Raped as a teen at ‘nightmare’ Wordsworth, Philly man sues

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A 19-year-old Strawberry Mansion man who was raped at the Wordsworth residential treatment center for troubled young people has sued the agency, saying it failed to keep him safe after he was entrusted to its care.

The man was attacked in his room at the West Philadelphia facility in April 2015, when he was 16. He was awakened in the middle of the night by another resident who demanded oral sex, then pushed him into a closet and raped him, police records show.

He screamed for help, the lawsuit says, but no one came to his aid. Wordsworth, which is paid $119,000 annually per child to provide shelter and treatment for young people with mental illness or behavioral problems, had a duty to keep the victim safe, the suit says.

At the time of the assault, the boy’s attacker, who had a history of violence, was supposed to be kept under one-on-one supervision at all times, said the victim’s lawyer, Jonathan M. Cohen. Instead, he was left alone to wander into the boy’s bedroom and rape him.

Wordsworth staffers responsible for monitoring the safety of the victim and others at the facility failed to protect him, the suit said. As a consequence, Wordsworth was “vicariously liable” for the boy’s injuries, Cohen contended in the lawsuit.

“Wordsworth was presenting some sort of illusion of safety,” Cohen said in an interview. In reality, he said, “it’s like some sort of nightmare prison movie.”

Wordsworth, the West Philadelphia facility ordered closed by the state, was the site of a rape that has prompted a lawsuit.

The Inquirer and Daily News are withholding the victim’s name because the newspapers do not identify victims of sexual assault without their permission. The boy’s assailant, Craig Roberts, then 16, was later arrested and adjudicated delinquent on a charge of sexual assault.

After the attack, the victim was transferred to another part of the facility and assigned to share a bedroom with a relative of Roberts’. This, the suit said, made him fearful.

The lawsuit faults Wordsworth as failing to properly train and supervise the workers charged with caring for young people who lived at the facility. Wordsworth’s treatment of the boy, the suit contends, was “reckless and outrageous, flagrant and beyond all bounds of common decency.”

A spokeswoman for Wordsworth declined to comment Tuesday.

The lawsuit is the latest setback for Wordsworth, which was ordered to close the facility in October after a child died in a clash with staffers who punched him repeatedly.

David Hess, 17, suffocated, and the Medical Examiner’s Office ruled his death a homicide.

David Hess, 17, struggled with mental illness and was sent for treatment at Wordsworth, a residential facility in West Philadelphia for troubled young people. One week before he was to be discharged from the program, he was killed in a clash with ill-trained staffers who punched and suffocated him.

After the death, the state Department of Human Services revoked the facility’s license and ordered it to close, saying it posed “an immediate and serious danger” to the children who lived there.

In addition to the residential treatment facility, Wordsworth runs a school and an acute psychiatric center, and holds $55 million in city contracts to provide foster care, education and social services for Philadelphia children at risk of abuse, neglect, or deliquency.

As an Inquirer investigation revealed last month, the now-shuttered Wordsworth had a long history of violence. In the last decade, records show, at least 49 sex crimes have been reported at the center, including 12 rapes. In 2015, three girls who lived there told police they were sexually assaulted by a staffer who lured them to the basement for sex and forced them to take naked photos of themselves with his iPhone. They, too, have sued. The staffer, Isaac Outten, 38, of Henrico, Va., has pleaded not guilty to institutional sexual assault and other crimes.

For years, there were signs of serious deficiencies at Wordsworth, including lapses in training and medical care and dangerous living conditions. Yet state officials renewed the facility’s license again and again, and city child welfare agencies and the courts continued to send young people there.

In response to the newspaper investigation, nine City Council members — a majority — called for sweeping reforms in oversight of the city’s child welfare system and a “complete overhaul” of how such facilities are monitored. Three state lawmakers, also troubled by the newspaper report, have called for legislative hearings.

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