Hundreds of teenagers are raped or sexually assaulted during their stays in the country's juvenile detention facilities, and many of them are victimized repeatedly, according to a U.S. Department of Justice survey.
The teens are most often assaulted by staff members working at the facilities, and fully 20 percent of those victimized by the men and women charged with protecting and counseling them said they had been violated on more than 10 occasions.
"Today's report illustrates the fundamental failure of many juvenile detention facilities to keep their youth safe," said Louisa Stannow, executive director of Just Detention International, a California-based health and human rights organization.
The Justice Department survey — covering both secure juvenile detention facilities and group homes, the less restrictive settings into which troubled youngsters are often ordered — involved more than 8,500 boys and girls. In all, 1,720 of those surveyed reported being sexually assaulted.
Allen Beck, the author of the report, said that the rates of staff-on-inmate abuse among juveniles are "about three times higher than what we find in the adult arena."
The highest incidence of staff sexual misconduct occurred in Ohio, South Carolina, Georgia and Illinois, while other states like New York, Massachusetts and Delaware, reported no abuse. At the Paulding Regional Youth Detention Center in Georgia and the Circleville Juvenile Correctional Facility in Ohio, one in three youngsters surveyed said they'd suffered sexual abuse at the hands of staff members.
Stannow said the findings "show clearly that it is possible to protect young detainees from the devastation of sexual abuse," but that they also "make painfully clear that many youth facilities have a very, very long way to go."
There are roughly 70,000 youngsters in the country's juvenile detention facilities, thousands of them 16 years old or younger. The survey examined facilities that house roughly a third of the total population in detention.
The report gives some insight into how staff members victimize the youngsters under their care and supervision. In the majority of cases, the survey found, staff members establish a personal relationship with the inmate first by sharing details of their personal lives, sharing pictures, or giving gifts. The report indicates that one instance of abuse usually leads to more.
Larry Vanderbilt, general counsel for the Department of Juvenile Justice in South Carolina, which ranks second in states with the highest reported rates of staff abuse, attributed a large part of the problem to one particular guard at its Birchwood juvenile detention center. He said the guard had been linked to at least two incidents of sex abuse and is now being criminally prosecuted.
The report will be shared with the Justice Department's Review Panel on Prison Rape, which will eventually invite administrators with the highest and lowest sex abuse rates to testify at hearings in Washington.