By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
A new survey released last month by the U.S. Department of Justice found that nearly five percent of young people in Florida juvenile facilities in 2012 reported sexual victimization by members of the staff.
The highest rate of misconduct was reported at Palm Beach Juvenile Correction Facility in West Palm Beach, where an estimated 16 percent of youth reported sexual activity with workers. Youth Services International Inc. operates the facility and eight other programs in the state.
More than 10 percent of youth at Bristol Youth Academy, operated by Universal Health Services Inc., reported staff misconduct.
The Justice Department survey included 573 young people in 36 juvenile facilities in the state between February and September 2012.
The Herald reported a week ago that state agencies were looking into an incident in a Fort Lauderdale center.
According to the Herald:
One female worker has been fired and a state agency is investigating her and an intern at a Fort Lauderdale program for juvenile offenders after both women were accused of having inappropriate sexual relationships with young men in the program.
AMIkids Greater Fort Lauderdale initially suspended the staffer after executive director Luis Ceruti received an anonymous call on June 17 claiming that she was involved in a relationship with a program youth, according to the Department of Juvenile Justice, which has a contract with AMIkids.
AMIkids fired the staffer on Monday after independently learning of “previous inappropriate behavior” with a former student, who was an adult at the time of the relationship and is no longer in the program, said spokesperson Sherri Ulleg. A DJJ investigation about whether she was involved with another teen in the program is ongoing.
DJJ also is investigating allegations that an unpaid intern exchanged inappropriate texts and photos with the same young man. A staffer who glimpsed a photo on the young man’s phone told Ceruti, but he did not report the incident until more than four hours later — which left the DJJ questioning whether he acted “in a timely manner.”
The Justice Department’s survey shows sexual misconduct in juvenile centers is widespread and nationwide.
The Justice Department first discovered the startling form of abuse in 2010, when it surveyed more than 9,000 youngsters living in juvenile halls and group homes. More than 10 percent of the respondents said they’d been sexually abused by staff and 92 percent said their abuser was female.
In the last three years, the numbers haven’t changed much.
The Justice Department released its second report last month, and this time researchers surveyed more than 8,700 juveniles housed in 326 facilities across the country. In all, the facilities house more than 18,000 juveniles, representing about one quarter of the nation’s total number of youngsters living in detention centers.
Drawing on their sample, Justice Department researchers estimate that 1,390 juveniles in the facilities they examined have experienced sex abuse at the hands of the staff supervising them, a rate of nearly 8 percent. Twenty percent who said they were victimized by staff said it happened on more than 10 occasions. Nine out of 10 victims were males abused by female staff.
Nearly two-thirds of the abused youngsters said that the officials lured them into sexual relationships by giving them special treatment, treating them like a favorite, giving gifts and pictures.
Twenty-one percent said staff gave them drugs or alcohol in exchange for sex.
Late last year, it was announced that a privately-run juvenile detention center in Florida would be closing its doors due to allegations of abuse and poor supervision among its staff.