DALLAS — A young man and a teenage boy filed a lawsuit last week accusing the staff at a Texas ranch for at-risk youth of not protecting them from sexual abuse by older residents, an advocate for child abuse victims said Wednesday.
In recent years, an increasing number of former residents have come forward to say they suffered physical and sexual abuse at Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch near Amarillo decades ago. But too many years had passed for legal recourse.
But the plaintiffs in the civil lawsuit filed May 21 in Potter County District Court lived at the 80-year-old facility within the past decade. One plaintiff was 13 years old when he was enrolled at the ranch by his parents in 2010. The other arrived in 2015 at the age of 9. Both say they were exposed to sexually aggressive behaviour by an older resident within days of arriving.
The plaintiffs, who are seeking a jury trial, want more than $1 million in damages.
Ranch spokesman Cary Varnado says they’re in the process of gathering more information and he’s unable to say more other than they’ll “defend the rights” of the ranch. He notes they continue to provide counselling for any former resident who says they were hurt in their time there.
The lawsuit says the boys’ exposure to sexual activity by older residents “resulted from the continuation of a long-standing and deeply entrenched dangerous condition” at the ranch.
That accusation mirrors allegations made by men who lived at the ranch dating back to the 1950s who said they were subjected to brutal whippings with belts for infractions such as forgetting a Bible verse or getting a bad grade. Some said they were molested or raped by older boys. Many struggled with homelessness, drug addiction, suicide and prison after leaving the ranch.
The lawsuit says the boy who arrived at the ranch when he was 13 became “severely anxious and depressed.” It says the younger boy started acting out sexually and has since been hospitalized in a residential treatment centre for child victims and perpetrators of sexual abuse.
The lawsuit also includes the testimony of older former residents who say they were abused.
“I think that these survivors, in talking to the attorneys, felt that this was their way of allowing their suffering from their childhood trauma to help two kids in need,” said Janet Heimlich, whose Austin-based non-profit The Child-Friendly Faith Project advocates for victims of child abuse.
Heimlich said Wednesday that those who talked about their experiences in support of the lawsuit did so to achieve transparency and to ensure current residents at the ranch are safe.
The lawsuit says the ranch hasn’t implemented adequate safety measures or security to protect those in its care from sexual assault by other residents.