ProPublica

Journalism in the Public Interest

Cancel

Boys in Custody and the Women Who Abuse Them

The nation’s system of juvenile justice has long been troubled. But recent studies have revealed a surprising new menace: female staffers at detention facilities sexually abusing the male youngsters in their care.

.

The Justice Department's report on sexual abuse at correctional facilities.

The older authority figure wins the trust of the young target by cultivating a false friendship, having heart-to-heart conversations, giving gifts, offering protection. And then the sex ensues, sometimes forced, sometimes seemingly consensual.

It is a classic predatory tactic known as “grooming,” and no one familiar with it could have been terribly surprised when a new report from the U.S. Department of Justice declared that young people in the country’s juvenile detention facilities are being victimized in just this way. The youngsters in custody are often deeply troubled, lacking parents, looking for allies. And the people in charge of the facilities wield great power over the day-to-day lives of their charges.

What was a genuine shock to many was the finding that in the vast majority of instances, it was female staff members who were targeting and exploiting the male teens in their custody.

The phenomenon -- a particularly unexamined corner of the nation’s long-troubled juvenile justice system – presents an array of challenges for those concerned about better protecting young people in custody: encouraging male teens to understand such sex is, in fact, a crime, that it is never really consensual, and that its long term effects can be seriously harmful; requiring corrections officials to stop blaming the young boys and meaningfully punish the female staffers; and establishing standards of conduct meant to end the abuse.

“Many corrections leaders continue to minimize this abuse, arguing that it’s the kids who are manipulating the staff, that these boys are asking for it,” said Lovisa Stannow, executive director of the California-based nonprofit Just Detention International, which advocates for the elimination of prison rape. “That’s simply not good enough.”

The Justice Department first discovered the startling form of abuse in 2010, when it surveyed more than 9,000 youngsters living in juvenile halls and group homes. More than 10 percent of the respondents said they’d been sexually abused by staff and 92 percent said their abuser was female.

In the last three years, the numbers haven’t changed much.

The Justice Department released its second report last month, and this time researchers surveyed more than 8,700 juveniles housed in 326 facilities across the country. In all, the facilities house more than 18,000 juveniles, representing about one quarter of the nation’s total number of youngsters living in detention centers.

Drawing on their sample, Justice Department researchers estimate that 1,390 juveniles in the facilities they examined have experienced sex abuse at the hands of the staff supervising them, a rate of nearly 8 percent. Twenty percent who said they were victimized by staff said it happened on more than 10 occasions. Nine out of 10 victims were males abused by female staff.

Nearly two-thirds of the abused youngsters said that the officials lured them into sexual relationships by giving them special treatment, treating them like a favorite, giving gifts and pictures.

Twenty-one percent said staff gave them drugs or alcohol in exchange for sex.

Stannow said that the rate of abuse perpetrated by female guards on male victims is the result of a “dangerous combination” of cultural and institutional problems, not the least of which is the fact that women forcing males into sex does not comport with society’s conventional definition of rape.

“When you have an extreme power differential and absolute unchecked power, bad things start happening,” Stannow said. “When you combine this with a culture where sex abuse by females on males isn’t taken seriously, then you have the perfect set-up for women with all this power to get away with it.”

Stannow and others say that the young male victims themselves may not even consider their relationships with women to constitute sex abuse. They might consider it consensual because they didn’t actively fight off their abusers.

“The biggest concern for me is what this means they’re not getting inside detention, which is a positive relationship with adults and with authority figures. They’ve not learned what those positive relationships should be like, and, for many, they’ve never had them in their life,” said Michele Deitch, an attorney and senior lecturer at the University of Texas’s School of Public Affairs in Austin.

“These boys aren’t getting the kinds of treatment and programming that are supposed to make them more productive citizens and healthier youth,” said Deitch, who focuses on improving safety conditions in prisons and juvenile detention centers. “Many have experienced trauma their entire lives and now this is just more trauma for them to deal with.”

Reggie Wilkinson, the former director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, said that consensual sex between a corrections officer and an inmate is impossible given the power imbalance between the two.

But he also said that, in some cases, both female guards and the boys they molest share some responsibility.

