As many as 80 percent of the girls in some US states’ juvenile justice systems have a history of sexual or physical abuse, according to a report released Thursday by the Human Rights Projects for Girls and Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality.
The study found that in Oregon, 93 percent of jailed girls had a history of sexual or physical abuse, including 76 percent who were sexually abused before the age of 13. In California, 81 percent of imprisoned girls had been abused, including 40 percent who were raped or sodomized and 45 percent who were burned or beaten.
"Girls are the fastest growing numbers in the juvenile justice system, and it's not because they are becoming more violent or gang members. It is because they are sexually abused," said Malika Saada Saar, executive director of The Human Rights Project for Girls and an author of the report.
“Our girls, and especially our girls at the margins, are suffering, and what the study shows is how violence is part of their lives and how the response is criminalization,” she added.
The report’s authors say sexual abuse was among the primary predictors of girls’ involvement with juvenile justice systems, but that the systems were poorly equipped to discover or treat the problem.
Laws in many states allow the police to arrest girls as young as 13 on prostitution charges, even when they are victims of sex trafficking.
Girls from ethnic minority groups are even more likely to be thrown in jail than whites. African American girls are 14 percent of the general population, but 33 percent of girls detained, the report noted.
Girls who referred to the juvenile justice system are disproportionately impoverished African-Americans, Latinos and Native Americans and 31 percent of them have been sexually abused, one US Justice Department report found.