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Monday, July 16, 2012

Crime as a way out

There is often an interface between child protection and criminal behaviours. It is not uncommon for children, particularly teenagers, to be caught up in both systems. Children who have grown up in environments of maltreatment, neglect and abuse may lack the coping skills to face life's challenges. They far too frequently are failing at school - even dropping out - at numbers well in excess of the general population.

Research which I have quoted before notes that children who have grown up in the care system have much poorer outcomes in the areas of relationships, criminal involvement, mental health, unemployment and educational failures. They are prone to economic hardship.

In addition, vulnerable girls within the care systems are targets of those who would sexually exploit. An interesting UK study by the Howard League for Penal Reform has put an interesting window on the role that crime can play for sexually exploited girls. They note in a new study that girls use crime as a way to escape their exploiters or as a cry for help. It may also be a way to express a sense of justice when they feel excluded from traditional avenues. As the report states, it may be crucial to consider the girls as victims who are utilizing crime as  a way to tell their story.

These girls are often already known to child protection.

The Howard League also makes the very crucial point that there is quite a difference between a sexual crime and these children who are sexual crime victims. Policies that divert these youth into treatment and support are preferable to those where they are dealt with as criminals. One approach in Alberta is the Protection of Sexually Exploited Children Act which does offer one mechanism to get these youth into a safe place so that there is time to help them consider using ways out.

It is also worth remembering that girls are not the exclusive gender being victimized, although they are the majority.

The Howard League Report can be found through

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