Sexual abuse to prison pipeline: Locking girls up for being victims of sexual abuse does not help the problemChild Rights Juvenile Justice Racial Equity
There are far too many pipelines to prison for Americans, especially young people of color, as a consequence of living circumstances and experiences usually out of their control. One of these channels that often goes unnoticed are girls who are criminalized for simply being victims of physical and sexual abuse.
Recently, The Human Rights Project for Girls, Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality and Ms. Foundation for Women released The Sexual Abuse to Prison Pipeline: The Girl’s Story, a collaborative report exposing how these girls are initiated into the juvenile justice system as a result of their maltreatment. The study also recommends policies to disassemble the abuse to prison pipeline.
Girls are disproportionately placed into the juvenile justice system, and without the services provided for their unique and critical needs. Their rate of sexual abuse is four times higher than boys and nearly twice as high in complex trauma. Particularly, girls of color make up only 22 percent of the general national population, but 66 percent of girls incarcerated. Ultimately, The Girl’s Story study found that 80 percent of girls in the juvenile justice system have experienced sexual violence.
This pipeline includes cases where girls are arrested for truancy, running away, and prostitution. Law enforcement frequently treats these girls as culprits, rather than victims of abuse and sex trafficking.
Sara Kruzan is a prime example of a girl whose sexual victimization led to incarceration, and her case gained national coverage. She was indoctrinated into the sex-trafficking industry at the early age of 11 by a man who’s car she was lured into. He molested her, and by age 13 she was forced into prostitution. At age 16, she was so fed up that she killed him and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole (LWOP).
In 2013 and after 18 years of incarceration, thanks to new legislation allowing resentencing hearings for juveniles sentenced to LWOP, California Gov. Jerry Brown granted Kruzan her freedom, acknowledging the significant abuse she suffered at a vulnerable age.
Kruzan was robbed of her childhood like many children and youth who have to experience these types of brutalization. Policies must be fixed to properly treat these girls’ traumas to prevent these kinds of crimes from happening so that they aren’t punished for the rest of their lives.
Children who are incarcerated are more inclined to experience greater trauma and become more of a threat to society. Locking a child up for being a victim of sexual abuse does not help the problem, but makes it worse.
Sign Kruzan’s petition to help fight child sex trafficking in the U.S.
Want to learn more? First Focus is a bipartisan advocacy organization dedicated to making children and families the priority in federal policy and budget decisions. Read more about our work on juvenile justice.