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New Government Data Sheds Light on Sexual Abuse in Juvenile Detention – But Continues to Withhold Key Findings

  • June 30, 2020

Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., June 30, 2020 – After a lengthy delay, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) has finally released some of the data on sexual abuse in the juvenile justice system that it withheld from a December 2019 report. The findings show that in the most dangerous youth facilities, it is staff who commit the vast majority of sexual abuse. And yet, inexplicably, the BJS continues to suppress information about staff and kids that is vital to combating abuse, including data on race, gender, and sexual orientation.

“The BJS figures are proof that the nation’s youth detention system is failing to protect our children,” said Lovisa Stannow, Executive Director of Just Detention International. “But there are unacceptable gaps in the data. The BJS is sitting on valuable findings that we know it has gathered on the race, gender, and sexual orientation of children who are being abused. This is crucial information, which we need to fight for their safety.”

In its previous studies, the BJS has released statistics that demonstrate the extreme vulnerability of kids who are LGBTI, and of kids who have experienced prior abuse. BJS’ earlier reports have also consistently shown that Black youth are far more likely than their white peers to be sexually abused by staff – an alarming figure that advocates have long wanted more data on, and that is particularly relevant in this moment of reckoning with state-sanctioned violence against Black people. “One would think that if the government had positive news about kids from marginalized communities, it would be eager to share it. The fact that they’re being so secretive is alarming, to say the least,” said Stannow.

Today’s findings highlight that dangerous youth detention facilities are not evenly distributed across the country. The crisis is most pressing in Florida and Texas, each of which has three facilities that BJS singled out for their high rates of abuse; in one Florida facility, more than one in four kids reported being victimized by staff in the preceding year alone. These states’ skyrocketing cases of Covid-19 — a disease that has ravaged people in confinement settings — has only increased concerns for the safety of youth in custody. “Florida and Texas have shown that they cannot stop the sexual assault of kids in their custody, which is an eminently preventable problem. What are the chances that they’re doing all that they can to protect children from Covid-19,” said Stannow.

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Just Detention International is a health and human rights organization that seeks to end sexual abuse in all forms of detention.