Oregon’s girls juvenile facility reports sexual abuse rates twice national average, new federal data shows

  • Noelle Crombie
  • January 3, 2020
  • The Oregonian/OregonLive

The state’s lone correctional facility for girls and young women has among the highest rates of sexual abuse of any juvenile facility in the country, according to new federal data.

The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics issued a report in December that found 14% of the girls and young women housed at Oak Creek Youth Correctional Facility reported being sexually assaulted or abused while at the institution in 2018. The rate is twice the national average, according to the data.

Jesse Lerner-Kinglake, communications director for Just Detention International, an international organization focused on ending sexual abuse in prison, said the federal data puts Oak Creek in the top 10 facilities with highest rates of reported sexual abuse, which he called “a dubious list to be a part of.”

The federal data is based on a 2018 survey of 42 girls and young women and does not make clear whether the abuse by other youth in custody or staff.

According to 2018 Oregon Youth Authority data, there was one report of sexual misconduct by staff against youth and one report of sexual harassment involving staff against youth. Benjamin Chambers, a spokesman for the youth authority, said both reports were not substantiated.

Joseph O’Leary, director of the youth authority, said the agency is “extremely concerned by the results.” He said the data contradicts the results of independent audits and twice-yearly national surveys of Oak Creek offenders, which have found lower rates of reported abuse on par with the national average, agency officials said.

O’Leary said agency officials need to figure out why there’s a discrepancy between its data and the federal statistics.

“We will also need to review and improve our current efforts to keep youth safe from sexual abuse, as well as identify ways to ensure we learn about and respond to incidents of sexual abuse,” O’Leary said in an email to staff, volunteers and lawmakers after The Oregonian/OregonLive’s inquiry about the federal report.

Chambers said the agency has added security cameras and beefed up training as part of its effort to reduce instances of sexual abuse. In response to the federal data, he said the agency has begun talking with the girls and women in custody about ways to confidentially report abuse.

Surveys of youth in custody at the facility found that “youth perception of safety at Oak Creek is dramatically improving,” he said.

The 50-bed facility houses young offenders from ages 15 to 25. They are typically there for drug-related offenses, are often victims of sex crimes and report “very high rates of sexual trauma,” Chambers said.

Originally posted here