Girls with a History of Multiple Types of Abuse Most Likely to Enter the Justice System
A study published in 2015 looked at how poly-victimization impacted girls in the criminal justice system. This information is particularly pertinent to those of us who work with foster youth, who, by definition, have been the victims of abuse. It seems that interventions at both an early age and at adolescence could have a positive impact on the outcomes for girls who are survivors of abuse and who have witnessed violence in their family or community.
There are three types of abuse that are most closely linked with justice system involvement: caregiver violence, sexual violence, and witnessing violence. Girls abused by caregivers and witnessed violence prior to their school years had a high risk for involvement in the justice system. Fighting and substance use were early warnings of later involvement in the justice system. The researchers also noted that fighting was usually in retaliation for witnessing violence in their home or community. Stealing and running away were behaviors that emerged in early adolescence, which is when the girls usually came to the attention of the justice system. Both substance use and sexual commercial exploitation (prostitution) were associated with young girls having connections to criminally involved adults.
For those of us working with foster children and youth, it is important to note that fighting is often the first result of witnessing violence, and that early intervention (therapy, supportive adult such as a CASA volunteer) could reduce the risk that the youth enters the justice system.