Hardly a week goes by that there isn't something shocking in the news. This week the startling announcement included the terrible employment figures as well as Harry Reid's slip of the tongue. Another shocker was the widely reported study released this week on sexual abuse in juvenile facilities. The Justice Department's statistical bureau issued the report. The findings looked at 26,550 adjudicated youth in confined facilities. Approximately 91 percent of the youth were male, and nine percent were female. It is really alarming that 12 percent of all youths reported sexual abuse while in the facilities.
When you dig deep down into the actual statistics of the 12 percent, some of it is by youth on youth, but the majority is by staff on youths. The big shocker in the statistics is that 95 percent is victimization of male clients by female staff. Of the youth who had been victimized by staff, about 40 percent was by force and 60 percent was without force or threat. However, the phrase "without force or threat" can be somewhat misleading as youth are very dependent on staff in a facility. An older staff member can be very seductive, offer favors, or just be kind to a frightened and emotionally disturbed adolescent. The older staff member can also give the perception that if the victim does not go along with the incident, life can become difficult inside the facility. Therefore, some of the intimidation can be for favors or some can be to just survive without problems.
Six of the facilities looked at by the Justice Department had abuse rates of 30 percent or more. Some of the youths who had experienced sexual assault, either by another youth or by a staff member, had actual physical injuries. One in five youths were injured by their sexual assault. Youth-on-youth sexual assault took its toll on young people who were not heterosexual, and their rates of abuse were much higher, as were youths who had a history of sexual assault. We know from the abuse literature that adults and children who have been sexually assaulted are often targets for increased sexual abuse. This may be that they do not notice cues or that the abuser somehow picks up on their vulnerability.
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As a society, we must be concerned about what happens in our juvenile facilities. Without proper treatment and care, we will only be making more hardened children who become hardened adults. The cost to society in terms of crime, mental health needs and destroyed families cannot be calculated. I spent years before I became a journalist working with men and women who had been abused in their youth. In fact, I became a journalist as a result of a book I wrote a book on recovery from child abuse. "The Other Side of The Family, A Book For Recovery from Abuse, Incest and Neglect" was written before much of the research had been done on the effects of sexual abuse on the brain. This current research shows that what is going on in our nations juvenile facilities has long-term effects that not only alters the lives of individuals but also has a monetary cost to our entire society. Society has to come to terms with not only the human side to this, but also the fact that you pay now to try and correct this or society monetarily pays greater costs later.
Professor Martin Teicher, working at the Harvard Medical School and McLean Hospital, has found that abuse of all kinds leads to significant changes in the brain. His research has shown there are areas of the brain that actually become smaller from abuse and can mimic epilepsy. Brain scans have found that there is reduced activity in the part of the brain that deals with attention and emotion. There is also decreased blood flow, which has an effect on emotional stabilization.
In another study, Dr. Vincent Felitti of Kaiser Permanente found that women who had been sexually abused were 27 percent more likely to be abused. What we now know about the long-term effects of abuse cannot be denied. It not only wrecks a child's life, but also has a dollar cost to all of us.
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What can be done? The Justice Department study found that smaller facilities had a lower rate of abuse and facilities where youth were held for shorter periods of time also had less abuse. Youth in private facilities fared better than in state-run institutions.
With the governor of California wanting to take money from prisons and put the money into education, the possibilities of making changes in youth detention programs diminish. That is short-sighted planning. Countries like Norway have a minimum two-year program if someone wants to work as staff in their penal systems. We often have employees who are not educated and live close to the edge themselves in our society in terms of education and employability.
Our youth who have had run-ins with our legal system deserve a chance. They don't deserve abuse. The Justice Department must take action on its report. We all deserve better. The youth who are incarcerated, and society that must pay for their care in the short term and long haul, can and must do better.