Predators Who Have Unchecked Power:
Penn State and Youth Detention
In the past week, I have found myself reflecting on the striking similarities between the abuse of children at Penn State and the equally disgraceful abuse that occurs every day in our youth detention facilities.
According to the Department of Justice, one in eight detained youth reported having been sexually abused during a 12-month period. A shocking 80 percent of them had been victimized by staff -- the very people whose job it is to help troubled kids turn their lives around.
When people have unchecked power, bad things happen. When predators have unchecked power, horrendous things happen. Abusive corrections officials target kids who are the least able to defend themselves and the least likely to file a complaint.
Even when youth survivors do speak out, most staff predators are still able to get away scot-free, relying on the long-standing code of silence among corrections officials. Too often, just like at Penn State, officials worry more about avoiding public embarrassment than about the safety of children -- treating serious crimes merely as "problems," to be dealt with quietly and internally.
There is, however, at least one big difference between Penn State and the abuse of children in detention facilities: the public outcry triggered by the former and the silence and inertia that still plagues the latter. Even though we know that thousands of children are raped every year while in the government's care, we still don't have national standards in place to address sexual abuse in detention.
Two recent articles - one from GOOD and one from The Atlantic -- make the link between Penn State and sexual abuse in youth detention.
Those who participate or acquiesce in the abuse of children must be held accountable -- even when the victims are behind bars. Let's make sure that all children who are sexually abused get the help they need, regardless of their custody status.