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Sexual Abuse, The Prison Pipeline, and the Young Girls of Color

By: Kristine Alarcon

Young girls are the fastest growing population in the juvenile justice system. However, a report, The Sexual Abuse to Prison Pipeline: The Girls’ Story, which was released by The Human Rights Project for Girls, Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality and the Ms. Foundation for Women, found that women of color, specifically girls of African American and Latina descent, are incarcerated at higher rates than white girls.

According to Malika Saada Saar, the Executive Director of The Human Rights Project for Girls, these girls are criminalized routinely, but the main reason is not for actual crimes. These girls of color are falsely penalized.

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The Sexual Abuse to Prison Pipeline: The Girls’ Story reveals that the incarcerated girls are new gang members or violent. They are primarily arrested because their status as victims of sexual abuse and trauma are considered insignificant. For example, a young girl could be arrested for prostitution as a result of human sex trafficking.

In addition, the report discloses that 33% of the African-American young female population throughout the nation are detained and committed with a sexual abuse rate four times higher than boys. The FBI states that 59% of prostitution-related arrests for those under the age of 18 are African American children, mostly girls. “The sexual abuse to prison pipeline” is primarily a pipeline for girls of color, as numerous girls of African American and Latina descent are unjustly incarcerated for their trauma and abuse.

Sexual abuse and trauma is also the principal reason young black and brown girls turn to prostitution, substance abuse, truancy, or run away. Then, they are eventually arrested.

For Paz, she ran away from home in fear of telling her family and friends that her uncle abused her at a young age. When she was arrested at 16, her defensive and instinctive reactions kicked in as male cops physically restrained her. However, the law enforcement officials did not think that her reaction had any link to her troubled past or trauma. Paz could easily confide in her loved ones about the police, but never wished to share any information about her uncle. She did not open up about her adverse childhood experience until she received help from professionals at the PACE Center for Girls in Orlando.

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On the other hand, girls in the juvenile justice system are more likely to experience multiple sexual abuse violations. In 2014, a study on the abuse histories of 60,000 youth in Florida’s juvenile justice system found that young girls were more likely to experience adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) at a higher rate than boys in all 10 categories of trauma and abuse analyzed.

One of the objectives for The Sexual Abuse to Prison Pipeline report is to bring greater awareness of providing advanced mental health training and the enactment of policies to help girls instead of incarcerating them.

The report also suggests that states should not let minors be arrested for prostitution or prostitution-related offenses to prevent the pipeline to prison from continuing. States should implement safe harbor laws that will provide victims with treatment. There is also a call for an improved mental health care system and more efforts to stop underreported sexual abuse.

The future appears bright on a larger scale. The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, which focuses on potential review of and changes to the legislation involved with youth and the juvenile justice systems, may bring reform. It could break the pipeline between sexual abuse and incarceration for young girls and bring them justice.


Kristine Alarcon graduated at the University of San Francisco with a Bachelors of Science in Biology. She is working towards certification in Sterile Processing and Distribution. She is a Social Media Assistant at Cancer InCytes Magazine.



Penrice, Ronda Racha. “Ending the Sexual Abuse to Prison Pipeline For Black and Brown Girls.” NBC News. Retrieved on July 17, 2015.

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