Arrests rare for adults who abuse juvenile offenders, feds say

The rate of sex abuse alleged in juvenile corrections facilities has more than doubled, according to a recent national survey of state, local and private facilities by the Justice Department.

Populations have shrunk, meaning the total number of allegations is actually down, but by rate, the allegations increased from 2005 through 2012.

Arrests are rare.

Of substantiated cases, staff members were arrested about 17 percent of the time, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics report. Staff members lost their jobs 82 percent of the time, according to the report, which includes resignations and firings.

In cases involving staff members, juveniles were given medical care less than half of the time. The most common form of care was counseling or mental health treatment.

Testing for HIV/AIDS was done 6 percent of the time in cases involving staff members. Rape kits were administered 1 percent of the time.

About 1,690 of some 9,500 allegations could be substantiated over the six-year period. That’s 18 percent, including allegations against staff and against other juveniles.

According to the report, about one in five allegations involving other youth and about two in five allegations involving staff were not substantiated.

Other research on juvenile sex abuse is based on surveys filled out by youth. According to ProPublica, administrators have argued that youth in some cases made up incidents or didn’t understand what they were being asked.

The most recent survey, however, collects data on allegations reported by youth to administrators of state, local and private juvenile facilities.

According to ProPublica:

Some still might be false, prompted by an urge to retaliate against a targeted staffer, or to undermine a facility’s administration. But it’s widely accepted that juveniles put themselves at substantial risk by coming forward against alleged abusers, one of several reasons why experts attach additional significance to this particular iteration of the Justice Department’s work.

"These latest findings on sexual abuse in detention are deeply troubling — but not at all surprising,” said Lovisa Stannow, executive director of Just Detention International, an inmate advocacy group that specializes in sexual abuse.

Stannow and other advocates have criticized the quality of staff investigations, ProPublica reported. And even when the truth is not known in many cases, what is clear, according to the story, is that, in many cases, staff involved in substantiated incidents keep their jobs.

In Pennsylvania state-operated facilities, five out of 16 allegations of abuse and nonconsensual sex acts involving other juveniles were substantiated in a six-year period, according to the report.

There were four substantiated incidents of sexual misconduct and harassment involving staff members in those facilities; there were an additional 28 allegations in that same timeframe.

Additional information on allegations at specific local and private facilities is available here.

The Justice Department’s survey is required under the Prison Rape Elimination Act, which was passed in 2003. According to ProPublica, the Justice Department took another 10 years to create and release compliance rules for juvenile facilities.

Reach Jeffrey Benzing at 412-315-0265 or at jbenzing@publicsource.org. Follow him on Twitter @jabenzing.