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5 Things To Know About Latina Girls And The Sexual Abuse-To-Prison Pipeline

One in three young people arrested is a girl, and while girls make up just 14 percent of youth behind bars, they are the fastest-growing segment of the juvenile justice system. It’s not violent crimes that are sending them to jail in high numbers, either. Oftentimes, the real offense committed is the one that was made against them. In fact, 80 percent of girls locked away in the juvenile system are victims of sexual abuse — and most of them are girls of color, including Latinas.

According to a report by Georgetown Law’s Center on Poverty and Inequality, the Human Rights Project for Girls the Ms. Foundation for Women, sexual abuse is one of the primary predictors of girls’ incarceration, and it’s largely due to their methods of coping — truancy, running away and curfew violations — being criminalized. Even more, girls with a history of sexual abuse are particularly vulnerable to sex traffickers. But many jurisdictions view even these victims as perpetrators, and arrest them on prostitution charges. Instead of receiving the help they need to healthily work through their anguish, these young people are thrown into a system that often re-traumatizes them.

The sexual abuse-to-prison pipeline, as it’s called, is cruel and it’s harming our girls. Here are five takeaways from Georgetown Law’s Center on Poverty and Inequality’s report.

1. One in three Latina girls in the U.S. is a victim of sexual abuse.

According to the report, one in four girls in the U.S. will experience some form of sexual violence by the age of 18. For Latinas in particular, the stat is one in three. A 2009 study published in the Journal of Child Sexual Abuse found that 35 percent of Latinas experience sexual violence in their youth, most often by relatives or boyfriends, and as many as 44 percent of them did not disclose the abuse to anyone. This means they are coping with the trauma alone.

2. The behaviors of girls who have a history of sexual abuse are largely criminalized.

The most common crimes that put girls behind bars include running away, substance abuse and truancy (skipping school), and these are also the most common ways survivors of abuse subsist. According to a study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 46 percent of runaway and homeless youth say they have been physically abused, 38 percent report being emotionally abused and 17 percent note they’ve been sexually abused. Currently, four in five girls in the juvenile system has experienced some form of sexual abuse.

3. The sexual-abuse-to-prison pipeline disproportionately impacts girls of color.

The number of girls behind bars is rising, especially girls of color, who have disproportionate rates of incarceration. Native American girls are locked up at a rate of 179 per 100,000, African American girls at a rate of 123 per 100,000 and Latinas at a rate of 47 per 100,000. By comparison, 37 per 100,000 of non-Hispanic white girls are detained.

4. Incarceration only makes matters worse.

Behind bars, girls lose their already-restricted autonomy. With their movements constricted and their bodies sometimes stripped, juvenile centers often retraumatize victims of sexual abuse. Even more, many don’t provide them with necessary mental health services. One study by the National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice found that 80 percent of incarcerated girls met the criteria for at least one mental health condition. But services are minimal. According to a nationwide census, only half of youth locked up are in a facility that provides evaluations to all residents, and 88 percent are in centers where counselors are not even licensed.

5. But you can help.

The report strongly calls for the reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA). In the U.S., there isn’t a national juvenile justice system. Instead, there are more than 56 different systems run by states and local governments. With that, policies and procedures vary significantly. The reauthorization of JJDPA would provide federal standards for care, custody and the prevention of victimization. The report also demands greater enforcement of the Prison Rape Elimination Act, which ensures that people incarcerated receive immediate care for sexual abuse that occurred before or during their imprisonment, and more adoption of Safe Harbor Laws, which safeguards child victims of sex trafficking from being jailed.


READ: This Is What Abortion Laws Look Like In Latin America

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Amazon’s New Series Examines The Infamous Lorena Bobbitt Case And The Dichotomy Of The Sexes When It Comes To Sexual Assault Trials

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Amazon’s New Series Examines The Infamous Lorena Bobbitt Case And The Dichotomy Of The Sexes When It Comes To Sexual Assault Trials

Few household names bring to mind the story of a man’s dismembered genitals like the one of Lorena Bobbit. The Ecuadorian-born woman, best known for severing her husband’s penis with a kitchen knife while he slept, emerged as an appalling headline emblematic of the dichotomy of the perspectives of the sexes. One point of view saw her as a symbol of female resistance in the face of brutal and abusive male toxicity. The other, as a maniacal and sex-obsessed Latina who chopped off her husband’s penis in a bout of jealous rage. Director and producer Jordan Peele sets out to explore the sensational scandal that captured our country’s attention in the summer of 1993 and continues to spark shock, awe, and debate.

“Lorena” is a four-part docuseries directed by Joshua Rofé and distributed by Amazon. This week, its trailer dropped stirring a mass of excitement and anticipation online.

In the trailer, Bobbitt, the lawyers part of the trial,  and those who watched it play out examine the media firestorm twenty-six years later.

Unlike true crime series as of late, “Lorena” promises not only to examine the actual crime and actions of its criminals and victims but to also review the events of the story within the context of other significant sex scandals of the nineties. Scenes from the trailer recall major moments. Flashes of Anita Hill testifying about pubic hairs and coke cans for the Supreme Court confirmation hearing of Clarence Thomas and bits of the Bill Clinton sex scandal bring to mind a time in the early 90s when two genders clashed extensively. As one interviewee in the series trailer notes “it’s still going on.” It’s an utterance that highlights the relevance of the Lorena Bobbitt story in our modern era where the conversation on equality and treatment feels like a rerun of the discussions and debates taking place a quarter of a century ago. Is it possible that Bill Cosby and his former intern popped up in headlines related to #MeToo and that our country watched another man accused of sexual harassment was sworn into the Supreme Court because we failed to make just judgments the first time? Rofé’s revisitation of the trial leads one to expect that it will do its best to do so while reflecting on our past and current conversations related to abuse of power and gender dynamics.


