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Lesbian and Bisexual Girls in the Juvenile Justice System

NCJ Number
Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal Volume: 19 Issue: 4 Dated: August 2002 Pages: 285-301
Mary Curtin LCSW
Date Published
August 2002
17 pages
This study documented how the juvenile justice systems in six counties and one State juvenile prison served lesbian and bisexual girls.
Interviews were conducted with six lesbian or bisexual girls and six staff members who worked with them. Semistructured interviews and a one-page survey obtained information from the girls on their sexual orientation, criminal history, and experiences with the juvenile justice system. The six staff members interviewed had worked with the girls as counselors, probation officers, juvenile-hall workers, or advocates. They were asked about their work histories and experiences with lesbian and bisexual girls in the juvenile justice system. All 12 of the girls and staff members indicated that the juvenile justice system is a difficult and potentially dangerous system for lesbian and bisexual girls. Issues related to sexual orientation were apparently ignored under system policies and practices; for example, one staff member mentioned that the juvenile court had placed a 13-year-old lesbian girl with a fundamentalist Christian foster family, with no awareness or discussion of how this might impact the girl. Five of the staff members were concerned that the system was further stigmatizing and traumatizing lesbian and bisexual girls. This report also presents findings on specific juvenile justice policies and practices that affect lesbian and bisexual girls; how other girls in the system view them; staff attitudes and treatment of lesbian and bisexual girls; the girls' access to materials, information, and counseling regarding sexual orientation; and the possible relationship between criminal behavior and sexual orientation. Overall, this exploratory, qualitative study concludes that the juvenile justice system is not adequately meeting the needs of lesbian and bisexual girls, and its policies and practices are permeated by homophobia and heterosexism. 44 references