Report: Girls of Color Who Survive Abuse Frequently End Up in Prison

By Kenrya Rankin Jul 10, 2015

A new report from Human Rights Project for Girls, the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality, and the Ms. Foundation for Women reveals that previous abuse is the most significant contributing cause for the arrest and incarceration of girls of color, who make up about two-thirds of all imprisoned young women.

“The Sexual Abuse to Prison Pipeline: The Girls’ Story” shows that while girls are rarely arrested for violent crimes, they tend to be picked up and detained for offenses associated with escaping abuse, such as truancy, curfew violations and running away. In short: when girls flee abuse, they tend to get locked up. And girls of color are suffering disproportionately: Black girls make up 14 percent of the population, but 33.2 percent of the girls who are detained. And while Native American girls account for 1 percent of all youth, they are 3.5 percent of those detained.

The study authors collected state data that tell the sad tale of imprisoned girls who ended up there following sexual violence. In South Carolina, 81 percent of girls in the juvenile justice system are survivors. In Florida, 84 percent of girls suffered family violence. Among girls in the California system, 81 percent have been sexually or physically abused.

It dosen’t end there: When black and brown girls are trafficked for sex, they are not treated as victims, but arrested for prostitution. Black children account for 59 percent of prostitution-related arrests under 18 in this country. And the younger a girl is when she is arrested, the more likely she is to have been physically injured or sexually assaulted.

The authors made several recommendations to destroy the abuse to prison pipeline, including:

  • Revise and reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act to compel states to screen and treat all children entering the system for trauma; fund law enforcement and system staff to identify and respond to trauma; and collect data on outcomes for girls in the system.
  • Close a loophole that allows children to be detained for violating court orders that prohibit status offenses like running away or truancy—which impacts girls more often than boys.
  • Strengthen the Prison Rape Elimination Act to protect girls in the juvenile justice system.
  • Train judges, juvenile justice staff and law enforcement officers to recognize gender and racial bias and how they impact girls entering the system.
  • Stop arresting, detaining and prosecuting children for prostitution and other forms of sexual exploitation.
  • Develop collaboration between the child welfare and juvenile justice systems, as black children in the welfare system are disproportionately more likely to cross over.