Institutional Youth Victimization: Canadian Context pt.1
The purpose of this entry is to highlight the attention given by academics and government responses to interfamilial abuse and to contrast these findings with the information focused on institutional youth victimization. To accomplish this task, this entry will discuss case studies to give some dimension to the frequency or intensity of government and academic attention to interfamilial child victimization, and then will shift to examine the frequency of academic research and government attention to cases of child victimization within detention facilities. This entry will also highlight some of the major problems that have been identified with government responses to institutional youth victimization as discussed by various authors, with an emphasis on the works of British scholars Sheila Brown (1998, 2005) and Corby, Doig, and Roberts, (2001) who have completed extensive research in the area of government and public responses to institutional youth victimization. In addition to the problems that have been offered and discussed by these authors, this entry will also identify inconsistencies within their discussions and provide a modification to their conclusions regarding government responses to institutional youth victimization.
A Discussion about Youth Victimization
It is important to keep in mind that youth victimization does not differentiate regardless if it is an incident within the family, or within an institution; the same criminal acts are being carried out. Thus, equal attention and significance should be granted to both family victimizations and those that occur within youth detention facilities. A vast majority of research that has discussed youth victimization refers to occurrences happening outside of an institution and within the family unit. Nevertheless the following definitions and explanations are applicable to all youth who have experienced victimization. As discussed by many authors and agencies, (Allen and Hay, 1997; The Department of Canada, 2008; Trocmé et al, 2001; Brozowski, 2007; Corby et al, 2001, Health Canada, 2008) youth victimization can occur in both a sexual and physical nature. Allen and Hay (1997) who are members of the Public Health Agency of Canada define sexual abuse as an instance that occurs when an adult uses a child for sexual purposes and involves exposing a child to any sexual activity or behavior (p.1). In addition to this definition, sexual victimization can include fondling, inviting a child to touch or to be touched sexually, intercourse, or rape (Allen & Hay, 1997; Department of Justice Canada, 2008; Brozowski, 2007).
The Department of Justice Canada (2008) defines child abuse as the mistreatment or neglect that a child or adolescent may experience while in the care of someone he or she either trusts or depends on and is in a position of authority. With regards to physical victimization, the Department of Justice Canada (2008) defines it as an instance involving an adult deliberately using force against a child in such a way that a child is injured. These acts include things such as; beating, hitting, spanking, pushing, choking, biting, burning, kicking, or assaulting a child with a weapon (p.1).
Those who discuss youth victimization specifically within youth detention facilities (Corby et al, 2001; Law Commission of Canada (LCC), 2000; Bell, 2007) suggest institutional youth victimization is a matter of vulnerable children being exposed to sexual, physical, and emotional ill-treatment at the hands of adults. Furthermore, as discussed by the LCC (2000), instances of youth victimization in Canadian detention facilities include both boys and girls as targets of victimization, including acts ranging from physical abuse including corporal punishment to sexual abuse including sexual touching, penetration, and intercourse (p.35 – 39). In addition, the LCC’s discussion about youth victimization within Canadian detention facilities summarizes incidents of victimization which refer to actions such as being subjected to violent rapes, being bribed to perform sexual favors for a reward or privileges, or the young person was given the option to perform sexual favors for a promise of withholding physical abuse (p.40). In addition to knowing what acts take place, the frequency of occurrences is also important.
Frequency of Youth Victimization
Exact numbers and statistics on youth victimization in Canada are very difficult to obtain. The majority of research about youth victimization in Canada has focused on youth victimization that occurs outside of institutional settings (within the family, school, and public setting). Alternatively, statistics and information regarding the frequency of youth victimization that has occurred within Canadian detention facilities does not exist. Nevertheless, a discussion about the frequency of youth victimization within the Canadian family and public sphere will serve to be beneficial to demonstrate the intensity of research conducted on this area of interest and will consequently highlight the lack of attention and research conducted about Canadian institutional youth victimization. In addition, a discussion will follow that demonstrates how other countries have conducted more in depth research enabling them to compile statistical information about institutional youth victimization, emphasizing more specifically the lack of Canadian research on youth victimization within Canadian detention facilities.
Many authors and agencies (Allen & Hay, 1997; Education Wife Assault Association, 2001; The Department of Justice Canada, 2008; Brozowski, 2007) have reported that obtaining accurate and reliable information about youth victimization in Canada is largely difficult because it remains a hidden crime. Allen & Hay (1997) suggest that because sexual abuse within Canada is largely a hidden crime, it makes it difficult to estimate the number of people who were sexually abused at some time during their childhood (p.2). Regardless of the challenges, information was gathered by the Department of Justice (2008) in an attempt to illustrate or estimate the frequency of youth victimization in Canada. The Canadian Incident Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect (CIS) (2003), estimate the extent of child abuse in Canada, but is solely based on data from child welfare authorities and does not discuss abuse that happened within youth detention facilities. Regardless, the CIS (2003) estimates that there were 135,573 child maltreatment investigations in Canada in 1998 and almost half (45%) of these cases were substantiated. Furthermore, of these substantiated cases of youth victimization, 31% involved physical abuse and 10% involved sexual abuse (Department of Justice, 2008:3).
