January 27, 2008

Crimes of What?

by PG

Toward the end of her Ms. review of Susan K. Cahn's Sexual Reckonings: Southern Girls in a Troubling Age, France Winddance Twine, a professor of sociology and women's studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, says, "Meanwhile, scholars estimate that the number of girls in juvenile detention for crimes of poverty and sex nearly doubled in the 1990s."

What exactly are "crimes of poverty and sex"? I can guess that a crime of poverty might be one like panhandling, public indecency for urinating in public in the absence of a home in which to do same, perhaps even shoplifting food and basic clothing or items to resell -- crimes that may seem necessary for someone who is very poor.* But what is a "crime of sex"? Are prosecutors actually resurrecting fornication or adultery statutes (they can't use the sodomy ones) in order to put sexually active teenage girls in juvenile detention? Prof. Twine uses the phrase so casually that I thought perhaps it was in common parlance, so I tried googling it.

"Crimes of poverty" is a frequently-used idea, and generally encapsulates what I expected: "arrests and citations for the act of being homeless or very low-income in America, i.e., 'camping on public property,' blocking the sidewalk, recycling, loitering (which can include sitting while homeless), and in my family's case, sleeping in a vehicle or driving with expired plates (Driving While Poor)." Also, neglect of children for going to work while being unable to afford childcare for them, and the merged crime of sex and poverty: prostitution.

But why are juveniles being arrested for these crimes of poverty and sex? At least under the age of 16 in many states, a minor's prostitution should entail no guilt on the part of the child, only a statutory rape charge against her clients. A homeless juvenile should be going into the foster care system, not juvenile detention. I can understand that due to shortages of foster homes, some minors end up being held in juvenile detention just to ensure they have food and shelter, but those should be distinguished from the kids in juvie who if they were older would be in jail.

* "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets or steal bread." -- Anatole France

January 27, 2008 12:46 PM | TrackBack
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