The Justice Department study issued found that 13 separate facilities had "high rates of sex abuse and victimization, with nearly 1 out of every 3 inmates reporting some type of victimization," with 6 reporting rates of 30% or higher and higher number of offenses on average in larger, state-run facilities. Says the AP, "About 10 percent of youths surveyed reported incidents involved facility staff people, and nearly all of those complaints were against female staffers. About 2 percent of the reported incidents involving other young inmates." And as the New York Review of Books outlines in a harrowing article that details some youths' appalling experiences,
A full 80 percent of the abuse reported in the study was perpetrated not by other inmates but by staff. And shockingly, 95 percent of the youth making such allegations said they were victimized by female staff. 64 percent of them reported at least one incident of sexual contact with staff in which no force or explicit coercion was used; staff caught having sex with inmates often claim it's consensual. But staff have enormous control over inmates' lives. They can give them privileges, such as extra food or clothing or the opportunity to wash, and they can punish them: everything from beatings to solitary confinement to extended sentences. The notion of a truly consensual relationship in such circumstances is grotesque even when the inmate is not a child
Needless to say, this is not what already troubled or at-risk juveniles need for rehabilitation: Says Linda McFarlane, deputy executive director of Just Detention International, "Many of these are already the most vulnerable and traumatized youth from all of our communities and they're placed for custody because they're considered to be a danger...If sexually abused in those very institutions that are supposed to help them prepare for life in the community then it's just an incredible travesty."
In a report last year, the National Council on Crime and Delinquency released a report detailing recommendations for curtailing abuse: these included increased staff training, "adequate numbers of medical and mental health professionals" and, for the youths, "access to reporting and
grievance systems that result in genuine and thorough investigations of their alleged victimization." All this seems intuitive enough, but even in a perfect world where all staffers are impeccably trained and an unlimited budget provides facilities with the supervision and resources they need, what of those countless youths already abused? It seems unlikely that finding and treating them will be a high priority for anyone - despite the spiral such abuse doubtless perpetuates.