Five Ways to Stop Criminalizing Victimized Girls

Girls are far more likely to wind up being criminalized for “status offenses” that would be overlooked in adults, so let’s start right there and support a bill introduced in February. Too many of the girls we criminalize are traumatized victims who need help, not punishment.

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(WOMENSENEWS)–The numbers tell us two sobering facts about girls and juvenile justice. First, they indicate that the percentage of girls in the juvenile justice system has steadily increased over the decades, rising from 17 percent in 1980 to 29 percent in 2011. Second, girls are more likely than boys to be arrested for “status offenses”–behaviors that would not be considered offenses at the age of majority– and often receive more severe punishment than boys.

What the numbers fail to reveal is the story behind the statistics.

As president of The National Crittenton Foundation, I have had the great privilege to get to know many of the faces behind the data; girls and young women who were involved with Crittenton agencies because they were referred by juvenile justice or child welfare systems.

While their stories are as diverse as they are, the one thing that remains constant is the way in which their early lives have been shaped for them by abuse, neglect, violence, addiction, family dysfunction and the betrayal of their trust by the very people whose job it was to love and protect them.

Victimization of girls typically precedes their involvement with the system. Up to 73 percent of the girls in the juvenile justice system have histories of physical and sexual violence. A study of 319 girls in the juvenile justice system in Florida found that 64 percent reported past abuse, including 37 percent reporting abuse by a parent; 55 percent reporting abuse by someone other than a parent; and 27 percent reporting both types of abuse.

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