Government Report: Sexual Abuse Still Rampant in Juvenile Corrections Facilities
Media Contact: Jesse Lerner-Kinglake
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A report by the Department of Justice shows widespread sexual violence in juvenile detention facilities, exposing pervasive staff sexual misconduct. Ohio, South Carolina, Georgia, and Illinois top the list of abusive systems.
Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., June 6, 2013. According to a new U.S. Department of Justice report, juvenile detention facilities remain plagued by sexual violence – with staff committing the vast majority of the abuse. Today’s report also reveals the extreme risks facing lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth and youth with a history of sexual victimization.
Sexual Victimization in Juvenile Facilities Reported by Youth, 2012 is based on research conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). Although the overall rate of sexual abuse in juvenile facilities has declined – from 12.1 percent reported in a 2010 BJS study to 9.5 percent in the most recent report – a shocking one in three youth is sexually abused in the nation’s worst facilities. In contrast, youth at a number of other facilities reported no abuse at all.
“These numbers are both devastating and hopeful,” said Lovisa Stannow, Executive Director of Just Detention International (JDI). “They show clearly that it is possible to protect young detainees from the devastation of sexual abuse. They also make painfully clear that many youth facilities have a very, very long way to go.”
Today’s study provides disturbing evidence of rampant staff sexual misconduct and other inappropriate conduct toward youth detainees. Overall, 81 percent of youth reporting sexual abuse were victimized by staff. The vast majority of these cases were tied to other unprofessional staff behavior. Among youth who reported being abused by staff, roughly half (49.2 percent) said that the abusive staff member gave them pictures or wrote them letters; almost a third (29.8) said that staff contacted them from outside the facility. More than two-thirds (69.1 percent) said that staff told them about their personal lives.
“It’s deeply troubling that staff – the very people charged with helping these young people turn their lives around – are the primary perpetrators of sexual abuse. Today’s report illustrates the fundamental failure of many juvenile detention facilities to keep their youth safe, and to demand that staff uphold the most basic standards of professional behavior,” said Stannow.
Consistent with prior research – but contrary to popular stereotypes – female staff were significantly more likely to commit abuse than male staff. Among boys who were abused in custody, more than nine in ten (92.1 percent) reported that they were abused by a female staff member. In further contrast to common stereotypes, inmate-on-inmate abuse was significantly higher among detained girls than boys (5.4 percent versus 2.2 percent).
Just as in adult facilities, LGBT detainees were found to be especially vulnerable to abuse, as were all youth with a history of sexual victimization. LGBT youth were sexually abused by other inmates at nearly seven times the rate of straight youth (10.3 percent versus 1.5 percent). More than half (52.3 percent) of all youth who had been abused at a prior facility reported suffering yet more abuse at their current one.
Today’s report comes just two weeks after the BJS released its national inmate survey of adult prisons and jails, which examined the sexual abuse of juveniles aged 16 to 17 housed in these facilities. Based on these two reports, a young person aged 16 to 17 is about twice as likely to be sexually abused in a juvenile facility as in an adult prison or jail (9.3 percent versus 4.7 percent).
Other key BJS findings include:
- Once a youth was victimized by staff in their current facility, he or she was more likely to be assaulted by staff 11 times or more than to face no further abuse (20.4 versus 14.2 percent).
- The size of the facility has a strong correlation with its levels of abuse. Youth detained in facilities holding at least 101 detainees were nearly five times as likely to report victimization as those in facilities holding fewer than 10 detainees (12 versus 2.5 percent).
- The longer a youth was detained, the more likely he or she was to be sexually abused. Youth detained between 7-12 months faced rates of abuse more than one and a half times higher than those who were detained for less than five months (11.3 versus 6.8 percent).
- State-run youth facilities had far higher rates of staff sexual misconduct than local or privately run facilities (8.2 versus 4.5 percent).
- Black youth reported higher rates of staff sexual misconduct than white and Hispanic youth (9.6 versus 6.4 percent for both white and Hispanic youth). On the other hand, white youth were more likely to be abused by another inmate than black and Hispanic youth (4 versus 1.4 and 2.1 percent, respectively).
The report identified juvenile facilities with the highest and lowest rates of sexual abuse. A total of 13 facilities were singled out for having very high rates of abuse. The two worst ranked facilities – Paulding Regional Youth Detention Center, in Georgia, and the Circleville Juvenile Correctional Facility, in Ohio – each had rates of abuse greater than 30 percent. Four facilities in Georgia were found to have very high rates – more than any other state. There were 26 facilities with no reported incidents at all.
Unlike prior BJS reports, today’s survey includes state-level estimates for sexual abuse in youth detention. Ohio, which has three facilities listed among the nation’s worst, was found to have the highest overall rate of victimization, at 17.1 percent. The other three states singled out were South Carolina (17 percent), Georgia (15 percent), and Illinois (13.7 percent). On the other hand, in three states – Delaware, Massachusetts, and New York – youth reported no abuse.