After the Webinar: Building Resiliency for Girls in the Justice System. Q&A with the Presenters

Webinar presenters Cherice Hopkins and Rebecca Burney answered a number of your questions after his presentation,  Building Resiliency for Girls in the Justice System by Disrupting the Abuse to Prison Pipeline. Here are just a few of their responses.


Audience Question: Are there other types or categories of crimes that girls might typically commit that could indicate that they have been a victim of abuse? 

Cherice Hopkins: I think that the question is other types in addition to the specific pathways that we outlined. Specifically, within the status offenses I think the running away, missing school, curfew could be one. Being out late could be a sign of abuse especially for a girl who’s being trafficked. Substance abuse could be one. Theft like Rebecca mentioned theft. Sometimes that can be one because girls are being forced to engage in that type of behavior because of their traffickers. Those are some of the I guess additional key ones. I know Rebecca also mentioned homelessness as a pathway but that can still be tied to abuse because oftentimes girls have run away from home to escape a dangerous situation. Some of those things she mentioned being tied to homelessness are also signs of abuse as well.



Audience Question: Can you talk about what some of the sources, research sources about the data that you used about how they are getting into the system? Can you make a reference to any of those?

Cherice Hopkins: Honestly, I can’t at the top of my head.  We did upload our sexual abuse to prison pipeline report. There was a lot of different sources looking at the pathways. I would say that the things we mentioned we pool from our abuse to prison pipeline report. Also, some of the more recent data about for example the simple assault and things like that came from the OJJDP in the past few weeks released a report about girls that provide some more updated information that states that. I would definitely say that for specific sites, the best would be to check our sexual abuse to prison pipeline report because we cited quite a few different sources. As well as anecdotally, what started it all was just talking to girls and hearing about girls’ experiences.



Audience Question: I frequently hear a sentiment amongst some in the juvenile justice field that we need to lock girls up to keep them safe especially when you have a frequent absconder or a youth who refuses services and is non-compliant. The sentiment is the only way we can keep them safe is by keeping them in a cell. In your mind, what is a good response to this and what can we do for these youth to fight detention? 

Rebecca Burney: We actually ran a judicial institute where we trained, we don’t run it completely. It’s in partnership with NCJ, STJ but we often train judges on domestic child sex trafficking and this is a very real concern that a lot of people have and just how do you see growth phase when you know that they’re going to be exploited. I think it’s the first back up when we think about trafficking for example. If a girl is on safety because of that. Oftentimes there are trauma bonds. These young people, maybe they’re exploiter as their boyfriend or ask them what you care is it and loves for them and so there’s no way that putting them in detention or putting them in a cell is going to disrupt that emotional bond and that emotional connection. What I always like to tell people is imagine if you’d experience trauma abuse and then you were put into a cell or into a cage to keep you safe. What would that do to you psychologically and it really sends a message to the girl that they’re being punished for their own victimization and I think we may consider that we’re keeping them safe but it’s very important to know that oftentimes young people do not feel that they are being kept in a safer situation. We know that exploitation happens in jails and in prisons and in detention centers. We know that girls are recruited from detention centers. Girls are recruited from foster care placement so you can have good intention and remove young people from what we think is an abusive household but oftentimes that’s not what makes them feel safe. So I often encourage people to have conversations with the young person directly and ask them what safety looks like to you and how can we come up with a solution that will allow you to feel safe as well as us to feel that we’re keeping you safe. But we heard time and time again that incarceration makes girls feel even less supported. It makes them mistrust the system. It makes them mistrust all of the adults in the system that’s supposed to be helping them and it sends that idea that they’re being punished for crimes that were committed against them. So we always discourage locking up girls. Depending on your jurisdiction there are other options. There are sometimes housing programs for young people that can be an option. We always encourage involving direct service providers in really just talking to the youth about what they want but I know it’s not an easy answer. I always tell people that simple thing isn’t you just lock away these kids because we don’t want to deal with them but we need to think more creatively as a community about how we ensure safety for young people.



Audience Question: I teach both future teachers and child life specialists. I’m wondering about ways to train those who interact with the children between these settings not only in trauma-informed care practices but also how to recognize the science of abuse rather than assuming delinquency. Where do you see the intersections of systems that may lead to dismantling the abuse to prison pipeline? 

