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Justice Department Survey Finds 1 in 3 Youths in Juvenile Detention Centers is Sexually Victimized

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A Justice Department investigation found that nearly 1 in 3 youths in 13 juvenile detention centers reported some type of sexual victimization. Victimization included forced sexual activity with another youth or sexual activity with staff. Overall, the report issued by the Justice Department found that 12% of youth nationwide held in state-run, privately-run, or non-profit juvenile detention centers reported sexual victimization.

Westat, a Rockville, Maryland company, conducted the survey for the government by surveying 9,000 juveniles held in detention centers via anonymous computerized questionnaires. The survey was conducted between June 2008 and April 2009 and asked respondents to report if they had been sexually victimized in their previous year of detention. About 10% of the respondents reported abuse from facility workers, particularly complaints against female staff and 2% of the reported abuse involved other inmates.

The study identified six facilities where 1 in 3 juveniles reported sexual victimization, including Victory Field Correctional Academy in Vernon, Texas; Indianapolis Juvenile Correctional Facility; Shawono Center in Grayling, Michigan; Woodland Hills Youth Development Center in Nashville, Tenn.; L.E. Rader Center in Sand Springs, Okla.; Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center in Virginia; New Jersey Training School in Monroe Township, N.J. While advocates say they aren’t surprised by the number of juveniles that are sexually abused, the Justice Department survey results are far different than what state records show. For example, officials in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, New Jersey, and Maryland all claim that there were very few or only unsubstantiated complaints of sexual abuse. Of the six facilities identified in the Justice Department survey, some claim that they have issues with the self-reporting methodology. Unfortunately, the opposite may be true–more youth may resist reporting sexual abuse to facility staffers, particularly if the staffers are at fault. Perhaps this is the reason for the discrepancies between state record numbers and the Justice Department’s survey results.