U.S. POLICY AND ADVOCACY

Goals

Our policy and advocacy goals arise from an abiding belief that:

  • Communities should be the voice and catalysts for institutional and systematic policy change.
  • Leaders who advocate for change should come directly from families in our vulnerable communities.
  • It is far more costly and emotionally detrimental to separate parent and child as a matter of general policy. Instead, placements in comprehensive long-term treatment should be prioritized.
  • Well-trained parent-advocate leaders will create safe, strong, and stable communities for their families.

We conduct leadership trainings for women and girls, policy advocacy and media outreach to:

  • Expand comprehensive family treatment services.
  • Promote alternative sentencing for non-violent female offenders.
  • Improve conditions of confinement for incarcerated women and girls.
  • Reform child welfare policy, by expanding comprehensive family treatment.
  • Eliminate child sex trafficking for girls and training girls to be advocates for other victims.

Our policy and advocacy goals seek to:

  • End the shattering cycle of violence, trauma and addiction.
  • Develop policies and practices that honor, strengthen and render whole the sacred ties between parents and children.
  • Affirm the worth and dignity of every child and every family.

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 . . .

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Improve Conditions of Confinement

In most state prisons and local jails,
restraints are routinely used on
pregnant women when they are in
labor . . .

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Alternatives to Maternal Incarceration

Twenty-five years ago, the presence of women—especially mothers—was an aberration in the criminal justice system.

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Drug Felony Ban

Section 115 of the 1996 federal welfare legislation placed a lifetime ban on TANF, Medicaid, and Food Stamp

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Improvements to the Adoption
and Safe Families Act (ASFA)

On the ten year anniversary of the Adoption and Safe Families Act’s passage,

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Sacred Daughters Girls Initiative

The invisibility of girls extends beyond the walls of their confinement, to the ways in which juvenile justice discourse and reforms neglect vulnerable girls. The mission of the Girls Initiative is to illuminate the lives of vulnerable girls and their involvement in the juvenile justice system, and advocate for the implementation of gender-specific and effective programs that honor the relational identities of girls and provide therapeutic, safe, and strength-based interventions to address the imprint of gendered violence on their developmentREAD MORE…

Statement of Need

Girls in the Juvenile Justice System

In 2008, more than 2.1 million youth under the age of 18 were arrested in the United States. Historically, girls have accounted for a smaller proportion of youth arrest. However, between 1980 and 2007 female arrest rates increased 83{059d35d520b87c209759442785540ea572ffc7709191fbf7c22fdae61ac4131b} compared to 8{059d35d520b87c209759442785540ea572ffc7709191fbf7c22fdae61ac4131b} for male juveniles, and girls currently account for 30{059d35d520b87c209759442785540ea572ffc7709191fbf7c22fdae61ac4131b} of all juvenile arrests.

Justice-involved boys and girls have many similar characteristics – school failure, family disruption and chaos, inappropriate adult role models and supervision, substance use/addiction and mental health issues. However, unlike boys, girls are more likely to report histories of physical and sexual victimization – with rates estimated at 73{059d35d520b87c209759442785540ea572ffc7709191fbf7c22fdae61ac4131b} and higher in many cases.

For most of these girls, traumatic events go unnoticed and untreated often with direr consequences. Researchers find that girls with histories of trauma are more likely to engage in high-risk sexual behaviors, to have higher rates of teen/early pregnancies, to be involved in abusive relationships, to have substance abuse problems/addiction, to be involved in the child welfare system, to have higher rates of mental health problems including posttraumatic stress, and to act out behaviorally.

Traditional punitive models and programs that have been developed based on data derived primarily from male populations have been found to be less effective for female youth. Often times these programs do not address past trauma, severed relational ties or build upon the assets of youth. However, there is a growing body of evidence that supports the use of programs grounded in gendered, trauma and strength-based theory as the best approach to the prevention and treatment of girls and young women that are system involved. Unfortunately, evaluations of such programs are rare, there continues to be a dearth of such programs available to the courts as an alternative to traditional sentencing and rarely does current advocacy and policy discourse acknowledge the specific and unique needs of girls and young women.

Domestic Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC)

Perhaps the most heinous form of child maltreatment is the commercial sexual exploitation of children and young adults (e.g. 18-24 years of age). CSEC constitutes a form of coercion and violence against children, amounts to forced labor and is considered a contemporary form of slavery. CSEC includes the prostitution of children, child pornography, child sex tourism and other forms of transactional sex where children engage in sexual activities to have key needs fulfilled, such as food, shelter or access to education.

