Christian Youth theater san diego

New Allegations of Sex Abuse at Christian Youth Theater

Christian Youth Theater headquarters in El Cajon
NBC 7

Six former members of San Diego’s Christian Youth Theater (CYT) are suing the organization over allegations they were sexually abused as children.

They say the national theater organization and its founders turned a blind eye to their complaints, as well as multiple complaints from others, accusing staff of sexual assault, according to the lawsuit.

The six unnamed plaintiffs filed under pseudonyms to protect their identity. They are all males who were 8 to 17 years old at the time of the alleged assaults, which occurred in the early 1990s through 2010.

Last year, nearly a dozen former theater students claimed they were abused and discriminated against by teachers during their time in the after-school program, reports NBC 7's Priya Sridhar.

The new allegations are the latest in a string of complaints about sexual assaults of minors at CYT’s San Diego branch.

In 2020, CYT's president told NBC 7 that the organization was looking into alleged assaults. Since then, dozens more have come forward with new allegations of abuse. 

Currently, two former CYT instructors face felony sex abuse charges on suspicion of molesting young girls in the theater troupe. Their trial is expected to begin next week.

The newly filed lawsuit says other instructors targeted young boys as well.

Three adult instructors groomed the boys from an early age and gave them drugs and alcohol before assaulting them on numerous occasions, according to the lawsuit. One accuser said an employee invited other adults over and watched them assault him, the lawsuit states.  

Attorney Jessica Pride is representing the plaintiffs. She says CYT founders Sheryl and Paul Russell opened the door for the potential for sexual abuse by encouraging staff and members to attend sleepovers and trips together. 

She says when her clients told them about the sexual misconduct, Russell and others brushed them off.

Last year, nearly a dozen former theater students claimed they were abused and discriminated against by teachers during their time in the after-school program, reports NBC 7's Priya Sridhar.

“CYT either didn’t believe them or told them that it was just boys being boys or that it wasn’t a big deal,” said Pride. “Today, my clients are getting justice by telling CYT that this is a big deal.”

The lawsuit also claims the Russels were mandated reporters and failed to alert authorities about sex abuse allegations.

Pride says all of her clients spoke to police about the allegations years later, however, she says too much time had elapsed and the statute of limitations had already expired for any criminal charges to be filed.

According to the lawsuit, one of CYT’s employees was charged with sexually assaulting one of the plaintiffs after the child’s mother reported it to his high school. The lawsuit states the employee later pleaded guilty to unlawful sex with a minor and avoided having to register as a sex offender.

As for why her clients are now stepping forward, Pride said they were compelled to file the lawsuit in order to stop others from experiencing similar trauma.

Janie Cox, the President of CYT San Diego, said the organization is “deeply troubled by the allegations.”

“We take any report of sexual abuse or misconduct seriously,” Cox said. “When these same claims were first publicized in 2020, we immediately undertook an investigation into all of the facts and circumstances with the assistance of outside counsel. We look forward to participating in the litigation process in good faith to address the asserted allegations.”

Cox said CYT is working with outside professionals to build a more robust child protection policy.  

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