10 percent of youth behind bars report sexual victimization

Nearly 10 percent of youth held in state juvenile facilities report experiencing sexual victimization at the hands of another young person or faculty staff, according to a newly released report from the Department of Justice.

The report, from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, found that 7.7 percent of youth reported an incident involving facility staff, including roughly 3.5 percent who said they had sex or sexual contact with staff as a result of force. 

Two-and-a-half percent reported an incident involving another young person, including 1.7 percent who reported a nonconsensual sexual act with another youth.

Overall, 9.9 percent reported some form of sexual victimization, which is defined as "any forced sexual activity with another youth (nonconsensual sexual acts and other sexual contacts) and all sexual activity with facility staff."

The survey, which was conducted last year in 273 state-owned or operated juvenile facilities as well as 53 local or private facilities that hold youth under state contract, was mandated as part of the Prison Rape Elimination Act. It was administered confidentially to 8,707 youth, who used a touch screen to respond to questions while following audio instructions through headphones. Youth were asked to report incidences in the last 12 months or since they entered the facility.

Overall, the rate of sexual victimization has dropped from 12.6 percent in 2008-09 to the current rate of 9.9 percent, due primarily to a drop in staff sexual misconduct. Lovisa Stannow of Just Detention International, an organization that fights sexual abuse in detention facilities, said more progress must be made.

"These numbers are both devastating and hopeful," she said. "They show clearly that it is possible to protect young detainees from the devastation of sexual abuse. They also make painfully clear that many youth facilities have a very, very long way to go."

Males (8.2 percent) were more likely than females (2.8 percent) to report sexual activity with staff, while females (5.4 percent) were more likely than males (2.2 percent) to report forced sexual activity with another youth. Nearly half of staff sexual misconduct victims said the staff member wrote him or her letters or gave him or her pictures of themselves. The vast majority of staffers identified as having had sexual contact with youth were female. 

Gay, lesbian, bisexual or "other" youth were particularly susceptible to youth-on-youth victimization, with 10.3 percent reporting one or more incidents compared to 1.5 percent of heterosexual youth. Nearly 70 percent of youth reporting victimization by another person reported more than one incident.

Four states - Georgia, Illinois, Ohio and South Carolina - were found to have high rates of youth sexual victimization. Three states - Delaware, Massachusetts and New York - and the District of Columbia had no reported incidents of victimization.

Thirteen facilities had rates of youth sexual victimization exceeding 20 percent, including two where the rate of victimization was 30 percent or higher. Those two facilities were the Paulding Regional Detention Center in Georgia and the Circleville Juvenile Correctional Facility in Ohio.