WASHINGTON — Nearly 1 out of every 3 youths at 13 juvenile detention facilities have reported some type of sexual victimization, according to a government study issued Thursday that found widespread reports of youth sex abuse at correctional centers.
Nationwide about 12 percent of youths held in state-run, privately run, or local facilities reported some type of sexual victimization, the Justice Department found in the first report of its kind. The rates varied widely between facilities. Victimization included forced sexual activity with another youth and all sexual activity with staff.
“They were convicted of a crime. They have to serve time but they shouldn’t serve time in a manner in which they’re going to be abused or assaulted,” said Troy Erik Isaac, 36, who said he was sexually assaulted in a California juvenile facility.
At 12, Isaac was sent to a juvenile center for vandalism, and within days his 16-year-old cell mate raped him during the night, he said. Isaac reported it and eventually was moved. But Isaac said the rapes continued as guards looked the other way and he became too afraid to fight back.
“It’s a traumatizing experience for someone that is young. You take that with you wherever you go,” said Isaac, who spent most of his life in and out of prison until he started a community service organization, Hands On Advocacy Group, two years ago.
About 26,550 juveniles are held in such facilities around the country, and the survey — conducted for the government by Westat, a company based on Rockville, Md. — collected information from about 9,000 of them via anonymous computerized questionnaire. The survey was conducted from June 2008 through April 2009 and asked whether the young inmates had been abused in the previous year of detention.
About 10 percent of youths surveyed reported abuse involving facility staff people, and nearly all of those complaints were against female staffers, who made up less than half of the workers. About 2 percent of the reported abuse involving other young inmates.
Although advocates said the level of abuse wasn’t surprising, the prevalence of sexual abuse by staff, particularly female workers, was shocking, said Linda McFarlane, deputy executive director of Just Detention International, which fights to end sexual abuse of those who are detained.
“Many of these are already the most vulnerable and traumatized youth from all of our communities and they’re placed for custody because they’re considered to be a danger,” she said. “If sexually abused in those very institutions that are supposed to help them prepare for life in the community, then it’s just an incredible travesty.”
Staff sexual misconduct was higher in state-run facilities than in privately or locally operated sites, the study found, and smaller facilities tended to have fewer reports of sexual victimization.