As many as 80 percent of the girls in some states’ juvenile justice systems have a history of sexual or physical abuse, according to a report released Thursday. The report, a rare examination of their plight, recommends that girls who have been sexually trafficked no longer be arrested on prostitution charges.
The study, “The Sexual Abuse to Prison Pipeline: The Girls’ Story,” found that sexual abuse was among the primary predictors of girls’ involvement with juvenile justice systems, but that the systems were ill-equipped to identify or treat the problem.
“Our girls, and especially our girls at the margins, are suffering, and what the study shows is how violence is part of their lives and how the response is criminalization,” said Malika Saada Saar, the executive director of the Human Rights Project for Girls, a Washington-based organization that conducted the research with the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality and the Ms. Foundation for Women.
The report’s authors say that girls involved in criminal behavior receive far less public attention than boys because there are far fewer girls in juvenile detention centers and because crimes committed by girls do not usually involve violence.
Laws in many states allow the police to arrest girls as young as 13 on prostitution charges, even when they are victims of sex trafficking. The report says the policy of incarcerating girls at young ages for prostitution, as well as on suspicion of truancy and running away, leads to profound mistrust of the criminal justice system and, often, more arrests.
“When law enforcement views girls as perpetrators, and when their cases are not dismissed or diverted but sent deeper into the justice system, the cost is twofold: Girls’ abusers are shielded from accountability, and the trauma that is the underlying cause of the behavior is not addressed,” the report says.
By Timothy Williams July 9, 2015