U.S. Report: Rape, Sexual Abuse Rampant in Juvenile Corrections Facilities

Bureau of Justice Statistics study exposes epidemic of abuse in juvenile facilities, underscores call for new standards

Washington, DC, January 7, 2010. A long-awaited report from the Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) finds that youth in juvenile corrections facilities are sexually abused at alarming rates and are victimized significantly more often than adult inmates.

A shocking 12.1 percent or almost one in eight of the detained youth who participated in the survey reported sexual abuse at their current facility during the previous year. On any given day, there are approximately 93,000 youth confined in juvenile facilities, more than half of whom are 16 or younger.

"These figures are unconscionable, and even more so when you consider that the survey did not include youth locked up in adult facilities, where many are at even greater risk for abuse," said Lovisa Stannow, Executive Director of Just Detention International.

The study "Sexual Victimization in Juvenile Facilities Reported by Youth, 2008-09" is based on a survey given to 9,198 youth detainees in 195 facilities from all fifty states and the District of Columbia. The BJS report also included these findings:

  • 80 percent of the reported abuse was perpetrated by a member of the facility's staff.

  • 95 percent of youth who alleged abuse by staff reported at least one female perpetrator.
    Victimized youth usually endured repeated sexual abuse, often more than ten times, and frequently by multiple perpetrators.

  • 65 percent of youth who had previously been sexually assaulted at another facility also reported having been sexually abused in their current facility.

  • Youth with a sexual orientation other than heterosexual reported being sexually abused by another inmate at a rate more than ten times higher than that of youth who identified as heterosexual.

In June 2009, as mandated by Congress, the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission issued a comprehensive report on sexual violence in U.S. detention facilities. The bipartisan Commission, led by U.S. District Court Judge Reggie B. Walton, found that many corrections facilities do a poor job preventing, identifying, and responding to the sexual abuse of those in their custody.

The Commission's report emphasized that sexual abuse is an especially complex problem for younger inmates, explaining that "juveniles are not yet fully developed physically, cognitively, socially, and emotionally and are ill-equipped to respond to sexual advances and protect themselves."

"The BJS study confirms the Commission's findings, underscoring the fact that young people are a particularly vulnerable population needing special protections," said David Kaiser, chair of the board of Just Detention International. "Abused youth emerge from what ought to be a rehabilitative experience deeply traumatized, hindering their reintegration into society and limiting their development and future prospects."

The Commission's report includes proposed standards which Just Detention International helped develop for addressing and preventing the sexual abuse of inmates, including detained youth. By law, the Department of Justice has until June 2010 to codify final standards based on those recommendations.

"The Attorney General needs to issue comprehensive, zero-tolerance standards, and he can't do so a moment too soon," Stannow said. "Every day without them is another day in which incarcerated children are getting raped. No matter what crime a person may have committed, rape should never be part of the punishment."

The BJS report, "Sexual Victimization in Juvenile Facilities Reported by Youth, 2008-09," is available online at:

Darby Hickey
(202) 580-6935

Just Detention International works to ensure government accountability for prisoner rape; to change ill-informed public attitudes about sexual violence in detention; and to promote access to resources for those who have survived such abuse.

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