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Very Real

Immigrant Children Allegedly Abused At Virginia Facility Were Being Treated For Mental Health

An investigation found the Shenandoah Valley facility was not equipped to treat the mental health struggles of children fleeing violence.

By Oxygen Staff

Immigrant children who were supposed to be getting treatment for trauma say that instead they suffered abuse — including beatings while handcuffed and being left nude in solitary confinement — inside a Virginia detention facility for kids, according to a lawsuit.

These children were reportedly being treated by the facility for mental health trauma, according to The Associated Press.

A lawsuit filed last October states that migrant children at the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center (SVJC), some as young as 14, said they were stripped naked by the guards and strapped to chairs with bags placed over their heads. The center, which has 58 beds, hosts about 30 migrant children.

“The youth were being screened as gang-involved individuals. And then when they came into our care, and they were assessed by our clinical and case management staff ... they weren’t necessarily identified as gang-involved individuals,” sa program director at the facility told the AP. 

“Strapped me down all the way, from your feet all the way to your chest, you couldn’t really move,” a 15-year-old told the wire service. “They have total control over you. They also put a bag over your head. It has little holes; you can see through it. But you feel suffocated with the bag on.”

The lawsuit, made available online by AP, states that as a result of being subjected to “unconstitutional conditions that shock the conscience, including violence by staff, abusive and excessive use of seclusion and restraints, and the denial of necessary mental health care,” a 17-year-old resorted to self-harm, a situation “similar” to other children at the facility.

The Washington Lawyers’ Committee For Civil Rights And Urban Affairs confirmed to Oxygen.com that six children in total made declarations.

The children involved are not from the recent wave of children who were separated from their families by President Donald Trump’s “zero-tolerance” policy at the border, a situation that caused uproar among politicians and activists in the past month.

The timeline of these allegations span 2015 to 2018, according to AP, falling under both the Obama and Trump administrations.

“These problems are not unique to SVJC, but are part of a growing and alarming national trend of punitive, racially discriminatory conditions of confinement and systematic indifference to the suffering of immigrant detainees, who often fare worse in civil detention than those serving criminal sentences,” the lawsuit states.

The SVJC’s website says it aims “to provide a safe, secure, and clean environment.”

The investigation prompted Governor Ralph Northam to announce a probe into the allegations on Twitter.

“I share many Virginians' concerns about disturbing allegations of abuse at Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center,” he wrote, adding that he’s asked appropriate departments to look into “steps that may be necessary at the state or federal level to ensure the safety of every child being held there.”

[Photo: A Mexican woman holding a doll as a child looks on at the U.S.-Mexico border in Mexico on June 20, 2018. By Herika Martinez/AFP/Getty Images]