Juvenile Justice System Still a Hotbed of Sexual Assault on Children: DOJ Study


Correctional facilities in the United States have a mixed record at best in teaching youthful offenders the skills they need to thrive outside of custody. Administrators in the juvenile justice system are even less effective at keeping incarcerated juveniles safe from sexual assault.

According to a new U.S. Department of Justice report, 9.5 percent of youths incarcerated in juvenile facilities in America report being sexually abused in the past year of their detention.

That’s down from 12.1 percent in 2010. Still, the rate of sexual victimization in youth facilities is at least 35 percent higher than the average rate of correctional facilities across America.

“These numbers are both devastating and hopeful,” Lovisa Stannow, Executive Director of Just Detention International (JDI), said in a statement. “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.”

More disturbing than the continued high rate of victimization, is the fact that the vast majority of these sexual assaults are committed by staff. “Only” 2.5 percent of youth incarcerated in the juvenile justice system reported being attacked by a fellow inmate, compared to 7.7 percent who said they’d been assaulted by a staff member. And while a full 4.7 percent of locked-up youth reported consensual sexual contact with staff—an additional 3.5 percent said they were physically attacked or coerced into sexual conduct by staff members.

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.

Black youth seem to be targeted by staff more than other races: 9.6 percent of black juvenile justice system inmates reported sexual misconduct by staff, compared with 6.4 percent for combined white and Hispanic youth.

In some youth detention facilities, up to one in three inmates say they have been sexually assaulted.

“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,” said Stannow. “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.”

Thankfully, some hope is on the horizon for improving these conditions. Last May, after nearly nine years of waiting, the U.S. Department of Justice finally issued a series of steadfast guidelines for preventing sexual abuse in our correctional facilities. Among other fixes, the Prison Rape Elimination Act, or PREA, mandates intensive screening of prison staff, enhancing the ability of inmates to report sexual assault to an outside agency, as well as ensuring medical treatment and mental health counseling for victims.

“This August, all youth facilities will need to be in compliance with the PREA standards,” Justice Detention International spokesperson Jesse Lerner-Kinglake tells TakePart. “The shockingly high rates found in many of these facilities underscore just how important these standards are—and how far many have to go to get in compliance.”

What penalty should be exacted upon juvenile justice staff who sexually assault incarcerated youth? Be fair and just in COMMENTS.