It is estimated that between 100,000 – 300,000 children are sexually exploited in the United States every year, and that the average age of first initiation for most youth occurs between the ages of 12-14. Research indicates that youth most vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation are often runaways attempting to escape already difficult living conditions. It is estimated that it takes as little as 48 hours for a child to be lured into exploitation by individuals promising love, money and lavish lifestyles. Once enticed, youth are often stripped of any form of identification, isolated from their families and communities, are physically and mentally abused, and are often exposed to narcotics that lead to addiction and further dependency on those who exploit them.

With the use of organized systems, exploited children are transported (e.g., trafficked) from state to state and forced out onto the streets to sell their bodies or are sold through personal ads and Internet services such as Craigslist. On average, it is estimated that the sale of one child for a year can earn a pimp upwards of $300,000.

Far too often, youth who are not able to vote or legally consent to sex are criminalized by being charged with “prostitution or solicitation” and thrown behind bars. “Johns” or those who purchase children for sex often receive minimal fines and are rarely prosecuted to the fullest extent as outlined by current laws. Pimps often go unprosecuted due to lack of evidence and reluctance or fear of the child to testify against their exploiter. Further, when CSEC youth are identified rarely are appropriate services available to this extremely vulnerable population. Where therapeutic, long-term residential facilities are most needed for this population the courts are most often left with short-term shelters, foster care placements or detention facilities that is are unprepared for the treatment needs of these youth. Far too often, CSEC youth are further traumatized by the system, most often are released without the appropriate treatments and supports, and often are forced back into a life of exploitation to survive.

The Playground Clip

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“Playground is the best film I’ve seen on the abuse and exploitation of children. In the tradition of our greatest protest art, it is both aesthetically sophisticated and politically committed. Nuanced and sensitive, it avoids the usual sensationalism surrounding this topic. This is the untold story of an American underworld.” — Zoe Trodd, Harvard University

Source: The Playground http://www.playgroundproject.com/

Programs

Sacred Daughters

The Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children is a growing epidemic in the United States. Sacred Daughters is our national juvenile justice and advocacy program for girls and young women commercially trafficked and/or caught in the net of our criminal justice system due to trafficking. Through our Sacred Daughters program we empower our girl survivors by giving them the opportunity and security to express and unearth their violated lives by expressing themselves through spoken or written words in empowerment workshops. Thus begins the gradual transformation and healing process, which includes formal clinical therapy, to transform the damaged and violated lives of girls to help them recognize and envision a safe, secure life of hope and possible dreams. We also prevent commercial sexual exploitation of children by hosting education workshops and outreach to schools and vulnerable communities to educate youth about the perils and systematic process of luring children to become victims of commercial sexual exploitation.

Our goals are to reduce the number of girls commercially exploited for commercial sex and increase the number of programs available as alternatives to detention that approach girls and young women affected by violence from a gender-specific, trauma informed and strength-based perspective, and to increase leadership and advocacy skills of girls and young women who have been affected by violence.

Our program is conducted/implemented on a 12 month time-frame with the following activities: 1) Conducting leadership and policy training workshops for girls using our girls’ empowerment leadership curriculum. 2) Coaching and training girls to nurture and cultivate their voice as catalysts for change and civic leadership, by transforming their circumstances through advocating for sensible and equitable juvenile justice reform for themselves and their communities. 3) Advocating to support trafficked girls as victims and support programs that are community based, gender responsive, trauma informed and strength-based as an alternative to incarceration for girls at risk of or who become system involved. 4) Seeking sponsorship for our summer Girls leadership program in Washington DC.

Arts Integration Program

The Arts Integration Program, was created in the Summer of 2009 for teenage girls in DC, MD and VA to coach, educate, and motivate teenage girls to seek and accept agency to empower themselves to become leaders.

This program was implemented to help avert high rates of STD HIV/AIDS infections, teenage pregnancy and, consequently, lower academic achievement in Washington, DC. In our program, the core concepts of leadership, by integrating arts and motivational speakers, are incorporated in our girl leadership workshops to include the following:

  1. Communication skills.
  2. Connecting and building relationships with other girls and adults.
  3. Creative thinking.
  4. Critical thinking.
  5. Introducing girls to college opportunities and careers.
  6. Learning assertiveness and avoiding aggressive or passive behavior.
  7. Learning body language and listening skills for better communication.
  8. Mentoring.
  9. Organization.
  10. Reclaiming voice and tradition dictated by males.
  11. Role models.
  12. Working cooperatively.

