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Juvenile unit tops in claims of sex abuse

Monday, August 01, 2005
Chicago Sun-Times
by STEVE PATTERSON Staff Reporter

The Cook County Juvenile Detention Center had more reports of sexual misconduct by its staff members toward its young residents than any other juvenile facility of similar size in the country last year.

That's according to a U.S. Justice Department survey released Sunday, detailing all sexual violence reported in jails, prisons and juvenile centers last year.

Out of the 70 allegations of staff sexual misconduct with residents at juvenile centers nationwide, 10 percent came from Cook County.

But county investigations found that none of those seven reported incidents -- which could range from threats and comments to sexual incidents or relationships -- could be verified, the federal report shows.

The report also shows there were 10 reports of abusive or non-consensual sexual acts by juvenile residents against other residents in the Cook County facility, but none of those could be proved, either.

Chip Cauldron, of the jail watchdog group the John Howard Association, helped prepare the survey and said the results from Cook County "aren't terribly surprising."

"I've been working with the administration and monitoring things at the juvenile detention center because we'd heard of the problems there," he said. "Our assessment has been there have been problems due to the lack of leadership, so it wouldn't be surprising to hear there have been problems."

The center at 1100 S. Hamilton is home to hundreds of youths ages 10 to 16, and is overseen by County Board President John Stroger.

Many may go unreported

Nationwide, the facility had the third-highest number of reports of sexual misconduct by staff members. However, the reports by residents exceeded those from all other facilities of similar size, the report said.

Stroger spokeswoman Caryn Stancik said staffers "take every allegation seriously and investigate every one," though records show most claims can't be substantiated.

The report notes, however, that "due to fear of reprisal from perpetrators, a code of silence among inmates, personal embarrassment and lack of trust in staff," there likely are many more sexual assaults that go unreported.

It also shows there were no reports of staff incidents with inmates at the Cook County Jail, but there were 12 verified reports of inmate-on-inmate sexual assaults.

"Given that about 100,000 people a year spend time in our jail, that's a pretty small number," sheriff's spokesman Bill Cunningham said. "Still, one is too many, and it's something we work to prevent."

Last week, the sheriff's office denied a Chicago Sun-Times request for records showing all abuse complaints filed by inmates or residents against sheriff's officers.

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