“There’s no such thing as consensual sex when you are supervising someone, regardless of their age, but the reality of it is that some of the guys in prison are very persuasive and some of the women are very persuasive,” Wilkinson said.

“I’m not sure anybody has got a real handle on why the Bureau of Justice Statistics is finding these kinds of numbers, but it’s on the radar screen of a lot of people.”

Wilkinson and Stannow agree that it is important to keep women as detention facility personnel. They often do great work. But the predators, they say, must be identified, halted and prosecuted.

“I think in many cases female staff are better suited than males,” Wilkinson said. “A good mix of staff is what we always want. That so-called motherly impact is a big deal and women who are stern but fair with the inmates I think can perform that job as well as any male could.”

Kathleen Cole

July 2, 2013, 2:32 p.m.

A former Juvenile Probation Supervisor in Boulder County, I protected myself and a female client from sexual harassment by my male superior. I was summarily dismissed. Federal funding was not renewed for the program, in any event.
    A Boulder judge protected my client, but hung me out to dry. The client suffered no further harassment or abuse. It is not a single individual, but the judicial system that fails juvenile offenders.

Catheine Rodgers

July 2, 2013, 2:52 p.m.

Of course, a violent, militaristic society is going to corrupt everyone in it.  Women aren’t immune, just the last ones to turn violent.  This is what we get for warmongering around the globe.

Does anyone really think there will ever be “meaningfully punish the female staffers”. Look at all the cases of sexual abuse of students! Same crime;  committed by male teacher, 25 years in prison or throw the key away. Committed by female teacher, maybe 2 - 3 years prison (tops), but most likely probation or weekends in jail! Females want equal treatment in every facet of life ... except prison sentences on crimes!

Katia Savchuk

July 2, 2013, 3:07 p.m.

I published a story in The Miami Herald yesterday about accusations of sexual misconduct in a Florida program for juvenile offenders: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/07/01/3480714/juvenile-program-workers-accused.html
The organization’s Beaufort, S.C., facility was mentioned in the report.

Catherine Rodgers

July 2, 2013, 3:27 p.m.

It’s funny how men think men get harsher sentences and women think women get harsher sentences.

The American public would be shocked if they knew the true percentages of women who get jobs in prisons and correctional facilities for bad boys, just to be near and have sex with these bad boys.
  Thats why gender-feminist dominated academe will not study this phenomena.

Women making excuses for women who abuse boys.

“Of course, a violent, militaristic society is going to corrupt everyone in it.  Women aren’t immune, just the last ones to turn violent.”

And nary a word of sympathy for the victims. Typical.

Martin Truther

July 2, 2013, 7:15 p.m.

. . . and to think we tried so hard to stay out of these “juvenile detention facilities” when I was a teenage boy.  I guess I was born too soon.  Of course, back then (I’m guessing) it was more likely to be an older male “coercing” you into sex than any type of woman. LOL. And BTW, men DO get harsher sentences for all types of violent crime than women.  I ain’t sayin’; I’m just sayin’.

Even if they never care to have anything to do with men, women should be concerned about this issue. What these boys learn about sex and power they will take with them back into the world when their sentence is over. You can’t deal with the violence males committ without dealing with the violence we are subjected to.

Sure, the lessons begin before these guys ever see juvie hall. Every added experience makes the lesson more powerful.

You want to stop rape? Stop rape and stop focusing on the victimization of women to the exclusion of other victims.

Martin’s response is symptomatic of the cultural problem described in this article—the idea the men ‘can’t be raped’, or the only way that a man be raped is when a man rapes a young boy. We are conditioned to only see sexual assault as something that is done by men to women and children (boys included), not something that is done by an offender to a victim, regardless of gender. These young men are victims twice over—victims of our dilapidated youth detention system and of sexual predators. Have we forgotten that in nature, a cougar is a predator?

I believe it it happened too me in northen california reginoal facility when i was 15 thats when i slept with a female co and got her pregent crazy situation….Got a great daughter out of it…

Male and female cannot be weigh on the same scale.
If a system run by some nerds (guys or rules & laws)  cannot see it yet,-they must be dumber of dumbs and need to be replaced ASAP.

