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Daughter sues after claiming she ID’d her mother’s rapist through DNA test

A sign for the Monroe Developmental Center in Rochester, N.Y. A woman born to a severely disabled resident of the facility in 1986 has filed a lawsuit saying her mother was raped by an employee whose abuse was covered up by those in charge. (Lauren Petracca/AP)
7 min

Magdalena Cruz learned as a child the tragic story of how she had been born.

Cruz’s mother, who is developmentally disabled, nonverbal and unable to take care of herself, had been staying at the Monroe Developmental Center in Rochester, N.Y., when she was raped and impregnated, according to a lawsuit. Cruz was born in August 1986.

She was raised by her grandparents and, as she grew older and started her own family, couldn’t ignore the questions she had about her mother’s time at the center. A few years ago, she set out to learn more, having conversations with family members, filing records requests, searching for paternal relatives and swabbing herself for an DNA test.

“It started off as finding answers as to what happened to my mother,” Cruz, now 36, told The Washington Post. “That’s what I wanted first.”

What she found led to a lawsuit she filed this month against the New York Office for People With Developmental Disabilities, which oversees care services and facilities across the state — including the center where Cruz’s mother had lived. During the years Cruz’s mother stayed there, she faced physical and sexual assaults that the center “covered up” without proper investigation, the complaint alleges.

In the lawsuit, Cruz identifies a former employee of the Monroe Developmental Center as her biological father and the man who raped her mother, citing DNA results.

Cruz filed the lawsuit against the state Office for People With Developmental Disabilities on behalf of her mother, who is now living in a different facility.

The lawsuit’s allegations include negligence and sexual assault and battery, among others. Attorneys for Cruz said the case was made possible by New York’s Adult Survivors Act, which in November opened a one-year window for sexual assault victims to file lawsuits, regardless of when the abuse took place.

“It’s really revolutionary for survivors to be able to have a chance at justice that they thought was gone forever,” said Susan Crumiller, one of the attorneys representing Cruz. “This case is no different in that respect. I think these claims could’ve been brought much sooner, except that the institution covered up what happened.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities said they could not comment on pending litigation. The Monroe Developmental Center stopped its residential services in January 2013, according to the statement.

The man Cruz identified as her mother’s rapist is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit because Cruz and the legal team wanted to focus on the coverup they say allowed the abuse to continue happening, Crumiller said. The man has not been charged with any crime in connection with Cruz’s mother, and the criminal statute of limitations in New York has passed.

Cruz’s grandparents told her about her mother from a young age, she said. She had been visiting her mother at the care facility with her grandparents nearly every week, usually on Sundays after church.

Her grandparents also told her about the circumstances under which she was born when she was around 7 or 8 years old. They wanted her to hear it directly from them.

“It made me feel sad and probably angry,” Cruz recalled.

A few years later, her grandfather told her about a meeting they’d had with employees at the Monroe Developmental Center, who’d asked the family about an abortion.

“We told them that we don’t care how you are,” she recalled her grandfather telling her. “We want you.”

Cruz carried that with her as she grappled with her birth story and the questions she still had. For years, she wondered whether she would ever find her father.

Her curiosity came to a head in 2013, when she had her first child.

“I wanted to know where my children get their facial looks from, their traits,” Cruz said.

She submitted requests for records with various local and state agencies, including the New York Office for People With Developmental Disabilities, according to the lawsuit.

“That is how she learned that the facts surrounding her birth were far more shocking and grotesque than her family had realized,” the complaint states.

In 1985, the year Cruz’s mother was raped and impregnated, the records indicated she had faced physical abuse for at least several months, according to the lawsuit. There were notes of a bruise “in a cross shape” on her shoulder, a bloody cut on her head and other bruises across her body, all recorded that year.

When Cruz’s mother was eight months pregnant, the lawsuit alleges, the center suggested she take birth control or undergo a tubal ligation to prevent future pregnancies. Those suggestions from the facility showed that it had enabled the abuse, “rather than taking steps to root out the violent perpetrator,” the complaint alleges.

According to the lawsuit, the facility told the family that it “suspected another patient had committed the rape,” and that it would investigate and file a police report. But the facility did neither, the document says.

Having no knowledge of the ongoing abuse, Cruz’s family kept her mother at the facility for nine more years before she was moved to the one she lives in now, the complaint says.

In 2019, as one of the final steps in her search, Cruz submitted a swab for an DNA test. When the results came back, she closely examined the names listed as her blood relatives, hoping to track down living paternal family members.

After searching one of the relatives on Facebook, she came across a family reunion webpage with a photo of a man and his daughter. The girl, Cruz said, bore a striking resemblance to her. With help from police in Brighton, a town near the facility, she confirmed that the man had been a caretaker while her mother was there, according to the lawsuit.

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Despite all the information she had found, Cruz thought there was no way she could file a claim on her mother’s behalf, knowing the criminal statute of limitations had passed. But the Adult Survivors Act, signed by New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) last year, opened up the possibility, Cruz said.

Crumiller, who took on Cruz’s case alongside attorney Carrie Goldberg under the Survivors Law Project they co-founded, said filing the suit against the state agency was an important step to ensure that it, and institutions like it, are publicly held accountable.

“The thing that’s really most important about this case is the institutional culpability,” Crumiller said. “And how these facts would never have been unearthed had the patient not gotten pregnant — not a soul would ever know that she had been subject to this pattern of abuse.”

Now living with her husband and five children, Cruz visits her mother as often as she can, keeping in close contact with her current care staff.

But she hopes any compensation from the lawsuit can help cover the cost of home care for her mother, who is now 66.

“I would like to take her home to live with me,” Cruz said.


A previous version of this article incorrectly said that Magdalena Cruz didn't realize she was related to the woman she regularly visited with her grandparents. She was told about her mother from a young age. The article has been corrected.