Sexual violence is prisons is unfortunately quite common. There are various statistics discussing the matter, but despite some of the differences in the absolute numbers the fact remains that sexual violence occurs at a rate more than worthy of acknowledging. This is particularly true in juvenile prisons where both staff and other youths prey on vulnerable children. According to a recent Justice Department study, the rate of sexual violence quite high:
A government study issued Thursday finds 13 juvenile detention facilities around the country have high rates of sex abuse and victimization, where nearly 1 out of every 3 inmates reported some type of victimization.
A Justice Department study has found that nationwide, about 12 percent of youths held in state-run, privately-run, or local facilities reported some type of sexual victimization — but those rates varied widely from place to place.
Six sites had reported victimization rates of 30 percent or higher.
The figures are based on surveys of youths in custody.
About 10 percent reported incidents involved facility staff people, and nearly all of those complaints were against female staffers. About 2 percent of the reported incidents involving abuse perpetrated against young inmates by other youths.
Approximately 26,550 juveniles are held in such facilities around the country, and the survey — conducted for the government by Westat, a company based on Rockville, Md. — collected information from about 9,000 of them.
The report stated that state run facilities had higher rates of sexual violence than private run facilities and smaller facilities had fewer instances of sexual violence. The report also stated that the longer a child was incarcerated, the more likely the child would be abused. Youths with stays under 5 months reported fewer instances of abuse than youths who remained in facilities for 1 year.
However, what stands out — or at least should — is this portion of the article: About 10 percent reported incidents involved facility staff people, and nearly all of those complaints were against female staffers.
It is difficult to imagine that if male staffers were prone to sexually assaulting teenage inmates it would receive just a passing mention. Case in point: Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear removed 400 female inmates from a privately run prison many inmates accused the male staff of sexual abuse and misconduct. According to the article, the decision was based on 48 alleged incidents.
Yet according to the Justice Department report 2,730 youths, overwhelmingly boys, reported abuse at the hands of female staff. The above article does not do the findings justice. From the report:
Approximately 95% of all youth reporting staff sexual misconduct said they had been victimized by female facility staff (table 11). Among the estimated 2,730 adjudicated youths who had been victimized, 92% were males reporting sexual activity with female staff; an additional 2.5% were males reporting sexual activity with both female and male staff. In comparison, 91% of all adjudicated youth held in the sampled facilities were male. In 2008, 42% of staff in juvenile facilities under state jurisdiction were female. (Staff data for only sampled facilities were not available).
Physical force, threat of force, and other forms of pressure and coercion by facility staff were reported by an estimated 1,150 youths. Among these victims, 14% reported a male staff member as the perpetrator (including those victimized by both male and female staff).
Male staff members made up a smaller percentage of perpetrators among youth reporting staff sexual misconduct that did not involve any force. Among the estimated 1,710 youths who experienced staff sexual misconduct without force, nearly 4% reported the involvement of a male staff member.
Data provided by youth who had been sexually victimized by facility staff revealed that–
- An estimated 88% had been victimized more than once by the staff; 27% had been victimized more than 10 times (table 12).
- A third (33%) said they had been victimized by more than one staff member.
- One in 7 (14%) reported they had experienced physical force or threat of force, 11% had been offered favors or protection, and 18% had been given drugs or alcohol to engage in the sexual act or other sexual contact.
- Most youth victimized by staff (95%) said they had not been physically injured. An estimated 2% reported 2 or more serious injuries; fewer than 1% said they sought medical attention (not shown in table).
- Nearly 80% of the victims said at least one incident had occurred in a common area, such as a classroom, library, kitchen, office, closet, or supply room. Half (51%) of the victims said at least one incident had occurred in a shower or bathroom; half (54%) also said they had been victimized by staff in the youth’s room or sleeping area.
- Reports of staff sexual misconduct were more common between 6 p.m. and midnight (59%) than any other time.
Even if a person wished to argue that the higher rate of male victimization is due to more boys being imprisoned than girls the person would have a hard time using that to explain the high rate of female perpetration. Granted, it is entirely possible that male victims who are still incarcerated may be unwilling to come forward and state they were assaulted by male staff. However, that is not very likely considering that it is a much bigger stigma for a boy to admit a woman raped him. Considering the number of instances that involved force it is more likely that what the report states is true: female staffers are more likely to sexual assault and rape inmates than male staffers.
Obviously, no one will shut down any facilities or remove boys from facilities where they are being assaulted. It is also unlikely that female staff, who make up 42% of all the staff at juvenile facilities, will be removed or prevented from engaging in any unmonitored interaction with male youths.
However, the report deals a significant blow to the myth that females do not abuse. Here is a situation in which women in complete power have no hesitation using it to hurt children. Most likely the women and their supporters will justify their actions by claiming that the victims looked like men, i.e. the boys looked older than their age. That may be the case in some instances, but the same thing holds true for female victims. Some teenage girls look much older than their age. That does not, however, give anyone a pass to assault and exploit them.
The report shows that when presented with the opportunity women will rape just like men will, and this should raise concerns not only about female staff in juvenile prisons, but women in general because women have much greater access to children than men. This does not mean that we should suspect all women of being child rapists, only that it is time to do away with the ridiculous notion that sexual violence is always or mostly male-on-female assaults. The more we ask boys and men about their history of sexual violence, the more we learn that women are just as capable of and apparently just as likely to sexually abuse as men are.
The remaining question is what will be done. The report essentially shows there is a problem with female perpetrated sexual violence in juvenile prisons, both with female inmates and female staff. This situation must be addressed, particularly the problems with female staff as there are far more boys in prison than girls. The report included no recommendations, but perhaps some will be presented later.