Males and females are different.

People abuse authority.
Geometry of genitalia does not lessen the crime.
Trying to make excuses for those people is revolting.

@ Harold Smith.  You nailed it, man!  White Americans, wake up.

Steve Kellmeyer

July 3, 2013, 11:10 a.m.

Oddly enough, the Scriptures warn constantly about the predatory nature of the sexually aggressive woman.

What if the juvinile approaches the guard for sex?  What if the juvinile pays (with what I don’t know) for the sex?  Males and females are different, and I think its ridiculous to treat them the same.  There is nothing on Earth that teenage boys want more than to get laid.  I wish I had been “abused” when I was a teenager.

If these were priests, there would be prosecutors lined up, ready to fire.

But as they are reliable voters/civil servants…./crickets.

Jim, I agree.  Too many people would rather worry over the relative proportions and punishments of different kinds of offenders rather than stopping the damned crimes.

As Sadako points out, though, many people define rape as unwanted penetration of the victim.  If the victim is forced to penetrate someone, well, dude, high five!  And the media (and Mark) loves the idea that men always want to have sex, which seems to be what every predator says about the victim.

That said, though, remember CNN’s coverage of the Steubenville rape case, where the reporter wrung her hands over the affect the trial will have on the future careers of the defendants.  The fact that there’s an obvious victim doesn’t mean the more pervasive cultural problem should be dismissed as irrelevant.

Feminism equals pride and selfishhness.

I had a male relative who had brushes with the law and the detention system. He was a total sociopath.  I can easily imagine him telling a story of exploitation like hi bu I would have to seriously discount it—like by 99%. Unless the survey included admissions by the women involved I will (sorry for my sample of one) discount the numbers severely.

sally struthers

July 3, 2013, 4:09 p.m.

With 4 million americans locked up in America and only 5% are women locked up, what kind of broken system is America.  Easy to see there is an extreme imbalance when it comes to justice.  There should easily be 2 million women locked up in America, truth be told.  But then again, America is very sick and locks up 9 times more people than China does.

I wonder how many of these boys who’ve been raped by female authorities go on and become rapists themselves?

“America is very sick and locks up 9 times more people than China does.”

Of course that depends on how much you believe Chinese authorities about anything.

“Reggie Wilkinson, the former director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, said that consensual sex between a corrections officer and an inmate is impossible given the power imbalance between the two.”

I call BS on this.

This makes no sense at all. I agree that it possible that there can be cases of abuse, but to say that it can NEVER be consensual is absurd.

Firstly this person says “a corrections officer and an inmate”, and I know this article is talking about youth, but this statement appears to apply generally.

I mean, to say that something can’t be consensual between two parties just because of a power imbalance is absurd.

If I go into an adult prison and I say, “There is a woman coming in here who wants to have sex with someone, raise your hand if you want to have sex with her.” Before even knowing who the woman was or what she looked like or if she was a guard or not, every man in there would raise their hands.

So if every man wants to have sex with this woman, how is it that if the woman who walks in the room in not a prison guard it can be consensual, but if she is, then its not consensual?

Makes no sense, and really the same thing applies to teens as well.

And how is sex different from other things?

What if the guard asks the boy, “would you like a candy bar?” If the boy says yes, then isn’t giving him a candy bar consensual? So how is that all the sudden different than if she says, “would you like to have sex?”

I don’t mean to diminish what is likely real abuse that is going on, but I don’t buy the claim that “it can never be consensual.”

Im not talking about occasional sex here folks, Im talking about a systemic amount of women seeking out jobs in prisons and correctional centers for bad boys….just to have sex with these bad boys.
  American Quack-ademia will not study this phenomena because the results would be too disturbing for the sheep.

I LOL at sally struther and her America locks up 9 times more people than China.

There is a simple reason for that Sally. You see in China most of the time after they convict you they take you behind the station, line you up and put a bullet in your head. Then they dump the body in a mass grave and send the relatives a bill for the cost of the bullet.

