By Susie Armitage, YR Media, October 16, 2019
When Bree was booked into a juvenile detention center as a teen, they were subject to a strip search. “The staff had to take off my clothes and started patting me down, touching me, and making me feel uncomfortable,” said Bree, who asked that their last name not be used for privacy reasons. As a youth advocate with the Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center, Bree recounted their experience of incarceration in a report. “I felt violated, like I wasn’t even a human being anymore.”
Bree, who uses they/them pronouns and is now 22, became part of a growing share of girls involved in the juvenile justice system. While youth arrests are down overall since the 1990s, and a majority of juvenile offenders are male, the proportion of girls arrested and detained has risen. Juvenile justice reform advocates argue that on the whole, the system isn’t designed to support any young person effectively, male or female. But when it comes to girls, the institutional failures are particularly acute.
According to a 2015 report called “The Sexual Abuse to Prison Pipeline: The Girls’ Story,” research shows system-involved girls are four times more likely than boys to have been victims of childhood sexual abuse. They’re also nearly twice as likely to have experienced at least five Adverse Childhood Experiences, a category that includes not only abuse and neglect, but factors such as having divorced parents, living with someone who is mentally ill or who has a substance abuse problem, and having someone in your household go to prison. A significant portion are also in foster care, like Bree was.