More Than 100 Maryland Child Sex Abuse Lawsuits Filed Against Juvenile Justice System Under New Law
The Maryland juvenile detention system faces more than 100 child sex abuse lawsuits brought by individuals who were wards of the state as children, pursuing financial compensation under a new law enacted earlier this year in the state, which allows survivors to hold abusers and the institutions that enabled the conduct accountable, regardless of how long ago the abuse occurred.
The Maryland Child Victims Act of 2023 went into effect at the beginning of October, removing all statute of limitations restrictions on civil claims involving sexual abuse of children in the state.
Although many of the lawsuits target the Baltimore Archdiocese and other churches that exposed children to known sexual predators, a recent Associated Press report highlights the large number of Maryland child sex abuse lawsuits that have been filed against the state’s juvenile justice system.
The Maryland state legislature passed the Child Victims Act just days after a long-awaited Baltimore Archdiocese child sex abuse report was released by the Maryland Attorney General, which detailed information about Catholic priests that abused children in Maryland over the last 60 years, including the names of 146 priests, deacons, seminarians and others who have been credibly accused by more than 300 victims and witnesses that came forward during the investigation.
Just before the law went into effect, the Baltimore Archdiocese filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, citing the new Maryland law as the driving factor in the archdiocese’ bankruptcy filing. However, the church is not the only entity facing a large number of Maryland child sex abuse lawsuits, and an alarming trend has emerged involving children abused while in the Maryland juvenile justice system.
Maryland Juvenile Detention Sex Abuse Lawsuits
According to the Associated Press, the Maryland Juvenile Detention System already faces more than 100 similar lawsuits, detailing horrific abuses children suffered while they were supposed to be under state protection. However, additional claims are expected in the coming years, as there is no deadline for survivors to present claims against the state or other entities under the Maryland Child Victims Act.
At least 50 child sex abuse lawsuits were filed against the state as soon as the law went into effect, and more than 50 additional claims have been filed since, including a lawsuit filed by 20 women who say they suffered abuse at a girls’ detention center in Laurel, Maryland, which shut down last year. In addition, another lawsuit was also filed earlier this month by 37 men who say they were abused while incarcerated at the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School in northeast Baltimore.
The Maryland juvenile detention sex abuse lawsuits each raise similar allegations, indicating that state officials knew about the problems for decades, but ignored them while children were sexually assaulted and tortured by state employees.
Survivors of the abuse say failing to submit resulted in physical violence, threats, extended incarceration and solitary confinement, while children who relented to the abuse were often offered snacks, cigarettes, additional free time and more incentives, the lawsuits claim.
Maryland Child Victims Act of 2023
For years, lawmakers attempted to change the Maryland child sex abuse statute of limitations, which previously prevented most survivors from pursuing lawsuits.
Supporters of the legislation argued that removing the Maryland statute of limitations on child sex abuse claims was necessary, since many survivors are not prepared to address the conduct until much later in life. In addition, the Catholic Church has been notorious for covering up credible allegations, discrediting child survivors of abuse and pressuring devoted families from pursuing any action against priests or other members of the clergy.
After a two year window in the New York child sex abuse statute of limitations was opened in 2020, tens of thousands of claims were brought against the Boy Scouts, Catholic Church and other entitles throughout the state. The Buffalo Diocese alone had at least 230 Catholic priests accused of sexually abusing minors, with eight specific priests accounting for more than 1,000 lawsuits filed in that part of the state.
While child abuse statute of limitations laws have also been enacted in a number of states, including New Jersey, California and Louisiana, other states are still debating similar bills that would allow survivors to hold abusers and entities that enabled their conduct accountable.
The Maryland Child Victims Act includes a provision that an interlocutory appeal may be immediately pursued following any order denying a motion to dismiss based on a defense that the Maryland statute of limitations or statute of repose bars the claim, or that the legislative action reviving the claim is unconstitutional.
An interlocutory appeal allows the higher courts to consider the case before any final judgment is rendered in the trial court. While this measure will introduce substantial delays before survivors of sexual abuse are able to obtain justice, it will also avoid the need for each individual to recount their trauma at trial before the Maryland Supreme Court evaluates the constitutionality of the new law.
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