Remember the Tienanmen Square protests in 1989? If you don’t let me refresh your memory. That was where the Chinese Government ordered the PLA to crack down on the protesters by killing them. They shot men, women and children in the thousands, including in the back as they tried to get away.

“The Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, also known as the June Fourth Incident in Chinese,[1] were student-led popular demonstrations in Beijing which took place in the spring of 1989 and received broad support from city residents, exposing deep splits within China’s political leadership. The protests were forcibly suppressed by hardline leaders who ordered the military to enforce martial law in the country’s capital.[2][3] The crackdown that initiated on June 3–4 became known as the Tiananmen Square Massacre or the June 4 Massacre as troops with assault rifles and tanks inflicted thousands of casualties on unarmed civilians trying to block the military’s advance on Tiananmen Square in the heart of Beijing, which student demonstrators had occupied for seven weeks. The scale of military mobilization and the resulting bloodshed were unprecedented in the history of Beijing, a city with a rich tradition of popular protests in the 20th century.[4]

...

The authorities carried out mass arrests. Many workers were summarily tried and executed. In contrast, the students – many of whom came from relatively affluent backgrounds and were well-connected – received much lighter sentences. Wang Dan, the student leader who topped the most wanted list, spent seven years in prison. Many of the students and university staff implicated were permanently politically stigmatized, some never to be employed again. Some student leaders such as Chai Ling and Wuer Kaixi were able to escape to the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and other Western nations under Operation Yellowbird that was organized from Hong Kong, a British territory at the time.[160]

Smaller protest actions continued in other cities for a few days. Some university staff and students who had witnessed the killings in Beijing organized or spurred commemorative events upon their return to school. At Shanghai’s prestigious Jiaotong University, for example, the party secretary organized a public commemoration event, with engineering students producing a large metal wreath.

According to the Dui Hua Foundation, citing a provincial government, 1,602 individuals were imprisoned for protest-related activities in the spring of 1989.[161] As of May 2012, at least two remain incarcerated in Beijing and five others remain unaccounted for.[161] All are reported to be suffering from mental illness.[161]”
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiananmen_Square_protests_of_1989

So if you really want the US to emulate the PRC the next time an OWS crowd shows up I say lets have the US Army start shooting them. Of course the ones that don’t get killed we will arrest and then either jail them for the rest of their lives or execute them immediately. Just like the PRC. I have lived all over the world from first world countries to third world ones and until you do that you will never realize just how good you have it in the US.

Steve Notkellmeyer

July 3, 2013, 9:40 p.m.

@Steve Kellmeyer:  “Oddly enough, the Scriptures warn constantly about the predatory nature of the sexually aggressive woman.”

Oddly enough, the Scriptures were written by men.

So what the heck could possibly be your point?

Sheesh.

Fact women get lighter sentences debra lefave teacher having sex with a 13 yr old boy multiple times…gets only probation google it. While in florida male teacher consensual sex with a 17 year old student a senior gets 9 years state prison no questions asked. Shes a pedo only probation he gets 9 years for someone who was turning 18 in less than 6 months

Steve Kellmeyer

July 3, 2013, 11:36 p.m.

The point of pointing out that Scripture warns against the predatory woman is simply this: Scripture apparently has a much clearer understanding of what women are capable of then our current culture does.

Everyone is shocked by the fact that so many women are abusing incarcerated men. But the old-fashioned, patriarchal males who wrote Scripture wouldn’t have been at all surprised by it. They weren’t feminists… they were realists. They understood that men and women both have a great potential to commit sexual sins.

It’s almost like they were smarter then than we are now.
But us being so advanced and all (we have cell phones and microwaves!), that hardly seems possible.

Homeless panhandler guy

July 4, 2013, 11:14 a.m.

Manhood is what a boy needs to be and soon learns he must get the key from a mature woman…She tells him the size of his penis is not big enough and he’ll either need to go out and earn some money or steel it with out getting caught.

Son now your at work all day or in jail for a crime, what’s the difference…?
This is how all of histories civilizations were built..
All for pussy.

I think that an older woman leading a teen into sex is fine.

It is very sad when officials blame the victims as manipulators. Had this child abuse had occurred in non-government institutions the media would have reported it. They are just as guilty as the child abusers in these centres.