In our program’s four to six week summer workshops, girls explore themes of empowerment, leadership and personal responsibility through innovative art workshops. The expected outcomes are increased personal development, self-empowerment and self-esteem; and girls develop a strong sense of self, gain practical and healthy life skills and strengthen values to give them a sense of hope and possibilities.

Summer 2009 – Dance Arts Integration Program

In 2009, dance was the integrated art form incorporated in our summer leadership workshop. Girls improved their abilities as dancers and learned to articulate original ideas as leaders in a variety of creative forms. The 2009 summer workshop was coordinated by Binahkaye Joy, an amazing gifted dancer and Artistic Director of the mobile dance laboratory, JOYISM (www.osadance.blogspot.com ) in Washington, DC.

Policy

Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Prevention Act (JJDPA)

The JJDPA was established in 1974 and is the single most important piece of federal legislation affecting youth in juvenile justice systems across the country. It is the primary vehicle through which the federal government sets standards for state and local juvenile justice systems, and provides direct funding for states, research, training and technical assistance, and evaluation.

The JJDPA expired in the fall of 2007 and is currently two years overdue for reauthorization. In 2009, U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Senator Patrick Leahy, Ranking Member Senator Arlen Specter, and Senators Herb Kohl and Richard Durbin introduced Senate Bill 678. The bill was voted on and passed in Committee in December 2009 and is currently awaiting a vote by the full Senate (for more details on the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act please see JJDPA factsheet).

There are a number of improvements to the JJDPA in S 678. These improvements should be enhanced by the inclusion of language specific to needs of girls who are often neglected in the data collection process, development of innovative prevention and treatment programs and research and evaluation efforts. Recommendations include the following changes:

  • Add an accountability mechanism for the existing state plan requirement, which is often ignored.
  • Require at least one member of the State Advisory Group to have expertise in gender-specific services.
  • Direct funding to gender-specific prevention and treatment programs under Title V Delinquency Prevention grants.
  • Eliminate the Valid Court Order exception for Status Offenders.
  • Increase research and information dissemination on effective practices.

For more information on the reauthorization of the JJDPA and to get involved please contact the Act 4 JJ Coalition for more information: http://www.act4jj.org/

Youth Promise Act

The Youth Promise Act (YPA) was reintroduced in the 111th Congress by Representatives Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Mike Castle (R-DE) in the House and Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) in the Senate. YPA is a bipartisan effort to address current policies that focus on punishment and incarceration of troubled youth by shifting the focus and support for evidence-based prevention and intervention efforts to address juvenile delinquency.

Trafficking Deterrence and Victims Support Act

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced the Trafficking Deterrence and Victims Support Act of 2009 in the Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law in December 2009. The bill which is cosponsored by Senators Maria Cantwell (WA), John Corny (TX), Al Franken (D-MN) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) authorizes the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs to award one-year block grants to up to six states or local governments in different regions of the U.S. that have significant trafficking to combat child sexual exploitation in their communities. If adopted the funds would be used to provide shelter and services to victims of sex trafficking and for training for law enforcement and social service.

Second Chance Act of 2007

The main purpose of the Second Chance Act of 2007 is to reform the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 to include reauthorization and expansion of provisions and assistance to offenders being released from prisons and jails nationwide. Additionally, the Act provides for the expansion of state and local reentry demonstration projects to provide expanded services to offenders and their families for reentry into society, as well as the necessary services to remain productive members of society. Each year, as approximately 650,000 people are released from state and federal prisons and between 10 and 12 million more are released from local jails, they struggle with substance abuse, lack of adequate education and job skills, and mental health issues, and a large number of these people return to prison within three years of their release due to inadequate services and opportunities.

Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (VAWA)

VAWA is a United States law and was passed as Title IV, sec. 40001-40703 of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 HR 3355 and signed as Public Law 103-322 by President Bill Clinton on September 13, 1994. It provided $1.6 billion to enhance investigation and prosecution of violent crimes perpetrated against women, increased pre-trial detention of the accused, imposed automatic and mandatory restitution on those convicted, and allowed civil redress in cases prosecutors chose to leave unprosecuted. VAWA will be up for reauthorization in 2011.

