Lawsuit alleges sexual abuse of teens at now-closed Michigan detention center

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From the Associated Press — More than a dozen teenagers were sexually abused by staff while living at a state-licensed detention and rehabilitation center in Michigan before it closed in 2021, according to a lawsuit that accuses the operator of gross negligence.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Saginaw County, describes staff preying on 13 boys and a girl in their rooms, in showers and elsewhere at Wolverine Secure Treatment Center in Buena Vista Township, 100 miles (160.9 kilometers) north of Detroit.

“Until now they have not spent significant time talking about what happened to them,” attorney Corey Stern told The Associated Press. “It’s coming to terms with who they are. It’s coming to terms with unhealthy brokenness.”

The 100-bed center was operated by Wolverine Human Services, which is based in the Detroit area. Teenagers were placed there by courts, the state child welfare system and, in some cases, families.

Residents wore shirts that carried the center’s motto: “Reality, Responsibility, Respect, Community, Negotiation, Education, Love.”

But it was a “far more sinister environment,” the lawsuit says.

“Multiple instances of youth-on-youth and staff-on-youth sexual harassment and abuse were reported and known” to center officials, the lawsuit states.

Judith Fischer, chief executive of Wolverine Human Services, did not return a phone call seeking comment but issued a written statement, saying the alleged abuse was “never reported” to the organization.

“The safety of our residents is always our priority, so we take all claims seriously and maintain our dedication to ensuring the well-being of each person in our care,” Fischer said.

The lawsuit doesn’t disclose the names of anyone accused of committing abuse, but some victims know the names. No staff member has been charged with a crime, though “we’d be more than happy to spend time with the attorney general’s office or police department,” Stern said.

Separately, state regulators in 2021 proposed that the center’s license be revoked. Inspectors cited examples of teens being aggressively restrained by staff and other rule violations. Wolverine Human Services disputed the action but ultimately closed the center.

Stern said there are more people who say they were sexually abused as teens at the center, but, under Michigan law, too much time has passed to file a lawsuit.

“I wish I knew how or why this culture of abuse has become more pervasive,” he said. “Ultimately it comes from power. Most victims — in fact all victims — through the eyes of abusers appear to not even be human. They’re commodities.”

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