The Canadian Center for Justice Statistics (2007) provides a substantial amount of information regarding family violence and youth victimizations within the family, but does not provide any information about youth victimizations that have taken place within detention facilities. Nevertheless, their statistical profile in 2007 created by Brozowski (2007) agreed that acquiring information about the frequency of child physical and sexual youth victimization is extremely difficult. Moreover, Brozowski (2007) found that youth victimization happens more frequently than estimated because in many instances children often suffer violence without ever reporting it either because they are unable to do so or because they are afraid to report incidents to authorities (p.20). Furthermore, her overall findings suggest that youth victimization rates were five times higher than that suffered by adults and more attention needs to be focused on addressing and preventing violence against children (p.20).
With regards to youth victimization that has taken place within youth detention facilities, The Department of Justice Canada (2008) maintains that children who experienced abuse while living in youth detention facilities are only now, as adults, reporting the abuse. This contributes to the lack of information on this specific area of victimization (p.2). It is questionable as to whether or not this is a valid reason for the lack of information about youth victimization within Canadian detention facilities considering that US research into this type of victimization is considerable and dates back as far as the 1970s. Bartollas (2000) explains that as far back as 1973, U.S. courts found instances of physical brutality and abuse within youth detention facilities that involved hazing by correctional staff, staff-administered beatings and tear gassing, sexual attacks, and extensive use of solitary confinement (p.545). Bartollas also reports that in 1977, U.S. courts found youth confined in padded cells with no windows or furnishings and only flush holes for toilets. In 1978, the courts confirmed that youth had been locked up in solitary confinement, beaten, kicked, slapped, and sprayed with Mace by staff members, required to scrub floors with a tooth brush, and were subjected to punitive practices such as standing and sitting for prolonged periods without changing positions (p.545). Regardless of the evidence and information that was discovered and confirmed, institutional youth victimization was still not a topic that was publically discussed. Nonetheless, information in the US is available as far back as the 1970s thereby rejecting the Canadian notion that information about youth victimization within Canadian detention facilities is not available because adults are only now reporting their victimizations. Thus, further discussion is needed to foster an understanding about why there is a lack of information.
While the majority of past literature on institutional youth victimization is primarily American, the majority of present day literature is also American based, again highlighting the lack of Canadian research and discussion (Alder, 1994; Parent et al, 1994; Bartollas, 2000). A study conducted by Alder (1994) focused on US youth detention facilities and found that peer-on-peer bullying is considered by youth a common experience in juvenile detention facilities. More specifically, Alder (1994) found that between 20 to 45 percent of youth in detention centers have reported that they have experienced victimization while they were incarcerated (cited in Doob, 2004:234). Parent et al (1994) conducted an analysis of over 900 detention centers in the US and found that 3.6 incidents of violence per 100 youth happened over a time frame of 20 days (cited in Doob, 2004:234). Furthermore, Bartollas (2000) discusses a 1976 study (Bartollas, Miller and Simon, Cited in Bartollas 2000:541) that examined the culture established by incarcerated youth. This study found that in a maximum-security institution in Ohio, dominant youth exploited submissive ones in every way possible. They found that 90% of the 150 residents were involved in the exploitation; “19 percent were exploiters who were never themselves exploited, 34 percent were exploiters and victims at different times, 21 percent were occasionally victims and never exploiters, 17 percent were chronic victims, and 10 percent were neither victims nor exploiters” (p.541). In sum, research on institutional youth victimization in the US ranges as far back as 1970 and even goes as in depth as to look at the different dynamics of victimization that have occurred within youth detention facilities. None of this information is available in a Canadian context.
Although specific statistics about the number of institutional youth victimization incidents in Canada are not available, Bell (2007) maintains that incidents of such victimizations do exist within Canadian institutions. She reports that youth victimization has taken place at institutions such as Mount Cashel in Newfoundland, Kingsclear in New Brunswick, Grandview in Ontario, and more relevant to this study, one of the largest cases of abuse in Nova Scotia has happened at the Shelburne Youth Center.
The Law Commission of Canada (2000) conducted a Canada wide study of youth victimization within institutions and although it lacks any statistical information about victimizations, it does provide information regarding many of the dynamics of institutional youth victimization and government responses to cases specific to Canadian youth detention facilities. This report was submitted to the Minister of Justice and focuses on processes for addressing institutional youth victimization including an analysis of the social and legal issues involved in such victimizations. This study also includes a discussion about government responses to this type of youth victimization and provides recommendations about appropriate responses to youth victimizations and adequate preventative measures. Before looking at recommendations regarding appropriate responses and other various government commissioned inquiries, it is important to consider two things; first, why youth victimization is taking place within Canadian institutions and second, if we know that it is taking place, why is it not being openly discussed and researched?
To be continued...
*References available upon request.