Abels & Annes P.C., working with co-counsel, has filed a sex abuse lawsuit against the City of Chicago and former Chicago Police Department officer William Whitley. The lawsuit alleges that Whitley exploited his position as a Chicago police officer to sexually abuse a 14-year-old girl and that the City of Chicago facilitated the abuse by failing to investigate, discipline, and otherwise hold police officers accountable for misconduct. Whitley was recently sentenced to 25 years in prison for paying the 14-year-old and three other minors for sex between 2012 and 2016.
At the time of his crimes, there were at least 29 complaints lodged against Whitley by civilian and/or internal affairs agencies. He should long before have been removed from his position of public trust. But Whitley benefited from the City’s long-running pattern and practice of letting police officers get away with flagrant misconduct, and from the code of silence that inhibits police officers and others from speaking up about abuses. A federal government investigation recently reported that “numerous entrenched, systemic policies and practices … undermine police accountability” in Chicago, especially the code of silence that the “City, police officers, and leadership within CPD and its police officer union” all acknowledge that a code of silence exists.
Our lawsuit against the city and Whitley alleges that it was just this pattern and practice of turning a blind eye to police misconduct that fueled Whitley’s crimes. Had the city enforced policies and procedures designed to prevent police abuses, Whitley would not have had the opportunity to prey on innocent victims.
Civil rights laws permit victims of sexual abuse to seek compensation not just from an abuser who cloaked himself with official authority, but also from government institutions that allowed the abuse to occur through an official or de facto custom, policy, or practice.
The disturbing facts alleged about Whitley’s crimes illustrate just how flagrantly he exploited his position as a police officer to abuse teen girls. According to the Kansas City Star, court records reflect that Whitley hung his police uniform on the bedroom door during sexual encounters with his 14-year-old victim, bragged to her about being a police officer, and kept a loaded service firearm under a pillow while in bed with the girl. Whitley also reportedly led a 16-year-old victim to believe he was a police officer when he pulled up next to her, asked her to take a ride with him and his “partner,” and then paid her for sex.
Unfortunately, when employers and institutions empower adults to exercise control over minors without carefully monitoring their conduct, vulnerable young people can end up getting sexually victimized. Serial sexual abusers in the clergy, police, and scouting have all harmed children by taking advantage of the lax or willfully blind disciplinary practices of the organizations that gave them their authority. Oftentimes, predators target the most vulnerable victims, such as children from troubled homes or, in Whitley’s case, runaways.
Sexual crimes against minors inflict devastating and often life-long trauma. Researchers have found that a history of childhood sexual abuse correlates with “higher levels of depression, guilt, shame, self-blame, eating disorders, somatic concerns, anxiety, dissociative patterns, repression, denial, sexual problems, and relationship problems.” Research has also found strong correlations between sexual abuse in childhood and substance abuse in later life among both male and female abuse victims.
Even without such troubles, survivors of sexual abuse often struggle with confronting their past, especially when the abuser was a powerful authority figure, such as a police officer or a priest.
At Abels & Annes, we work with survivors of sexual abuse to make abusers and their enablers accountable. Part of that strategy can involve taking civil legal action for monetary damages, such as the case against the City of Chicago and former police officer Whitley.
Both criminal and civil legal cases play an important role in bringing sexual abusers to justice. In handing down the 25-year sentence against Whitley, the judge sharply rebuked him for having “sworn to protect and serve the public, but instead, [exploiting] some of the most vulnerable members of the public: young girls.”
Whitley’s sentence undoubtedly sends a powerful message to other would-be abusers.
But punishing the individual perpetrator is only part of the equation. Adults will continue to take advantage of positions of authority to abuse young people for so long as institutions enable and willfully overlook their misconduct. But you cannot put an entire organization like a police department or church in jail for its bad institutional culture. Instead, civil actions like the one we have filed give survivors of sexual abuse the opportunity to force changes in an organization’s culture and behavior by seeking significant monetary damages and other forms of relief.
This form of accountability can prove especially important for survivors when perpetrators refuse to face up to their conduct. Whitley’s sentencing judge doubted whether Whitley was even sorry for his crimes, citing his defiant behavior at trial. Whitley’s lack of remorse likely stemmed from his decades steeped in a police culture that treated him and his colleagues as if they were above the law and answerable to no one.
The team at Abels & Annes believes in the essential role of civil actions for monetary damages in holding powerful people and institutions accountable for actions that harm the most vulnerable among us. Chicago’s police culture went so far off the rails that it turned a blind eye to a police officer who paid for sex with children. Our lawsuit against the City and William Whitley aims to make sure that it never happens again.
If a person in a position of trust sexually abused you, and you want to know about your legal options for holding your abuser and anyone who enabled your abuser accountable, then we invite you to reach out to us. A consultation with our lawyers is free, strictly confidential, and comes with no obligation.