#minorsextrafficking | Scot Scoop News | Juvenile (in)justice: girls in the system

One of the most significant gender disparities in juvenile justice is the circumstances by which girls are drawn into the system. Girls are most often arrested for nonviolent offenses, including running away from home, skipping school, and prostitution.

“The notion of girls being arrested for prostitution is particularly shocking because, under federal law, any minor under the age of 18 who is engaged in the commercial sex trade is considered a victim of trafficking by definition. And in many states where this is happening, these girls are too young to even be consenting to sex, yet they are being criminalized for prostitution,” Vafa said.

For the vast majority of girls in the juvenile justice system, sexual abuse is not a foreign concept — 80% of girls in some states’ systems have encountered some form of abuse in their lives, according to a report co-authored by Vafa on the sexual abuse-to-prison pipeline. The report also found sexual abuse to be one of the primary predictors of a girl’s entry into the juvenile justice system.

“These girls are essentially being forced to take their safety into their own hands, and so what they end up doing is behaviors to cope with the trauma and abuse. That looks like running away from home if they are being abused at home, running away from foster care if the abuse is happening there, and skipping school if they are either being sex trafficked and their trafficker is forcing them to miss school, or they are experiencing harassment or violence at school,” Vafa said.

The correlation between sexual abuse and interaction with the justice system characterizes the sexual abuse-to-prison pipeline which affects both girls in the juvenile division and women in adult incarceration. However, one of the factors contributing to girls’ arrests is their age.

In all the conversations we have about mass incarceration and criminal justice reform, the focus really tends to be on men and boys.”

“So many states will still arrest and detain girls for status offenses, like running away, truancy, and defiant behavior, which are only crimes because of their age,” said Jeannette Pai-Espinosa, president of National Crittenton, a national advocacy organization empowering young women and gender-expansive young people.

While the phenomena surrounding the sexual abuse-to-prison pipeline are not gender-specific, they have a more severe impact on girls who face rates of sexual abuse that are four times higher than boys, according to Rights4Girls.

“It’s important to note that there are boys who have been abused, and they have their own challenges in terms of reporting the abuse and all of the stigma that comes with being a young boy and sexually abused. But from the data that we do have, girls experience abuse at far greater rates than boys,” Vafa said.

In escaping this abuse, girls often become involved in the juvenile justice system, and according to Vafa, it only gets worse from there.

“Instead of really recognizing and responding to this behavior, our system is just basically punishing the girls, and so, as a result, they are becoming involved in the system,” Vafa said. “We discovered that this is really fueling a cycle of victimization and incarceration, including adult incarceration as it becomes an intergenerational cycle.”

A report on the sexual abuse-to-prison pipeline dubbed this violence against girls a “painfully American tale.”

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