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Center on Poverty and Inequality Executive Director and Alumna Co-Author Report Revealing "Sexual Abuse to Prison Pipeline"

July 9, 2015 — A new report released today by a coalition of human rights and anti-poverty attorneys explores the sexual abuse to prison pipeline in which girls are arrested and incarcerated after they are sexually abused.

Poverty ReportThe report, “The Sexual Abuse to Prison Pipeline: The Girls’ Story,” maps out key points in the pipeline -- the detention of girls who are victims of sex trafficking; the criminalization of girls who run away from home or become truant; and those who cross from the child welfare system into juvenile justice -- to create an understanding of how girls are unfairly punished after their experiences of sexual and physical abuse. It was co-authored by Malika Saada Saar (L’01) and Yasmin Vafa of the Human Rights Project for Girls, Rebecca Epstein of the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality, and Lindsay Rosenthal of the Ms. Foundation for Women.

While considerable attention has been given to boys in the juvenile justice system, commonly known as the “school to prison pipeline” and highlighted by the Obama Administration’s My Brother's Keeper initiative, girls -- especially girls of color -- are also being routinely criminalized in a parallel but distinct way, the report finds. Sexual abuse is one of the primary predictors of girls’ entry into the juvenile justice system. 

“When we say ‘black lives matter,’ that means girls too,” said Malika Saada Saar, executive director of the Human Rights Project for Girls. “Girls, and disproportionately black and brown girls are, incredibly, being locked up when they’ve run away from an abusive parent or when they have been trafficked for sex as children. But their stories of unjust arrest and incarceration have been marginalized.”

Despite a broad effort to reform our criminal justice system, the effects on girls have often been lost in the conversation, according to the report. This is especially alarming considering that the growth in the rates of arrests for girls is outpacing that of boys. 

“We must recognize what the girls’ pipeline into the juvenile justice system is and work to dismantle it.  These girls are too often victims of sexual abuse and trauma who need our care and support,” points out long-time child advocate and Georgetown Law Professor Peter Edelman, faculty director of the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality.

The report describes not only how girls’ pathways to incarceration are distinct, but also how the abuse to prison pipeline disproportionately affects girls of color. Among the report’s findings is that two-thirds of girls in prison are girls of color, yet they are less than half of the youth population in the United States. As Teresa Younger, president of the Ms. Foundation for Women points out, “our report unearths how marginalized girls are living -- and suffering -- at the invisible intersection of race and gender.” 

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