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Lawsuits shed light on sexual abuse in New York foster care system

In the year-and-a-half since New York passed the Child Victims Act, horrific claims of childhood sexual abuse have continued to pour in. Many involve institutions that are notorious for sweeping such abuse under the rug – the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts of America. Yet, those are far from the only ones that have come to light. Dozens of claims have illuminated widespread sexual abuse in the New York foster care system.

 

The all-too-familiar patterns of abuse

Research shows that foster children are far more likely to suffer sexual abuse, whether in private home placements or group homes. The perpetrators may be foster parents, staff members at group homes or even older kids.

The patterns of abuse in foster care resemble those involving priests and Boy Scout leaders. In all of these contexts, adults who hold positions of trust and authority take advantage of children’s vulnerabilities. The adults often resort to threats to keep their victims compliant and silent.

In the foster care system, those threats prey on the victims’ deepest fears. Perpetrators may threaten to take away the victims’ meager privileges, to keep them in unfavorable placements, and to prevent them from ever being reunited with their parents or getting adopted.

Abuse spanning decades

Many of the sexual abuse claims took place at the ironically named Pleasantville Cottage School, a residential care and psychiatric treatment facility for foster children. Multiple staff members allegedly perpetrated the abuse over several decades. According to survivors and former residents from the 1970s through the ’90s, the abuse was widely known at the time. Staff members would frequently single out certain children as their “special friends.” They would groom the victims, isolating them from their peers and providing favorable treatment as an enticement while also using threats to keep their victims in line. For decades, the abuse got swept under the rug.

The tragic reality

It’s unclear exactly how much abuse persists in the foster care system today. Foster children now have access to an abuse hotline. It receives more than 300,000 calls each year.

Still, incidents of abuse are likely far under-reported. It’s a tragic reality that takes a devastating, lifelong toll on survivors and society as a whole.

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