Africa Program

Educating Girls to Empower Girls Initiative in Ghana

Introduction

“The education and empowerment of women throughout the world cannot fail to result in a more caring, tolerant, just and peaceful life for all.” Aung San Suu Kyi (1945-present), Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, leader of Burma’s democracy movement.
“If you educate a man, you educate an individual. If you educate a woman, you educate a nation.” Dr. Kwegyir Aggrey (1872-1927), preeminent Ghanaian scholar, educator and missionary.

In a world where the prevailing cultural concepts of leadership nurture the strongest, smartest and most vocal males as our dominant political, social and cultural leaders—to our detriment and subordination for the most part—the Educating Girls to Empower Girls Initiative (EG²) was developed to offer a gendered leadership approach that departs from prevailing cultural concepts in Africa, to embrace the essential belief that leadership is more than about men taking charge; on the contrary, it is about being charged with taking a stand and having a vision for a more just and equitable society for women and girls. A society that focuses on education for girls equal to boys, and does not coerce girls to utilize family planning methods that are detrimental to their physical and mental health. It is for that reason that The Rebecca Project for Justice implemented the Educating Girls to Empower Girls Initiative, to educate and train girls to seek and accept agency, and to empower themselves as deliberate conscious agents of social and political change.

Gender Equality is a Human Right

There can be no significant or sustainable transformation in societies and no significant reduction in poverty until girls receive the quality basic education they need to take their rightful place as equal partners in development.” Carol Bellamy (1942 – present), Executive Director; UNICEF from 1995 to 2005.

UNICEF (The United Nations Children’s Fund) defines gender equality as “leveling the playing field for girls and women by ensuring that all children have equal opportunity to develop their talents.” The United Nations Population Fund declared gender equality “first and foremost, a human right.” “Gender equity” is one of the goals of the United Nations Millennium Project, to end world poverty by 2015; the project claims, “Every single Goal is directly related to women’s rights and societies where women are not afforded equal rights as men can never achieve development in a sustainable manner.” –UNICEF. Unfortunately vast sums are allocated to family planning instead of traditional education, charitable organizations have not built girls colleges and instituted scholarship programs for girls.  A poor girl without access to a good education, but has no children with the best “family planning” — still remains a poor uneducated woman, and without any help or support from children, in her old age.  Comprehensive education and higher education for girls has been the key to reduce pregnancies and early marriage in the U.S. and Europe, not coercive and harmful family planning methods — the same should apply to Africa with dignity.

Gender Inequality in Ghana: Brief Background

We can all agree that the marginalization of women and girls in political and social institutions is not only a problem of developing nations. After all, the United Kingdom had only one female Head of State and even in the Unites States of America, where women’s rights are cradled only second to the right of “free speech,” there has been no female president or vice president. However, the critical difference is that in the United Kingdom and the Unites States of America, women and girls have equal access to colleges, universities and institutions of higher learning. In 2005, According to the Center for Policy Analysis, American Council on Education, women earned 57.4 percent of the bachelor’s degrees nationwide, while 42.6 percent are earned by men; furthermore, women earned 59{059d35d520b87c209759442785540ea572ffc7709191fbf7c22fdae61ac4131b} of all master’s degrees. That is not the case in most developing nations; where limited financial and academic resources coupled with early pregnancy, marriage, and lower status of women in patriarchal societies often result in lower priority on education of girls.

Ghana is a West African nation and a close ally to the United States of America, with a population of approximately 23 million people. There has never been a major female presidential candidate in over 50 years of independence, and in parliament only 8{059d35d520b87c209759442785540ea572ffc7709191fbf7c22fdae61ac4131b} out of 229 members of parliament (MPs) are women. Incongruously, the gender narrative at birth is more promising because, boys and girls start out on equal footing with a 1.03:1 ratio of males to females—the age structure in Ghana is: 0-14 years: 37.3{059d35d520b87c209759442785540ea572ffc7709191fbf7c22fdae61ac4131b} (male 4,503,331/female 4,393,104); 15-64 years: 59.1{059d35d520b87c209759442785540ea572ffc7709191fbf7c22fdae61ac4131b} (male 7,039,696/female 7,042,208); 65 years and over: 3.6{059d35d520b87c209759442785540ea572ffc7709191fbf7c22fdae61ac4131b} (male 393,364/female 460,792). This equal 1:1 male/female ratio continues through primary and secondary school education and through suffrage at the age of 18. Although Ghana is praised as a successful constitutional democratic model of both political and economic progressive reform, women have not shared or participated equally in its political and economic success. The barriers women face in Ghana are certainly not cruel and inhumane physical subordination or punishment by males, but rather customary stereotypes of female roles and pervasive noble lies, which emotionally and persuasively maintain a traditional and intractable patriarchal society.

