By Sarah Krantz, Esq.
Although juvenile justice reform has brought about many positive changes in the last few years, there is still room for improvement. One of the major issue that continues to plague the system today is the rate of sexual misconduct by both staff and by other inmates. Contrary to popular belief, this problem is not just limited to male staff; there is a well-documented pattern that shows female staff victimizing young teenage boys.
Sexual Victimization in Juvenile Facilities
Under the direction of the National Prison Rape Statistics Program,[i] the second Nation Survey of Youth in Custody (NSYC-2) was conducted in 273 state-owned or -operated juvenile facilities and 53 locally- or privately-operated facilities that held adjudicated youth under state contract between February 2012 and September 2012.[ii] The study was administered to 8,707 youth sampled from at least one facility in every state and the District of Columbia.[iii] This covered about one-third of the facilities nationwide.[iv] To compile this sample size, the study administrators collected data on facilities, youth who were able to give consent, and the administration in facilities.[v]
The prevalence of sexual violence within juvenile facilities is astounding, but according to the NSYC-2, it has been decreasing.[vi] The report found that “10% of youth (1,720) in state-owned or operated juvenile facilities and state contract facilities reported one or more incidents of sexual victimization.”[vii] Victims who reported sexual activity with a staff member were 8.2% male and 2.8% female.[viii] Victims who reported sexual activity with another juvenile at the facility were 5.4% male and 2.2% female.[ix]
About 2.5% reported an incident involving another youth, 7.7% reported an incident involved staff, and 0.7% reported incidents with both.[x] Reports show that an estimated 3.5% reported they “had sex or sexual contact with a facility member as a result of force or other form of violence or coercion,” while 4.7% reported they “had sex or sexual contact with a facility member without the use or threat of force.”[xi]
The report answers some questions as to how juveniles are vulnerable to victimization while under the care and supervision of staff members. This generally occurs when staff members form personal relationships with the juveniles—by exchanging details of their lives with one another, sharing pictures, or giving gifts.[xii] The most common reason that juveniles experienced sexual misconduct was because they were given drugs or alcohol in exchange for engaging in the acts.[xiii]
The report indicates that one instance of abuse usually leads to more. Nearly 86% of victims of staff sexual misconduct reported more than one incident and “20% reported that they had been victimized on more than 10 occasions” while at the facility.[xiv] The reported also noted that 69.6% of youth-on-youth victims reported more than one incident, while an estimated 37.2% reported more than one abuser.[xv]
The highest incidence of staff sexual misconduct occurred in Georgia, Illinois, Ohio, and South Carolina, where there was over a 15% rate of sexual victimization of its juveniles.[xvi] Twenty-six facilities reported no incidents of sexual victimization and some states, such as New York, Massachusetts, and Delaware, reported no abuse in any facilities in the state.[xvii] The report disturbingly showed that one in three juveniles reported that they had suffered sexual abuse by a facility staff member at the Paulding Regional Youth Detention Center in Georgia and the Circleville Juvenile Correctional Facility in Ohio. Facilities that have such high rates of sexual abuse need to do something to make a change so juveniles are safe.
Making a Change in Facility Culture
A March 2, 2017 article posted on the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange (JJIE)[xviii] stresses that in order to keep a facility sexually safe—meaning no sexual abuse or violence against inmates—there needs to be a culture that supports reporting and safety. For this to occur, “strong policy and procedure are the foundation.” Staff need formal rules and guidelines of what is expected and required of them when they are working alongside children. Staff also needs to be informed of what the policies of the facility are and the procedures on how to carry them out.
Across the country, many facilities are failing at this. While these facilities may have policies in place, they are not being used in actual practice. A number of reasons may explain this failure: because the policies are outdated, because staff has not been trained on the policies, because some of the outlined policies are not practicable, or because the culture in the facility cannot support it.
The National Institute of Corrections has defined “organizational culture” as “the sum of the organization’s attitudes, beliefs, values, norms, and prejudices that cause an organization to do what it does.” Even when a facility has a strong culture, sometimes reporting incidents of sexual abuse is not sufficient to prevent such incidents from occurring in the future. Often times, organizational culture serves as an impediment to prevention. When there are sound policies and procedures in a facility, but no reports are filed, this indicates that reporting is either not happening or it is not being done properly. Consistent reporting is what makes a change when it comes to sexual abuse and harassment in juvenile facilities. Action to stop the problem can only happen if problems are acknowledged by staff and by management.
JJIE makes two recommendations for leaders to follow for proper reporting to occur and for staff to follow policies and procedures:[xix]
- Create formal procedure, policies, and memoranda that are to be followed by staff and communicated to youths regarding sexual safety, safe reporting, and how to have respectful interactions. This should lay out the expectations about how to report, how to create respectful interactions, “confidentiality, and retaliation monitoring.” Making sure both youth and staff are held accountable is one of the most important steps in implementation.
- At intake, youths should be made aware of the policies regarding how to report sexual abuse by the staff or another youth through posters, handbooks, and ongoing discussions that remind youths that these policies exist. Youths also need to have access to hotlines, to know how to write reports, and to be able to send letters to someone outside the facility, including their parents, anonymously if they need to make a report and feel unsafe or unsure about doing it in person or giving their name.
When sexual assault happens in a juvenile facility—a place where kids are supposed to be safe—it is an unthinkable tragedy. Sexual abuse should not be tolerated or downplayed. Facilities need to continually address how and why sexual abuse occurs so often. Additionally, better staff screening needs to occur and policies need to easily describe how to report abuse and to encourage reporting.
[i] The Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 (P.L. 108-79; PREA) requires the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) to carry out a comprehensive statistical review and analysis of the incidents and effects of prison rape for each calendar year. This report fulfills the requirement under Sec.4(c)(2)(B)(ii) of the act to provide a list of juvenile correctional facilities according to the prevalence of sexual victimization.
[ii] Allen J. Beck, David Cantor, Sexual Victimization in Juvenile Facilities Reported by Youth, 2012, Bureau of Justice Statistics (June 2013) Accessed at https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/svjfry12.pdf .
[iii] Id. Sexual victimization was defined in the study as “any forced sexual activity with another youth (nonconsensual sexual acts and other sexual contacts) and all sexual activity with facility staff.”
[iv] Joaquin Sapien, Rape and Other Sexual Violence Prevalent in Juvenile Justice System, Pro Publica, Journalism in the Public Interest (June 2013) Accessed at https://www.propublica.org/article/rape-and-other-sexual-violence-prevalent-in-juvenile-justice-system.
[vi] Id. at 10.
[vii] In a similar study published between 2008-2009, the rates of sexual victimization of youth in state owner or operated juvenile facilities was an estimated 12.6 percent.
[viii] Id. at 4.
[ix] Id., stating the sample size of juvenile males in the study was much larger than the sample size for juvenile females. However, because there are more juvenile males in facilities than juvenile females, the numbers were proportionate to the gender ratio.
[x] Id. at 9.
[xv] Id. at 4.
[xviii] Wendy Leach and Tina Waldron, Sexual Abuse of Youth in Custody: What Makes a Facility Sexually Safe?, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange (March 2017) Accessed at http://jjie.org/2017/03/06/sexual-abuse-of-youth-in-custody-what-makes-a-facility-sexually-safe/ (the following section is a summary of this article, all quotations and information are attributed to its authors).