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Government Report Reveals a Sharp Drop in Sexual Abuse in Youth Detention — But Omits Crucial Data

  • December 11, 2019

Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., December 11, 2019 — A report by the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) finds that sexual abuse has decreased significantly in youth detention facilities. Overall, 7.1 percent of youth reported being sexually abused in their current facility over the previous year — a sharp decline from the previous report, in 2012, which found that 9.5 percent of youth had been abused.

“Today’s report shows that the juvenile detention system is making long overdue strides in preventing sexual abuse,” said Lovisa Stannow, Just Detention International’s Executive Director. “But even one sexual assault is too many and, as the report makes clear, this violence remains commonplace in youth facilities across the U.S.

The report, The Sexual Victimization Reported by Youth in Juvenile Facilities, 2018, is based on anonymous surveys given to more than 6,000 youth in detention facilities nationwide. This is BJS’ third anonymous nationwide survey of youth in detention, but the first to cover the period following the release of the Prison Rape Elimination Act standards — the groundbreaking rules that require adult and youth detention facilities to take basic safety measures.

Regrettably, in today’s report, BJS is withholding key findings that could help both advocates and corrections officials prevent sexual abuse of children in the government’s custody. Most notably, it is lacking any analysis on the rates of abuse facing LGBT youth and youth with a history of sexual victimization, groups that have historically been victimized at very high rates. Past reports also explored the dynamics behind sexual abuse, documenting a firm link between unprofessional staff behavior and staff abuse — which is especially critical information, given that the vast majority of sexual abuse in youth facilities is committed by staff.

“It is baffling that BJS would undertake months of research only to then bury its findings,” said Stannow. “It’s clear that we’re making progress in the effort to prevent sexual abuse, but leaving out this information means that advocates and corrections officials alike have to move forward with one arm tied behind our backs.”

Despite the overall dip in sexual abuse, there are youth facilities with appallingly high rates. A greater concentration of dangerous facilities are in Florida and Texas than in other states — including one in Florida where more than one in four children reported being sexually abused. Florida and Texas are also home to facilities with no abuse reports at all, underscoring that it is possible to protect children in custody. “If officials in some Texas and Florida facilities can stop kids from being raped, then officials in every Texas and Florida facility can do so — and indeed, so can officials in all facilities nationwide,” said Stannow.


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