Girls in the Juvenile Justice System
In 2008, more than 2.1 million youth under the age of 18 were arrested in the United States. Historically, girls have accounted for a smaller proportion of youth arrest. However, between 1980 and 2007 female arrest rates increased 83% compared to 8% for male juveniles, and girls currently account for 30% of all juvenile arrests.
Justice-involved boys and girls have many similar characteristics – school failure, family disruption and chaos, inappropriate adult role models and supervision, substance use/addiction and mental health issues. However, unlike boys, girls are more likely to report histories of physical and sexual victimization – with rates estimated at 73% and higher in many cases.
For most of these girls, traumatic events go unnoticed and untreated often with direr consequences. Researchers find that girls with histories of trauma are more likely to engage in high-risk sexual behaviors, to have higher rates of teen/early pregnancies, to be involved in abusive relationships, to have substance abuse problems/addiction, to be involved in the child welfare system, to have higher rates of mental health problems including posttraumatic stress, and to act out behaviorally.
Traditional punitive models and programs that have been developed based on data derived primarily from male populations have been found to be less effective for female youth. Often times these programs do not address past trauma, severed relational ties or build upon the assets of youth. However, there is a growing body of evidence that supports the use of programs grounded in gendered, trauma and strength-based theory as the best approach to the prevention and treatment of girls and young women that are system involved. Unfortunately, evaluations of such programs are rare, there continues to be a dearth of such programs available to the courts as an alternative to traditional sentencing and rarely does current advocacy and policy discourse acknowledge the specific and unique needs of girls and young women.
Domestic Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC)
Perhaps the most heinous form of child maltreatment is the commercial sexual exploitation of children and young adults (e.g. 18-24 years of age). CSEC constitutes a form of coercion and violence against children, amounts to forced labor and is considered a contemporary form of slavery. CSEC includes the prostitution of children, child pornography, child sex tourism and other forms of transactional sex where children engage in sexual activities to have key needs fulfilled, such as food, shelter or access to education.
It is estimated that between 100,000 – 300,000 children are sexually exploited in the United States every year, and that the average age of first initiation for most youth occurs between the ages of 12-14. Research indicates that youth most vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation are often runaways attempting to escape already difficult living conditions. It is estimated that it takes as little as 48 hours for a child to be lured into exploitation by individuals promising love, money and lavish lifestyles. Once enticed, youth are often stripped of any form of identification, isolated from their families and communities, are physically and mentally abused, and are often exposed to narcotics that lead to addiction and further dependency on those who exploit them.
With the use of organized systems, exploited children are transported (e.g., trafficked) from state to state and forced out onto the streets to sell their bodies or are sold through personal ads and Internet services such as Craigslist. On average, it is estimated that the sale of one child for a year can earn a pimp upwards of $300,000.
Far too often, youth who are not able to vote or legally consent to sex are criminalized by being charged with “prostitution or solicitation” and thrown behind bars. “Johns” or those who purchase children for sex often receive minimal fines and are rarely prosecuted to the fullest extent as outlined by current laws. Pimps often go unprosecuted due to lack of evidence and reluctance or fear of the child to testify against their exploiter. Further, when CSEC youth are identified rarely are appropriate services available to this extremely vulnerable population. Where therapeutic, long-term residential facilities are most needed for this population the courts are most often left with short-term shelters, foster care placements or detention facilities that is are unprepared for the treatment needs of these youth. Far too often, CSEC youth are further traumatized by the system, most often are released without the appropriate treatments and supports, and often are forced back into a life of exploitation to survive.
The Playground Clip
“Playground is the best film I’ve seen on the abuse and exploitation of children. In the tradition of our greatest protest art, it is both aesthetically sophisticated and politically committed. Nuanced and sensitive, it avoids the usual sensationalism surrounding this topic. This is the untold story of an American underworld.” — Zoe Trodd, Harvard University
Source: The Playground http://www.playgroundproject.com/