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New Government Report: In Juvenile Justice System, Abusive Staff Rarely Held Accountable

  • January 28, 2016

Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., January 28, 2016 — Barely half of known staff perpetrators of sexual abuse in youth detention face any legal consequences, according to a new report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). Today’s study, which includes data reported by local and state juvenile facilities over a six-year period, also showed that roughly  one in 12 abusive staff were allowed to remain on the job. Worse still, the majority of youth who were victimized by staff received no follow-up medical or mental health care.

“When staff who sexually abuse kids in their custody are allowed to get off scot-free and, in some cases, continue to be employed in the very facility where they committed the abuse, it is a clear sign that the system is failing.” said Lovisa Stannow, JDI’s Executive Director. “We are talking about known perpetrators, adults who are typically employed in public facilities supported by our tax dollars. The lack of accountability described in the new BJS report is simply outrageous.”

The BJS report, Sexual Victimization Reported by Juvenile Correctional Authorities, 2007–12, presents the official record of sexual abuse gathered from state juvenile systems and local and private facilities. From 2007 to 2012 there were 9,500 reports of sexual victimization in these facilities. The rate at which youth reported abuse trended upward over that timeframe; in 2012 there was a 18 percent spike compared to the prior year. However, the vast majority of reports were “unsubstantiated,” meaning that the facility determined there was insufficient evidence. Reports of staff sexual abuse were less than half as likely as reports of youth-on-youth sexual abuse to be substantiated after an investigation (10 percent versus 25 percent).

Today’s figures do not reflect the magnitude of the problem of sexual abuse in youth detention, since many youth do not come forward due to shame or fear of retaliation. In 2013, the BJS released the findings of its most recent nationwide anonymous survey of youth in detention. That study showed that roughly one in ten youth reported being sexually abused in the prior twelve months of their detention, and that the majority were abused multiple times.

Other findings from today’s report include:

  • Of the total number of reports tallied between 2007 and 2012, a slightly greater percentage involved sexual victimization by other youth than by staff (55 percent versus 44 percent).
  • The study measured reports of sexual harassment in addition to sexual abuse. Staff who were found to have committed sexual harassment were more likely than not to keep their jobs. A majority of staff who commit sexual harassment faced no disciplinary action (43 percent) and only about one in eight (16 percent) faced legal action.
  • Women made up 64 percent of perpetrators of staff sexual misconduct — a finding that defies common stereotypes but is consistent with prior BJS findings.


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