The first pronounced and distinct gender disparity for girls occurs in institutions of higher education where the average male/female ratio is approximately 2:1 in Ghanaian Universities. According to Aristotle Ayensu, a statistician at the Kwame Nkrumah University (Ghana’s second largest University located in Kumasi) in the 2008-2009 academic year, out of 24,695 students were enrolled, 17,804 were males and 6,891 were females (72{059d35d520b87c209759442785540ea572ffc7709191fbf7c22fdae61ac4131b} males and 28{059d35d520b87c209759442785540ea572ffc7709191fbf7c22fdae61ac4131b} females). Moreover, according to the University of Ghana Legon’s 2009 annual report (Ghana’s oldest and largest University located in the capital Accra); out of their current student population of about 39,217, 60{059d35d520b87c209759442785540ea572ffc7709191fbf7c22fdae61ac4131b} are male and 40{059d35d520b87c209759442785540ea572ffc7709191fbf7c22fdae61ac4131b} female.

Our questions are: 1) What happens to the thousands of girls in Ghana who begin their education on an equal footing with boys in primary and secondary schools? 2) What barriers prevent them from enrolling or gaining admission to universities, despite statistics that show primary and secondary school boys and girls perform on par academically? 3) What happens to their voices and drive to excel to become agents of social change? And, 4) Where is their motivation for leadership?

Goals of “Educate Girls to Empower Girls Initiative”

  • key goal of Educate Girls to Empower Girls Initiative is to address those questions of gender inequality in education and the consequential inequality in leadership. By using innovative approaches to provide leadership and educational workshops/trainings we believe we will achieve equitable outcomes in leadership, because the credence of experience and research demonstrates that:
    1. All girls have the potential to develop as leaders.
    2. Qualities and skills required for effective leadership can be identified, coached and cultivated.
    3. There are several styles of leadership that are successful and distinguished by consensus building, communication and empathy.
    4. The customary and prevailing male, top-down, task oriented style of leadership has been an abject failure and detriment to the development of equitable political and economic societies worldwide.
    5. As girls practice and focus on developing their leadership skills each girl could become a successful leader and an agent for change.
    6. Our innovative approach will include addressing the lack of adequate reproductive health and family planning education that includes abstinence, avoiding harmful contraceptives, especially long acting contraceptives that increase risks of breast cancer and HIV/AIDs. Reproductive health should be taught in an age appropriate manner, with a primary focus on education and extracurricular activities that keep girls safe and not engaged in school.

Strategies for Empowering Girls and Women as Leaders

  • Averting adolescent pregnancy by incorporating the participation of parents and health experts in leadership workshops. This will encourage communication and factual information about pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases and sexuality. The goal is to build skills for saying no to sex at an early age and never having sex without adequate protection. The consequences of early pregnancies will be discussed as a practical issue related to poverty and not having access to higher education.
  • The core concepts of leadership, by integrating arts, sports, and motivational speakers, will be incorporated in our girl leadership workshops to include the following:
    1. Communication skills.
    2. Connecting and building relationships with other girls and adults.
    3. Creative thinking.
    4. Critical thinking.
    5. Introducing girls to college opportunities and careers.
    6. Learning assertiveness and avoiding aggressive or passive behavior.
    7. Learning body language and listening skills for better communication.
    8. Mentoring.
    9. Organization.
    10. Reclaiming voice and tradition dictated by males.
    11. Role models.
    12. Working cooperatively.

Expected Outcomes

  • A sense of hope and possibilities.
  • Become leaders and agents of change empowered to make a difference, identify and solve problems to advocate for self and community.
  • Embrace education and a means of upward mobility.
  • Form caring relationships and embracing empathy to promote cooperation, team building and successful organizing.
  • Motivated girls recognize universities and post-secondary education as the way to political and social empowerment by pursing university and post-secondary education.
  • Personal development, self-empowerment and self-esteem. Girls will develop a strong sense of self, gain practical and healthy life skills and strengthen values.
  • Minimal or no teenage pregnancies and HIV/AIDS infections!