Findings from a new study by the Young Women’s Justice project suggest that the vast majority of women under the age of 18 in the Criminal Justice system have suffered abuse.
The research suggests that nearly 2 thirds (63 per cent) of those aged between 16 and 24 have been victims of rape and/or domestic abuse in their own relationships with 15 per cent in that age group also having been involved in sex work.
The report notes ‘there are a number of key vulnerabilities in the lives of young adult women in contact with the criminal justice system. They have complex, overlapping needs with their experience of contact with the criminal justice system underpinned by experiences of violence, abuse and exploitation, high rates of mental ill-health, substance use and economic disadvantage – experiences which too often go unrecognised or ignored but which are mutually reinforcing and compounded by gender inequality and other forms of inequality, including racism.’
The study also found ‘a number of concerning and recurring themes in young adult women’s experiences of criminal justice responses to the challenges and inequalities they face. In custody and in the community, young adult women feel alienated, unsafe and disempowered in a number of the spaces or services in which they might seek support but which are not designed with them in mind.
At present, a lack of age-appropriate, gender-sensitive and trauma-informed policy and practice prevents the criminal justice system from delivering an effective response to the needs of this significant minority within it – particularly young adult women undergoing the transition from youth to adult services, and those with intersecting, additionally stigmatised identities including Black and minoritised young adult women and care leavers.’
The report calls upon government to devise a ‘gender-sensitive response to young adult women in the criminal justice system and necessarily a joined-up one, involving collaborative working between a number of governmental departments beyond the Ministry of Justice to include the Home Office, the Department for Education, Department of Health and Social Care and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, as well as others where appropriate.’
Read the full study here.