After the Webinar: Family Violence and the Abuse to Prison Pipeline for Girls. Q&A with the Presenters

Webinar presenters Cherice Hopkins and Rebecca Burney answered a number of your questions after their presentation, Family Violence and the Abuse to Prison Pipeline for Girls. Here are just a few of their responses.


Audience Question: What age range are we talking about when we say, quote-unquote girls? In New Jersey, minors cannot be considered perpetrators of domestic violence unless they’re 18. So just a definitional request. 

Cherice Hopkins: Well, overall, from a national perspective, we’re talking about under the age of 18. I think that’s a great point. It is also a matter of state law which can vary from state to state. Some states vary as to which of these particular offenses can impact girls, and at what ages.



Audience Question: How are children under 18 arrested for prostitution? Are there still some jurisdictions, some states that have it as that makes it so you can charge under 18? 

Cherice Hopkins: That’s a great question and one that we get a lot, which is, how does this happen? And so, again, under federal law, anyone under the age of 18 is legally incapable of consenting to sex, they are viewed as the ones who are being harmed. So it really is just mind-boggling that in different states, the trafficking of these children is also considered a crime but then, at the same time, they are being held accountable under, the prostitution statutes in that state.  There are some states where they have a carve-out and have gone back and said children up to certain ages cannot be charged with these offenses. Basically, providing them immunity from being charged with prostitution offenses. We call these Safe Harbor Laws that are intended to recognize that child trafficking survivors are survivors of trauma and abuse, and that they’re the ones who are the survivors of crime. They are intended to end their criminalization and, in some cases, connect them with services. However, that’s not always the case. The Safe Harbor Laws can vary. For example, in terms of age, in regard to whether or not, they can still be arrested on prostitution charges,  whether they have to go through a diversion process, and or whether or not they are immune from prosecution. Also, trafficking survivors are not just being arrested on prostitution charges. Without screening, we have lots of survivors who come into contact with the system for other offenses. But again, the reason that they engage in those behaviors is because they’re being trafficked.



Audience Question: Do you have any kind of resource that might indicate which states still have criminalized prostitution for under 18? 

Rebecca Burney: Shared Hope has a great toolkit that does a State by State Analysis, where they go through trafficking legislation in each jurisdiction. So, I would encourage you to look at the Shared Hope website and look at their report card so you can find your specific jurisdiction and what their laws are on trafficking.



Audience Question: Are girls of Native American ancestry considered girls of color? 

Rebecca Burney: Yes, absolutely. There’s not always as much data as we would like, but when we talk about girls of color we are definitely including girls of Native American ancestry.



Audience Question:  In regards to crossover, which is usually the child’s first involvement with the justice system? Is it through APS, CPS, and then criminal justice system, or some other method? When a youth comes into contact with the juvenile justice system, what are some of these first agencies that they’re working with that they’re interfacing with? Is that law enforcement, or is it a Child protective services? Or something else? 

Rebecca Burney: It really depends on the situation. There have been cases where youth will run away from their child welfare placement and they will end up being arrested for some offense that was committed while outside of the care setting. For example, we commonly see youth who are being sexually exploited run away from their foster care placement and get arrested either for prostitution or something related to their trafficking. And so, in those cases, they’re coming into contact with the police first. There are other situations where there might be a conflict at a group home or a foster care placement. Sometimes the social worker will be called before the police and they will try to just do a change in placement. Other times they will involve law enforcement officers due to accusations of simple assault. It really just depends on the situation and the jurisdiction.



Audience Question: Can the recidivism and being pulled deeper into the system be mitigated through appropriate trauma-based therapy?

Cherice Hopkin:  I think so. What sets this all in motion, in addition to experiencing violence, is not having any type of intervention, or, I guess, not always adequate intervention to help girls be able to heal and cope with their trauma. If you think back to that graph that Rebecca showed, that really looked like a cycle where a girl is experiencing violence, having trauma, getting pushed into the system, then being re-triggered and re-traumatized. And then having even more complex trauma to work through. So having therapeutic support to help girls be able to cope with their trauma is definitely important and needed to help prevent them from going deeper into the system. But I want to say, that employing a public health response to trauma means that, in addition to making sure that there is trauma-informed care and therapeutic support for girls already in the system, it also means that we have to change other aspects of our response. For example, Rebecca mentioned having alternatives to detention. I just wanted to be sure to specify that one of the things we advocate for is trying to have those health supports upfront so girls don’t come into contact with the system or, if they do, having alternatives in place so that they can be diverted away from the system and they can get that therapeutic support outside of the system.



Audience Question: We do have a couple of folks asking questions about the ACE study. So, a couple of were very surprised that poverty was not actually considered one of those case scores. So, you definitely hit on an interesting point that, Rebecca. The question is, is, do you know whether or not the ACE methodology was developed based on an international study? Or was it just domestic?

Rebecca Burney: The ACE study was developed by Kaiser during the 1990s and they came up with the 10 adverse childhood experiences that were studied. I think it is important to note that this isn’t anno all-inclusive list of adverse childhood experiences that somebody could have. There’s a whole host of things that we could think of that should be on the list. In order to make it a little bit easier for researchers, they narrowed it down to these 10 adverse childhood experiences. There has been research arguing that things like poverty and community violence are adverse childhood experiences, and some have advocated for getting these categories added to the list of ACEs. Maybe in the next several years, we will have a more inclusive list. But I think with poverty, in particular, there is a lot of hesitancy to include that as an ACE, because what we don’t want to do is create the assumption that just because somebody is poor they experienced significant adversity or trauma in childhood. In a child welfare context, for example, one of the things that we always have to say is that just because a child is poor and the family is struggling to provide food for their kid, it does not necessarily mean that that’s an abusive and unsafe, unloving, and unsupportive household. Maybe we just need to get the family food. I think it’s important for us to realize that poverty is something we need to address systemically. And surely, it can lead to other adverse childhood experiences, but poverty, in and of itself, does not necessarily mean that a youth is experiencing trauma in childhood.


Click Here to Watch a Recording of Family Violence and the Abuse to Prison Pipeline for Girls.



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