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Thursday, August 24, 2000

Girls for sale

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
In Hawaii, the rate of juvenile female arrests for crimes including
prostitution is higher than the national average. Above, a
young woman waits alone curbside in Waikiki at 1 a.m.

Lack of rehab
programs puts young
women at risk

Second of three parts | Part One
Hawaiian traditions may help

By Christine Donnelly

The percentage of girls arrested in Hawaii has reached record proportions -- accounting for a bigger share of juvenile arrests than in the rest of the United States -- and the state lacks enough female-focused rehabilitation programs to combat the problem, according to a new study.

Although the largest number of arrests is for "status offenses" such as running away from home, those offenses -- while considered less urgent to the rest of society -- put the girls on hostile streets and at greater risk of committing more serious crimes such as theft, drug dealing and prostitution, said the report's author. Moreover, once they run away, often to escape physical or sexual abuse at home, the girls are more likely to be further victimized, including being sexually exploited.

"For girls, it's unfortunately the case that they are pretty immediately drawn into behaviors like survival sex, sex for a place to stay, for food, for drugs" and can end up controlled by pimps and stuck as prostitutes, said Meda Chesney-Lind, a University of Hawaii professor and principal investigator of the study, "Programs Matter: Girls' Offenses and Gender Specific Programming in Hawaii."

According to the study, in 1998 girls accounted for one of every three juvenile arrests in Hawaii, compared to one out of four nationally. And the Hawaii percentages have risen since then. The latest Hawaii Attorney General's semi-annual crime summary found that although the state's overall crime rate fell in the first six months of 1999 -- among both adults and juveniles -- the percentage of females arrested rose.

Females comprised 41 percent of all juvenile arrests and 22 percent of all adult arrests, reaching record high proportions dating back at least to the start of automated crime date entry in 1987, according to the summary. Among juvenile arrests, common female offenses were running away from home (65 percent female), larceny-theft (38 percent female) and curfew and loitering violations (37 percent female).

For her report, Chesney-Lind focused on youths held at the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility in late 1999. She found that the girls' pathways into delinquency differed markedly from boys', as did their reactions to life on the street, in treatment centers and in secure facilities such as HYCF.

For example, nearly all the incarcerated girls had run away from troubled home lives, while running away was not a factor for most of the boys. Also, female runaways who had been sexually abused were significantly more likely to commit crimes such as substance abuse, petty theft and prostitution. More than half the incarcerated girls had attempted suicide or talked about it, twice the rate of the male inmates. Another factor not faced by the boys: motherhood. About a fifth of the girls in HYCF already had children.

The report recommends that the state create more "gender-specific" rehabilitation programs, with more training for the adults charged with helping the errant youths. It said such programs are needed at every stage of the rehabilitation process, not just in the most severe cases.

"We need programs that can handle the fact that girls run away as a coping mechanism. They run away from home, they run away from (treatment programs), and they lose their placements and end up incarcerated," Lind said.

And while the average rehabilitation program tends to revolve around the "team model," with a large number of boys under the authority of one adult, troubled girls flourish better in smaller settings, Lind said.

She believes such gender-specific programs have a better chance at reducing repeat offenses, therefore ending up less costly in the long run; 92.6 percent of the girls at HYCF had prior arrests and 53.2 percent had a previous stay at HYCF. Boys, who continue to be arrested more than girls, especially for violent crimes, "should still have programs suited for them. But I would also like to see the same array of services available for girls."

Nanci Kreidman agreed. She is executive director of the Domestic Violence Clearinghouse and Legal Hotline and coordinator of a new program aimed at coming up with ways to help young women avoid sexual exploitation.

"The resources just haven't been invested in girls because it used to be that boys were the only ones who got in trouble," she said. "That's not the case anymore. If these girls don't get the help they need early ... they end up in a downward spiral of victimization and more serious crime."

(Of the 14,434 juvenile arrests in Hawaii in 1998, 8,712 were of boys and 5,722 of girls, according to the state Attorney General's report "Crime in Hawaii.)

Iwalani White, first deputy prosecutor for Honolulu, also praised the research, calling girls-only programs "an excellent idea. We need more prevention on the front end (before at-risk girls get in serious trouble) and more intervention at the back end (after they are arrested)."

White, a former Family Court judge, said a task force on which she serves is trying get federal grant money to create a day-treatment center for girls.

"It's something we're working on right now," she said.

Hawaiian traditions
may help troubled girls

By Christine Donnelly

Native Hawaiian girls are in particular need of specialized programs that use cultural traditions to fight juvenile delinquency, a new report says.

"A native Hawaiian approach to juvenile justice can, and should, favor healing over punishment. One goal of a culturally based program is to utilize the best Hawaiian conceptions of health and well-being alongside the most appropriate western treatments," said the report, "Ho'Omohala I Na Pua: A Gender Specific and Culture Based Program for Native Hawaiian Girls."

The report said native Hawaiian and part-Hawaiian girls accounted for 63 percent of all females held at the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility in late 1999, even though native Hawaiians comprise only about 17 percent of all 15- to 19-year-olds in the state.

It cited earlier studies that found both native Hawaiian girls and boys overrepresented at all stages of the criminal justice system. Those studies conclude that the problem could be traced to both systemic discrimination of ethnic minorities and also to the severity of the crime committed and the criminal history of the youth offender.

The report, prepared by research assistant Konia Freitas, offered a model for a treatment program that would include conventional approaches such as anger management, addiction and abuse counseling, complemented by native Hawaiian practices, traditions and customs aimed at restoring the troubled adolescent's self-esteem and sense of identity.

Such an approach has proved useful among indigenous populations in New Zealand, Australia and Canada, according to the report, published last month by the Center for Youth Research at the University of Hawaii-Manoa's Social Science Research Institute.

It is a companion to another study published at the same time that analyzed juvenile crime in Hawaii by girls of all races.

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