The age of consent in the state of Louisiana is 17. The girl was 14 at the time of the incident. This is textbook statutory rape.
“To say that a 14-year-old mentally and emotionally distressed girl with a history of having been abused and neglected as a child should be found at fault for consenting to be raped by a male guard while in confinement at the hands of my local government, which is charged with the responsibility of keeping her safe, not only sets the cause of children’s advocacy back a hundred years, but I believe the parish government commits ‘documentary’ sexual assault against the child by taking this position in a public record.”
Even more vile are the comments of one unnamed corrections officer, who felt it necessary to explain to reporters that “these girls in the detention center are not Little Miss Muffin.” By this logic, Officer Angelo Vickers was justified in raping this young girl.
And so here we have, on full display, the complete dehumanization of young prisoners, who are so irredeemably bad that they deserve to be raped by their handlers.
If you haven’t already read Burning Down the House by Nell Bernstein, you should stop what you’re doing RIGHT NOW and pick it up. I’m serious; it is perhaps the most important books on juvenile (in)justice of our time, if not all-time.
Towards the end, Bernstein writes:
The frequency with which young prisoners turn to animal imagery to describe how it feels to be inside one of our youth prisons underscores the profound denial of humanity that these institutitions perpetuate. Given what we know takes place behind the walls of our youth prisons — and we do know despite our ability to profess ourselves shocked again and again — it is imperative that we see those contained there as somehow less than human. Because if they are fully human, as rich with possibility and sensitive to suffering as any other children, and we continue to countenance their chronic mistreatment inside public institutions– if that is so, then what are we?
This story is not an outlier or an isolated incident. It is simply one visible instance among countless, invisible others of the juvenile justice system doing what it is designed to do: to dehumanize, degrade, disregard and dispose of (as Bernstein calls it) “other people’s children.” If this is your approach to juvenile justice, these kinds of abuses are inevitable.
What will it take for us to stop being shocked and start closing these facilities?