Read: Natti Natasha Leads Nominations At This Year’s Premio Lo Nuestro

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HBO’s Latest Documentary “The Sentence” Sheds Light On How Unjust Mandatory-Minimum Sentences Can Break A Family

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HBO’s Latest Documentary “The Sentence” Sheds Light On How Unjust Mandatory-Minimum Sentences Can Break A Family

On February 29, 2008, Cindy Shank’s life changed forever. That’s the day the Lansing, Michigan-based Mexican-American was sentenced to 15 years in prison on drug conspiracy charges, forcing her to be a mother, wife, daughter and sister from hundreds of miles away for nonviolent crimes she did not commit. Her story is the subject of “The Sentence,” an award-winning documentary filmed by Shank’s brother, Rudy Valdez, exploring the injustice of mandatory-minimum sentencing. 

“I don’t think anyone else could have made this film about my family. I don’t think it would have had the same effect,” Valdez, who started shooting videos of his three nieces — Autumn, Annalis and Ava — so that his older sister could watch some of the many moments she missed while away in prison when she returned home, told FIERCE. The home recordings inspired a documentary eight months into Shank’s sentence, when she cried over the phone imagining her oldest daughter dance at an upcoming recital. “I had an opportunity to tell a story you don’t get to hear about: the family, the children left behind and the residual effects of long sentences,” he continued.

That story begins in 2002, when Shank’s then-boyfriend, Alex Humphry, who started selling drugs after they began dating, was murdered.

When police officers arrived at the scene, they found 20 kilograms of cocaine, a kilogram of crack cocaine, 40 pounds of marijuana, $40,000 and guns. While mourning the death of her partner, Shank was indicted for multiple drug crimes. Maintaining her innocence — she alleges she was never a part of her late ex’s drug offenses — she declined a plea deal and, with no evidence against her, was released from jail with her case dismissed.

In the years that followed, Shank moved on with her life: she fell in love again, got married, bought a home and had three daughters. But during an early morning in March 2007, police once again knocked on her door, this time arresting Shank on federal charges of conspiracy to distribute cocaine.

“Conspiracy is knowledge. Any knowledge you have of a crime, you could be charged for that crime,” Shank says in the nearly one hour and thirty minute-long film. “Basically, I lived in the home, so any crimes he committed while we lived together I was charged with.”

Shank, nor her parents, husband or brother, has ever denied guilt for not informing police officers of her boyfriend’s misdeeds. Throughout the documentary, her, and her worried family, take issue with the unfairness of her 15-year prison term. For the family, as well as the litigators and experts interviewed for the film, mandatory-minimum sentencing laws — controversial regulations that encourage strict sentencing rules over judicial discretion — account for one of the greatest failures of the U.S. government. The law, once considered unconstitutional, puts power into the hands of prosecutors, rather than judges, and has been abused in the drug war to punish tens of thousands of low-level, nonviolent state and federal defendants with harsh terms.

In the film, Valdez is one of the biggest opponents of mandatory-minimum sentencing, speaking with media about the wrongfulness of these laws and unceasingly fighting, through failed appeals and a clemency petition, to have her sister released early. His battle comes to a triumphant end in November 2016, eight years into Shank’s term, when then-President Barack Obama commuted his sister’s sentence. Shank was released on December 21, 2016, just in time to surprise her daughters for the holidays.

“The best is the little things: holding my daughters at night, having conversations with them, knowing them from the inside out. I know Ava doesn’t like cheese. I know how much I have to tickle Annalis to get the dimple on her cheek,” Shank, now 45, told FIERCE.

But she’s the first to acknowledge that her long-awaited release hasn’t just brought sunny days.

Shank, whose husband filed for divorce three years into her sentence, is trying to build relationships with daughters, who know her more from five-minute phone conversations and annual prison visits than caring for them at home.

“The hardest is the late-night conversations. Annalis comes to me and asks why were you gone. We are still having these talks and will throughout our lives. Who knows what’s to come? We won’t know the ramifications of all of this until the future. We’ll see it in what lies ahead and the decisions they make,” she added.

Accompanying her pain for lost time is that of the continued years, months, weeks and days of the people who, like she once was, remain behind bars because of unjust mandatory-minimum sentences. Shank was one of more than 35,000 inmates who requested consideration for a commuted or reduced sentence through the non-government affiliated organization the Clemency Project 2014, and she is one of less than 2,000 to receive it.

“When Rudy told me it was just 1,600 people, it crushed me. My heart crushed because I know what that’s like. Every time a list would come out, I would look to see if I was on it — for three years. I know what it’s like to have that hope and to feel defeated every time it lets you down. Hope is hard to have, and yet it’s the hardest to live without,” she said.

For Valdez, this documentary isn’t for his sister, his nieces or his parents. Instead, it’s for the tens of thousands whose names were not listed, for those who continue to be forgotten in the U.S.’ criminal justice system.

“This film is about the larger issue. Her story is emblematic of everyone else, of the people still there and of the children still going through this,” Valdez said. “This is for those who are going to go through this fight in the future and those who have been left behind.”

Check out the trailer below:

Watch “The Sentence” on Monday, October 15 at 8 p.m. ET on HBO.

Read: Locked Up: How Latinas Became One Of The Fastest-Growing Prison Populations

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