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Rape and Other Sexual Violence Prevalent in Juvenile Justice System

The greatest rates of sexual assaults in the country’s juvenile detention facilities involve the very staff members charged with supervising and counseling the troubled youngsters.

A juvenile offender mops the floor during his work program at a youth center in Ohio. According to a new Department of Justice report, the greatest rates of sexual assaults in the country’s juvenile detention facilities involve the very staff members charged with supervising and counseling the troubled youngsters. (Kiichiro Sato/AP Photo)

Hundreds of teen-agers are raped or sexually assaulted during their stays in the country's juvenile detention facilities, and many of them are victimized repeatedly, according to a U.S. Department of Justice survey.

The teens are most often assaulted by staff members working at the facilities, and fully 20 percent of those victimized by the men and women charged with protecting and counseling them said they had been violated on more than 10 occasions.

"Today's report illustrates the fundamental failure of many juvenile detention facilities to keep their youth safe," said Lovisa Stannow, executive director of Just Detention International, a California-based health and human rights organization.

The Justice Department survey — covering both secure juvenile detention facilities and group homes, the less restrictive settings into which troubled youngsters are often ordered — involved more than 8,500 boys and girls. In all, 1,720 of those surveyed reported being sexually assaulted.

Allen Beck, the author of the report, said that the rates of staff-on-inmate abuse among juveniles are "about three times higher than what we find in the adult arena."

The highest incidence of staff sexual misconduct occurred in Ohio, South Carolina, Georgia and Illinois, while other states like New York, Massachusetts and Delaware, reported no abuse. At the Paulding Regional Youth Detention Center in Georgia and the Circleville Juvenile Correctional Facility in Ohio, one in three youngsters surveyed said they'd suffered sexual abuse at the hands of staff members.

Stannow said the findings "show clearly that it is possible to protect young detainees from the devastation of sexual abuse," but that they also "make painfully clear that many youth facilities have a very, very long way to go."

There are roughly 70,000 youngsters in the country's juvenile detention facilities, thousands of them 16 years old or younger. The survey examined facilities that house roughly a third of the total population in detention.

The report gives some insight into how staff members victimize the youngsters under their care and supervision. In the majority of cases, the survey found, staff members establish a personal relationship with the inmate first by sharing details of their personal lives, sharing pictures, or giving gifts. The report indicates that one instance of abuse usually leads to more.

Larry Vanderbilt, general counsel for the Department of Juvenile Justice in South Carolina, which ranks second in states with the highest reported rates of staff abuse, attributed a large part of the problem to one particular guard at its Birchwood juvenile detention center. He said the guard had been linked to at least two incidents of sex abuse and is now being criminally prosecuted.

The report will be shared with the Justice Department's Review Panel on Prison Rape, which will eventually invite administrators with the highest and lowest sex abuse rates to testify at hearings in Washington.

I think it is very notable that victims AND perps are of both sexes. Some might find that surprising.

This is so disgraceful of what is happening to all those young people . The true is that some of these young people had made a mistake even as much as a driving ticket then their life are cripple bye some Moran so why don’t they find those criminal and put their ass behind bar.This is a disgrace to humanity .

It’s terrible, and probably more terrible that it’s not surprising.  I mean, many jurisdictions already use juvenile defenders as essentially slave labor shopped out to raise revenue, as reported widely a couple years ago.

For example,

boiseguardian.com/2007/09/28/county-provides-slave-labor/

I doubt there’s any reality where a system that produces such result is run by anybody other than predators.

Beyond that, consider that rape in adult prisons is still a punchline rather than news, making a lot of us largely complicit when it happens.  The fact that some victims are also underage is hardly a reason to suddenly draw the line in the sand.

Edward RIvens

June 8, 2013, 3:04 a.m.

detect some very serious and inexcusable gender bias in this article.

The study reports:

“Among the estimated 1,390 youth who reported victimization by staff 89.1% were males reporting sexual activity with female staff and 3% were reporting sexual activity with both male and female staff. “

The author took the time to mention the 20% of those victimised by men were female but completely ignored the 89.1% of males victimized by females.

This sort of sexism needs to stop along with the marginalization of male victims.  Considering males are 91% of the youth in the survey one would expect this pertinent detail to be at least mentioned rather than the issue affecting 9% of the population and 10.9% of victims that happened to be female. In addition 8.2% of males versus 2.8% of females reported sexual activity with staff meaning the staff on youth misconduct is nearly 3 times as prevalent with males.

When it comes to force sexual activity between youth it’s females who are twice as likely to victimize one another with 5.4% of females versus 2.2% of males. 

The picture we see here runs counter to widely accepted gender stereotypes and that’s why it’s critical that it be pointed out.  Considering all this information is in the summary there is no reason for it to have been left out in the first place.

John Anderson

June 9, 2013, 2:23 a.m.

89.1% of victims are males abused by female staff.  If the genders were reversed how many people think it wouldn’t be specifically mentioned in the article.  Even though it goes against “conventional” thinking and is particularly news worthy, it’s impolite to point out that women are abusers also.  Pointing out that they’re 9 times as abusive as men will never happen.

John Anderson

June 9, 2013, 2:31 a.m.

Edward RIvens

“The author took the time to mention the 20% of those victimised by men were female but completely ignored the 89.1% of males victimized by females.”

No, the author points out that 20% of the inmates reported being victimized, which is correct.  He points out that the abusers are men and women, but never provides a break down on how much each gender perpetrates. 

I also suspect that this is a deliberate and purposeful attempt to deflect the blame on the male guards as I assume that he would suspect that most people (if they didn’t read the attached link) would assume that most abusers were men abusing female inmates.

Larry Vanderbilt, general counsel for the Department of Juvenile Justice in South Carolina, which ranks second in states with the highest reported rates of staff abuse, attributed a large part of the problem to one particular guard at its Birchwood juvenile detention center. He said the guard had been linked to at least two incidents of sex abuse and is now being criminally prosecuted.

So we are to believe a large part of the problem is ONE guard that had TWO incidents and for that SC is ranked second.  Is he serious? Vanderbilt is either incredibly dumb or thinks the public is.

Edward Rivens

June 10, 2013, 5:18 p.m.

Thanks for the correction, I did misread that.

Joshua Cargile

June 17, 2013, 5:35 p.m.

Ro Ra - take a close look at the numbers before you start throwing names around. At the particular facility in question there were only 24 youth sampled, and a rate of 29.2% Do the math - that means 7 youth reported “victimization”. It doesn’t take much for a single officer to come into improper contact with that many youth. Also, read the methodology of the report a little more closely. It states very clearly on page 31 that surveys with 1 or 2 extreme or inconsistent responses were included in the final samples, and that if they had been excluded then rates at several facilities would have been far lower. An example of an inconsistent response would be for a youth to state that he had been victimized by a staff member, but when asked how many times this victimization had occurred respond with “zero”.

The headlines all over the country on this report are sensational, meant to draw in viewers and subscribers. Not a single one of the articles I’ve read has delved into the substance of the report, and many (including this one) completely misrepresent the facts. Take this statement for example:

“The Justice Department survey (...) involved more than 8,500 boys and girls. In all, 1,720 of those surveyed reported being sexually assaulted.”

That is completely incorrect. Refer to page 9 of the report, which indicates that 1,720 is a NATIONAL ESTIMATE, based upon the 8707 responses to the survey and weighted to represent the estimated ALL adjudicated youth held around the country.

It goes on and on. But hey, why let the truth stand in the way of a good story?

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