End the Violence Against Girls at the Margins

Girls behind bars share narratives of repeated physical and sexual violence. A study on delinquent girls revealed that in California, 81 percent of chronically delinquent girls reported being physically abused and 56 percent were sexually abused. Sexual or physical violence is more central to girls’ journeys to detention than it is for boys. For example, the Oregon Social Learning Study found that while 3 percent of delinquent boys experienced physical abuse, 77.8 percent of the delinquent girls were abused.
Girls involved in the juvenile justice system require opportunities to heal from the profound trauma that has disfigured their lives and their hopes. Rather than be placed in detention for running away or prostitution, they require a safe place to heal. Unfortunately, there are few community-based, therapeutic, gender-specific programs for girls in detention. Girls are rarely afforded the opportunity to be alternatively sentenced or referred to community-based and gender-specific programs, since few exist. Only a handful of cities such as Chicago, New York City, St. Petersburg/Tampa, San Francisco and Wilmington, Delaware are developing alternatives to detention for girls, with an emphasis on healing from violence and trauma.

Through the Girls Initiative, the Rebecca Project seeks to give voice and visibility to the distinct ways in which sexual violence plays out in the lives of our vulnerable girls and the intersection between the injuries of sexual violence and vulnerable girls’ journeys into the public health, criminal justice and foster care systems. The Girls Initiatives urges for policy reforms to: 1)improve conditions of confinement for incarcerated girls; 2)alternative sentencing to girls ensnared in the juvenile justice system; 3) address the dearth of health-based, therapeutic programs and services for vulnerable girls impacted by violence; and 4) create a leadership network of girls formerly involved in the juvenile justice system to join the national advocacy efforts of Sacred Authority mother advocates.