I had to keep quiet when I worked there or be fired.  The guards are in total control and it’s a power trip to dominate and humiliate a boy toy servant.  The juvenile boys may be from eight to sixteen and guards have preferences for grooming and training different ages. 

Do you really think that a young boy wants a thirty-year-old woman?  It’s not intercourse like you think.  The boys are made to perform and provide service in other ways.  They have no choice.  Their lives are absolutely controlled by the guards.  Beatings, other abuse and punishment for those who don’t obey.  Who’s gonna do anything about it, - no one.  The female staffers run the place and have nothing to fear. 

Some of the women were in the military.  These are truly female “authorities”.  It’s really all about control and the power to abuse.

The female guards are only doing what they learned in the military where they were raped by their fellow male soldiers.  Male guards at women’s prisons rape the female inmates.  The juveniles are in the detention center because they are a problem, so let the female guards teach them their place.

The female guards are only doing what they learned in the military where they were raped by their fellow male soldiers.

Elizabeth, do you know this or are you just repeating the Obama BS. I don’t think all women are innocent of crimes committed against children boy as well as girls who have this power of manipulation. If you know who, produce the names and don’t just paint with a sweeping brush an accusation that is only partly true or not true at all. Do you know from personal experience?

Women abusing power, just like men have for thousands of years. Who’da thought!

The shocking part of this is that we find it surprising.  We have always, always minimized the impact and prevalence of violence on young men at the hands of females.  Young men constantly have to tolerate a higher level of violence than we would ever find acceptable for young females…and it comes from all directions.  Boys and men are fed on a diet of violence from the earliest age and we are shocked…shocked….when that violence comes out years later.

Shame on us for turning a blind eye to this brutalization of our young boys.

Jan Cosgrove Mr

July 6, 2013, 12:30 p.m.

Some of the comments here - there’s people who need serious therapy judging what they tell us ....  more a reflection on their own troubled minds than on the needs of teen boys locked up in US prisons.  I just hope none of them either work in such places or apply thus.  The notion that all teen boys are happy with what is going on is nonsense.  Case after case now tells us that many are left seriously troubled by what they experience at the hands of abusers, female as well as male.  What has been said above about the importance of the role of the female officer in providing a bedrock of positive experience is right on the nail.  Oh, if a prison officer offers you candy and you’re a kid, just wonder what s/he’ll want next .....  It seems to me there’s no free rides inside.

@ Tom Lewis.  Tom why don’t you make a little effort yourself and Google “rape in the military”, or “women raped in military”. 

And what on earth does Obama have to do with this?  Is Obama personally responsible for all the rapes in the military?  Military rape goes back many years, even before George Bush.  It is amazing how some people try to turn everything into a political attack, when their man isn’t in the Presidential office.

You demand a list of names and knowledge from personal experience, - how ridiculous!  The comments section is not appropriate for a list of rape victims’ names.  Even news articles are not so foul as to humiliate the victims with names.  Why do you want the names of rape victims?

You ask if I know from personal experience (about being raped)?  What’s wrong with you?  How crude!  Again why are you looking for women that have been raped?

Jan, you’re absolutely right, here, and the attitude you’re seeing (they’re criminals and deserve what they get, they should take whatever opportunities to have sex they can) are exactly why law enforcement is handed so many restrictions.  If we don’t, those are the people who get in charge.

Mike, regardless of how attractive a woman is, nobody should be forced or obligated to have sex.  No means no, even if you’re a boy.  And as Linda points out, “yes” doesn’t count when the alternative is solitary confinement.  That’s why they say consent is impossible, because the alternative to consent is punishment.

That’s also the entire reasoning behind such (absurdly, in some cases) strong sexual harassment policies in the workplace.  If your boss threatens to fire you if you don’t sleep with him, that’s not considered consent except by the most fossilized politicians.

Joaquin Sapien

July 8, 2013, 1:31 p.m.

Linda,
Sounds like you had quite an experience working in a juvenile detention center. I’d like to talk to you about it. I tried emailing you but got a bounce back. Could you write me please? I’m at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). I really hope to hear from you.
Joaquin