Cherice Hopkins: In regard to identifying the signs, one we always recommend like speaking and having conversations with children. One thing we heard from youth is no one has asked them what’s going on. I think definitely if you do see a child who seems to be acting out. Definitely, recommend having those conversations to see if you can try to get behind the behavior. With regards to the signs of abuse, I think the signs can look different depending on the types of abuse. For example, with trafficking survivors, there may be a certain term that they are using. You may hear them talking about money quite a bit. They may demonstrate a different type of knowledge about sex that seems to be inappropriate with their age. I would definitely say reaching out I think most communities do have organizations that are working on sexual assault, child sex trafficking. I think definitely reaching out to them to see if they could do very specific training to talk about the signs of abuse especially what they are seeing in your community. What you can be specifically looking out for in your area. The second part of that question is in regard to how we see systems working together to disrupt the pipeline. It is a great question, especially because children are not experiencing – they are just going about with their lives so the things that they experience don’t happen in silos. Sometimes the response is very disconnected. If in your community, if there is for example trafficking if there is a multidisciplinary response team, if there are different working groups. For example in Virginia, I know that there is a working group for trauma-informed care for kids. I think the extent that there are ways for system to be able to share information both at a high level but specifically if there are active working groups and teams so that for example if a child gets involved in the system so that child welfare is also working with juvenile justice that they also have relationships with advocates and service providers that they can bring in so that way there is a more holistic approach and response. To that effect, I would say that there is a Georgetown juvenile justice reform and they actually have a collaborative and cross over youth to talk about specifically how child welfare and juvenile justice systems can be able to work together for crossover youth specifically. Those are some of the ways the system can work together

Rebecca Burney: A lot of schools has been working to address what Monique Morris pushed out which is looking specifically at how girls are pushed out of school and often into the juvenile justice system for things like disruptive behavior, a dress code violation. We know when it comes to trafficking, for example, girls who are not in school are more vulnerable to exploitation. There have been some programs across the country that are working to end suspensions and expulsions for a minor infraction. There have been successful programs working to do things like yoga in school and conflict resolution so that young people aren’t entering the justice system through that particular pathway. I will say that there are some police departments that have been working with service providers to do outreach rather than arrest young people when they expect there’s trafficking or other forms of abuse they will refer directly to an agency and try to keep them out of the system. There are some areas that are doing progressive work but I think there’s more that can be done.



Audience Question: Can you talk more about how the pipeline impacts the LGBTQ population? 

Cherice Hopkins: Definitely it impacts the LGBTQ population because they’re disproportionately impacted. Just like girls of color, LGBTQ youth are estimated 5 to 10% of the youth population but there are about 40% of youth who are involved in the juvenile justice system. Most of those youths are youths of color.  When we talk about disproportionate impact, it definitely cries out LGBTQ youth. Rebecca was talking about the pathways of how when kids or runaways or homeless. That can open them up to specific charges such as loitering, charges like simple assault because they are put in a situation where they feel like they have to defend themselves and protect their safety. I think that’s definitely the pathway that particularly impacts LGBTQ youth unfortunately because they know that they experience high rates of homelessness. When it comes to homeless youth, they are really the ones who are burying that burden. Those are a couple of unique specific ways as well as trafficking.

Rebecca Burney: Unfortunately due to the way data has been collected we do not have as much information as we would like about LGBTQ youth. Sadly a lot of the way the data has been broken down is girls versus boys. Of course, if you read the OJJDP report, it’s about girls. There’s not necessarily a good breakdown of girls who identify as LGBTQ versus girls who don’t. It’s a little bit difficult because of the way our society collects data for us to always give an accurate picture. We know based on the youth we have worked with and the anecdotally and the data that we do have that LGBTQ is so disproportionately impacted.

Cherice Hopkins: I’m glad Rebecca pointed that. It takes us back to when we are talking about why the abuse to prison pipeline exists and that lack of data. I think that a prime example and just so to anyone who is a researcher or who has the ability to keep this information or to share the information, just something to keep in mind the ability to desegregate, identify gender and race and sexual orientation is so important just for this reason.


Click Here to Watch a Recording of Building Resiliency for Girls in the Justice System by Disrupting the Abuse to Prison Pipeline.



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