By Holly West

Incarcerated kids too often become victims of sexual violence, but the picture is improving, according to a new survey.

The U.S. Department of Justice recently released a study on juvenile facilities that sheds light on sexual abuse faced by young inmates.

According to a survey done in 2012, 9.5 percent of youths in juvenile facilities have been sexually victimized in the past year.

This is a decrease from the DOJ’s first National Survey on Youth in Custody study in 2008-09, which found that 12.6 percent of juvenile facility inmates – both boys and girls – had experienced sexual victimization.

With a 4.2 percent victimization rate, North Carolina did better than any of its neighbors.

The report attributed the change to shifting demographics and inmate attitudes.

In 2012, fewer youth were held in large facilities than when the first study was conducted, which reduces the risk of sexual victimization, as fewer assaults occur in small facilities than in large ones.

In addition, the average time juveniles were held in facilities decreased. The study shows that the risk of being victimized by staff members, who were the most common perpetrators, increased the longer a juvenile stayed at a facility.

Data: National Survey on Youth in Custody
Data: National Survey on Youth in Custody

The report also said youth surveyed in 2012 had more positive opinions of their facility and staff members, and a larger portion of participants believed all inmates were treated fairly.

The data from the survey was used to identify which states have the highest and lowest rates of sexual victimization.

Regional differences

There were four localities with no reported incidents of sexual victimization: Delaware, Massachusetts, New York and Washington, D.C.

But in general, incarcerated juveniles in the Southeast didn’t fare so well. South Carolina and Georgia are two of four states classified as “high-rate” states – those with the highest victimization rates. They have victimization rates of 18.7 percent and 15.8 percent, respectively (see table).

The study also classified specific facilities as high- or low-rate. Of the 13 facilities categorized as high-rate, four were in Georgia and two were in South Carolina. None of North Carolina’s facilities were classified as either high- or low-rate.

The sexual victimization study was part of the DOJ’s National Survey on Youth in Custody and is mandated by the Prison Rape Elimination Act, a law passed in 2003 to reduce rape in correctional facilities.

Data are retrieved through surveys carried out in juvenile facilities across the country. The surveys include a series of questions asking participants about their personal experience with sexual assault.

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Rose Hoban is the founder and editor of NC Health News, as well as being the state government reporter. Hoban has been a registered nurse since 1992, but transitioned to journalism after earning degrees...