Since 2020, at least 230 people have filed suit against the Youth Development Center in Manchester, New Hampshire, a secure state mental health facility, for allowing staff to systematically abuse patients physically and sexually between 1963 and 2018. So far, 150 staff members have been accused of abusing young people between the ages of 7 and 18.
The allegations are sickening. According to the Associated Press, more than half of the 150 staffers are accused of perpetrating sexual abuse against the children in their care. This included allegations of gang rapes by counselors, being beaten while being raped, and being forced to sexually abuse other children. The AP says that some children got venereal diseases and at least one became pregnant.
The physical abuse allegations are just as terrible. The plaintiffs allege that staff members beat children unconscious, choked them and broke bones. The counselors allegedly set up “fight clubs” in which the children were forced to compete for food.
Some kids were put in solitary confinement for extended periods of time, sometimes shackled, strapped down, or naked.
Some children were kept from classrooms while their injuries healed. Some of them cannot read or write even today, according to their attorney.
Others suffer from PTSD, substance abuse, depression and other problems.
The New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office launched a criminal investigation in 2019. The center, now renamed the Sununu Youth Services Center, is still in operation. However, last year the average population was just 17 residents. There are currently about 90 employees, and it is unclear how many of the current staff are accused of abuse.
Some staff participated in the abuse; others looked away
The lawsuit claims that some supervisors were involved in the abuse. Those staffers who did not actively participate in the abuse looked away and did not report the problem.
The plaintiffs’ lawyer claims that the state of New Hampshire was institutionally negligent in hiring, training, supervision and retention of staff. “It’s pretty clear to me that this facility was a magnet for predators,” he told the AP.
In one man’s case, the attorney general’s office charged two counselors with 82 counts of rape, at least one of which involved a gun. However, even as the office announced “an unprecedented allocation” of resources to expanding the investigation, including assigning 10 state troopers to a task force, those 82 charges were dropped.
The state of New Hampshire has also opposed the lawsuit brought by the abused children, who are now adults. The state has filed a motion to dismiss the case as an improper class action.
Institutional settings can be dangerous for kids
These allegations are truly disturbing but, unfortunately, they are not entirely surprising. They represent a known trend, where people in institutional settings do not receive the care they are promised and are instead exposed to violence or sexual abuse.
Here in New York, the Child Victims Act has made it easier for victims of child sexual abuse to come forward as adults, speak out about what happened to them and hold their abusers liable in court.
In the past, the statute of limitations on sex abuse charges often ran out before the adult victims were able to file suit against their abusers. Now, New York survivors of child sexual abuse can file suit until August 2021 under the Child Victims Act.