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Sexual Assault in Juvenile Corrections: A Preventable Tragedy

NCJ Number
Corrections Today Volume: 69 Issue: 5 Dated: October 2007 Pages: 80,81,84,85
Caleb S. Asbridge
Date Published
October 2007
This article discusses the relevance to juvenile service providers of provisions of the Federal Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 (PREA), which aims to improve prison sexual assault prevention, detection, punishment, and victim services.
PREA addresses two types of sexual assault that pertain to juvenile corrections: staff sexual misconduct and youth-on-youth sexual assault. Administrators should assume that by virtue of their status as juveniles in custody, they are incapable of consenting to sexual activity either with other youths or with staff. A wise course for juvenile facility managers is to view and investigate all sexual encounters as possible assaults. Legal liability can be incurred when facility managers fail to act on allegations of sexual assault; adequately supervise employees in order to prevent staff sexual misconduct with juveniles; train employees in preventing sexual assaults; or take appropriate disciplinary or legal action against employees suspected of sexual misconduct. A frequently overlooked factor in preventing sexual assault in juvenile corrections is the overall culture of the organization. An organizational culture that promotes a code of silence surrounding staff misconduct, including sexual misconduct, makes it difficult to detect and/or investigate sexual assault committed by staff members. Also, administrators who cultivate secrecy in order to avoid the risk of legal liability promote an environment in which deterrence, prevention, and remedial action is undermined. Under PREA, a strategy for addressing sexual assault should examine existing mechanisms for youths to report sexual assault by staff or other youths, involve frequent conversations with staff and youth about codes of conduct, assess procedures for investigating youths' complaints, ensure that procedures are in place for appropriate medical care for sexual assault victims, and assess supervisory policies and procedures for best practices. 5 endnotes