Mother of juvenile rape victim silenced by court after speaking with Project Baltimore

A Harford County mother has been barred from discussing a case involving her daughter’s sexual abuse after speaking publicly about it. The mother had alerted the community that the juvenile offender was attending a Maryland public school.

“The level of secrecy imposed by the judge is disturbingly excessive,” said Grayson Clary from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, a non-profit advocating for journalists’ First Amendment rights. “This seems like a situation where challenging the gag order could be valid.”

For months, Project Baltimore has shared stories of two Maryland mothers who feel failed by the state’s juvenile justice system. Now, the public defender’s office aims to silence the mothers from discussing the juvenile they say sexually assaulted their daughters.

“The Supreme Court has often stated these gag orders are among the gravest and least tolerable infringements on First Amendment rights,” Clary explained.

In late 2023, a 15-year-old pleaded guilty to second-degree rape in Harford County. Instead of juvenile detention, he received probation, counseling, and returned to Patterson High School in Baltimore City. Families were not informed an admitted rapist attended.

The victim’s mother approached Project Baltimore to raise awareness. “If it was my child’s school with a convicted rapist, I’d want to know,” she stated.

Soon after, Project Baltimore spoke with another mother whose daughter was allegedly sexually abused by the same teen in April 2022 in Baltimore County.

Last month, the 15-year-old was due in court for the Baltimore County case, potentially pleading to a lesser charge. However, the defense instead sought to silence the mother through an Order Controlling Conduct – essentially a gag order.

While judges can restrict conduct potentially “harmful to a child,” Clary told Project Baltimore, “Even then, orders must narrowly preserve discussing matters of public concern, which seems difficult here.”

A judge hasn’t ruled on the Baltimore County mother’s order, but the Harford County victim’s mother faced one in February, barring her from speaking to Project Baltimore under penalty.

Despite different confidentiality rules, Clary said, “The public has a right to understand judicial proceedings, highlighting when they’re going badly, not just successes. The secrecy here seems troubling.”

The mothers’ attorney stated, “All protection layers failed these children and potentially others. What transpired is horrid, egregious! Maybe not now, but [these mothers] will get their voices heard before a jury.”