Tennessee’s Woodland Hills juvenile detention center, where 32 teens escaped this week (most were recaptured), has a well-documented record of alleged sexual misconduct, reports Slate. This sort of abuse happens behind fences and closed doors, where authorities can easily brush aside allegations from troubled youth. A 2010 investigation by The Tennessean found a series of allegations that had gone largely uninvestigated and unpunished by authorities. One of the facilities' kitchen employees had reportedly given a 17-year-old boy chlamydia, and later lived with a different male juvenile who she had been accused of abusing while he was in the facility. (Officials handcuffed 24 teens today after a riot broke out at Woodland Hills, The Tennessean reports.)
In the most recent federal survey of detained juveniles, nearly 8 percent of respondents reported being sexually victimized by a staff member at least once in the previous 12 months. For those who reported being abused, two things proved overwhelmingly true, as they were in Woodland Hills: They were teenage boys, and their alleged assailants were female employees tasked with looking out for their well-being. Nine in 10 of those who reported being victimized were males reporting incidents with female staff. Women, meanwhile, typically make up less than half of a juvenile facility's staff. Among those who said they were abused by staff, 86 percent reported more than one incident in the previous year; 20 percent of those who reported sexual misconduct said it happened at least 11 times over that period. A U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics survey said the use or threat of force was present in only one in five victims. Instead, the research suggests that female guards are more likely to establish a relationship with the boys, writing them letters, giving them gifts of alcohol or even drugs, or granting them special favors to build their trust.