“Traumatized” Girls and the Juvenile Justice System


Girls and young women are increasingly ensnared by a juvenile justice system that traumatizes them instead of helping them, according to a new study.

Despite an overall decrease in juvenile arrests over the last two decades, the number of girls arrested has decreased at a slower pace, according to data from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. In 2012, 1 in 5 juveniles arrested for violent crimes was female.

Current forms underway in juvenile justice systems across the U.S. “fail” to address the needs of these young women, many of whom are arrested as part of sex trafficking investigations or other situations outside of their control, says the study, entitled “Gender Injustice: System-Level Juvenile Justice Reforms for Girls,” and sponsored by the National Crittenton Foundation and the National Women’s Law Center.

A number of those who enter the justice system have been victims of domestic abuse or other forms of violence.

“For too many girls, adversity in their homes, communities, and in the way they experience society, is traumatizing,” write study authors Francine T. Sherman and Annie Balck. “Yet for these girls and others, the current justice system responds to behaviors caused by trauma and abuse with punishment and fails to offer girls effective solutions and a healthy path forward.”

The study found that 84 percent of girls in the criminal justice system had experienced violence in their homes and 31 percent had experienced sexual abuse at home. Additionally, girls of color and those who identify as LBQ/GNT (lesbian, bisexual, questioning/gender non-conforming transgender) had a particularly difficult experience in the system.

The authors' reform recommendations include:

  • Decriminalizing prostitution for minors, and other offenses common to girls living in traumatic environments;
  • Providing alternatives to detention and trial for young female offenders who do not pose threats to public safety through diversion programs and other means;
  • Engaging families when possible as part of the juvenile justice process, especially for girls who are pregnant or parenting;
  • Developing evidence-based programs that address girls’ health needs related to trauma.

Read the study HERE.

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