritzker, "but I understand it's a matter than involved a prior administration of not only DJJ, but the prior administration of the governorship."

Christian said his childhood was stripped away by the abuse.

De Mar: "Do you think your childhood was taken away in some ways?"

Christian: "Yes, it got took away early. I never had a chance to really be a kid - an innocent kid."

Now 36, Christian said he is using his pain for a purpose.

"I want the world to know what was going on while I was in that system," he said. "Since it happened to me, I don't want it to happen to the next adolescent."

The Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice sent the following statement:

"The Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (IDJJ) is aware of the lawsuit recently filed in the Illinois Court of Claims related to allegations under prior administrations. Although the "Department is unable to comment on active litigation, IDJJ 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.  

"IDJJ has enacted policies and protocols to ensure the safety of youth and staff and identify any possible instances of abuse or misconduct. IDJJ protocols comply with both state and federal safety standards and IDJJ completes ongoing policy and protocol evaluations. All staff working in IDJJ facilities undergo background checks and training, along with participating in ongoing professional development."

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