150 People Sue, Saying They Were Abused as Minors in N.Y.C. Custody

It had been a tumultuous year for Mary Soto, a high school freshman. She had been in and out of juvenile courts and struggling with her home life when an altercation with a police officer outside a party about 15 years ago led to her being held in custody at Horizon Juvenile Center in the Bronx.

Ms. Soto, who was then about 14, said she was terrified when the metal doors to her cell closed on her first night at Horizon. But over the next few days, she found a “family” of other girls who helped her navigate her new surroundings, including teaching her how to get candy, snacks and other items. One girl told her that a particular staff member would bring her anything she wanted from the outside world if Ms. Soto was “really nice to him.”

What that meant, Ms. Soto said she soon found out, was enduring repeated sexual assaults over the next four months of her detention, according to a lawsuit filed Monday. The staff member would enter her room at Horizon about three times a week and kiss and fondle her, and force her to engage in oral sex, according to the suit.

What happened to Ms. Soto, now 30, did not happen in a vacuum, said her lawyer, Jerome Block. She is one of about 150 people who filed lawsuits on Monday against New York City — including the Administration for Children’s Services and the Department of Correction — for the abuse they said they endured while in the city’s custody as minors.

The suits — all filed through the law firm Levy Konigsberg LLP — show “long-term, institutionalized sexual abuse” from the 1970s through the 2010s, Mr. Block said.

The lawsuits were filed under the city’s gender-motivated violence law, passed in 2000 to allow victims of domestic violence or any crimes linked to gender to sue their attackers and institutions for damages. In 2022, a New York City law was enacted with a two-year look-back window to file lawsuits that might have passed the statute of limitations.

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