Will there soon be a paradigm shift occurring in the U.S. juvenile court system? For the growing number of women who have participated in Girls Court, the answer is a resounding yes.
Despite the violence and abuses they have already faced, the criminalization of human and sex trafficking victims happens all too often. These young women are often forced into and arrested for prostitution, yet their “pimps” never end up in court themselves. That is, if the women even turn to law enforcement. Many hesitate to do so for fear of prosecution, and doubly so if the victim was not brought into the country legally.
However, a rising program called Girls Court could change the legal landscape for victims of trafficking and other at-risk youth. Girls Court was first conceived two and a half years ago, and operates within the existing juvenile court. When the number of female delinquents entering the system began to rise, there was a clear need for gender-specific programs and treatments to appropriately address the victims’ accompanying legal issues.
Girls Court services focuses on helping young women between the ages of 12-17, many of whom are victims of sexual assault, child abuse and sex trafficking. The goal of Girls Court is to enable each woman to begin living healthy and productive lives once they leave the court. The program in Hawaii’s family court system, for example, teams up with a variety of agency leaders so that resources to address substance abuse, teen pregnancy prevention, trauma treatment and peer mentoring are available to each participant.
Many Girls Court programs across the country have already produced positive results. The court in Hawaii has seen a decrease in detentions, according to a 2011 evaluation. In addition, preliminary studies from the Orange County Girls Court suggest an improvement in grades for participants within the foster care system. Moreover, many clients state that having gender-specific services is especially helpful because of the community that develops within Girls Court programs.
With many states still prosecuting prostitutes as criminals instead of treating them as victims, young women will continue to be unjustly incarcerated. It goes without saying that the legal system is complex and difficult to navigate, especially for youth.
While still in its infancy, Girls Court presents a important resource for at-risk women within the delinquent system. It works to address all needs of the individual at hand to help build a strong foundation that will empower each woman as she moves forward in life.
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