The Sex-Abuse-to-Prison Pipeline: How Girls of Color Are Unjustly Arrested and Incarcerated

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Black and brown girls are first victimized and then punished, often in connection with sexual violence that has been perpetrated against them.

 

In 2014, President Barack Obama announced My Brother’s Keeper, a desperately needed initiative to create educational and economic opportunities for black and brown boys and men. In addition to My Brother’s Keeper, there has been a new and emerging recognition that mass incarceration must come to an end, along with the school-to-prison pipeline that relegates so many youths of color to the juvenile-justice system.

Against the backdrop of these efforts, there seems to be a common trope that girls of color are fine. Unlike black and brown boys, they are not endangered by punitive school policies that push them out, or a systematic criminalization of their behavior that pipelines them into the juvenile-justice system. Black and brown girls are not fine, and their struggles are being dangerously left out of the discursive spaces on criminal-justice reform.

My organization, the Human Rights Project for Girls, along with the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality and the Ms. Foundation for Women, just released “The Sexual Abuse to Prison Pipeline: The Girls’ Story” , a report that exposes how girls, specifically girls of color, are arrested and incarcerated as a result of sexual abuse.

One in 3 juveniles arrested (pdf) is a girl. Girls tend to be arrested at younger ages than boys, usually entering the system at age 13 or 14. And while girls are only 14 percent of incarcerated youths, they make up the fastest-growing segment of the juvenile-justice system.

Sexual abuse is one of the primary predictors (pdf) of girls’ detention. Girls are rarely arrested for violent crimes. They are arrested for nonviolent behaviors that are correlative with enduring and escaping from abusive environments—offenses such as truancy and running away. Many girls run away from abusive homes or foster-care placements, only to then be arrested for the status offense of running away. Whereas abused women are told to run from their batterers, when girls run from abuse, they are locked up.

There is also the grim example of how girls are criminalized when they are trafficked for sex as children. When poor black and brown girls are bought and sold for sex, they are rarely regarded or treated as victims of trafficking. Instead, they are children jailed for prostitution. According to the FBI, African-American children make up 59 percent (pdf) of all prostitution-related arrests under the age of 18 in the U.S., and girls make up 76 percent (pdf) of all prostitution-related arrests under the age of 18 in the U.S.

Another lens through which to understand the degree of sexual violence and trauma endured by justice-involved girls is their own histories. The younger a girl’s age when she enters the juvenile-justice system, the more likely she is (pdf) to have been sexually assaulted and/or seriously physically injured. One California study found that 60 percent (pdf) of girls in the state’s jails had been raped or were in danger of being raped at some point in their lives. Similarly, a study of delinquent girls in South Carolina found that 81 percent (pdf) reported a history of sexual violence: Sixty-nine percent had experienced violence by their caregiver, and 42 percent reported dating violence.

It has to be pointed out, as the “Sexual Abuse to Prison Pipeline” report does, that this is, distinctly, a pipeline for girls of color. Youths of color account for 45 percent of the general youth population, but girls of color—who are approximately half of all youths of color—make up approximately two-thirds of girls who are incarcerated.
There must be real questions raised about why girls of color are being imprisoned for their victimization. Why is the status of victim or survivor denied to girls of color at the margins? Why are they not contemplated as victims, and do entrenched racial mythologies that frame black and brown girls as oversexualized, promiscuous and sexually loose contribute to the denied status?

We must surface the hidden and disregarded realities of how vulnerable black and brown girls are treated differently, and indeed punished, for their experiences of sexual and physical abuse. We cannot continue to leave them behind. Because their lives matter.

The Root aims to foster and advance conversations about issues relevant to the black Diaspora by presenting a variety of opinions from all perspectives, whether or not those opinions are shared by our editorial staff.

Malika Saada Saar is executive director of the Human Rights Project for Girls and special counsel on human rights for the Raben Group.

The Sexual Abuse to Prison Pipeline: The Girls Story

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mr. Jones is currently the New York State Representative of Blacks in Law Enforcement of America. Current member of the National Association of Blacks in Criminal Justice.  From 2006 to 2010. He served as the North East Region President of the National Black Police Association and as a national board member and Chair of the National Membership Committee of the National Black Police Association.

Mr. Jones has been a guest commentator on New York radio stations WBLS (107.5 FM), WLIB (1190 am) WRKS (98.7 FM), WBAI (99.5 FM) and Westchester’s WVOX (1460 am). Mr. Jones has appeared on local television broadcasts including Westchester News 12 “News Makers” and Aljazeera America. You can now hear Damon every Sunday on the People Before Politics Radio Show on wwwinthmixxradio.com

One comment on “The Sex-Abuse-to-Prison Pipeline: How Girls of Color Are Unjustly Arrested and Incarcerated”

  1. Ahmet

    Joe, hope you’re doing OK. Keep your head up above the snow. I wated to shoot some info to you about RDAP. I just wanted to let you know that you sholud register ASAP. The sooner you get in line and get interviewed, the sooner you will get in. In the end, I only get 9 months off, instead of the full twelve because of the waiting list. And it get’s longer every day. The waiting list goes by outdate, but sometimes it can take awhile to get you tranferred to a facility that has it, although I’m aware that I don’t need to explain this to you. I’m going to shoot you some more info privately, but for any other SO’s that read this, if your charge is Poss. of CP, excercise your rights. You ARE eligible for time off. I did not have to file for my rights, my road was easy. You may have to, but in Seagoville, TX low, they ARE giving the time off. Not only did I get it, but I saw many others go home early as well. I don’t wish anyone good luck anymore, because we make our own.

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