A few weeks ago I once again found myself at a detention center. Maybe it is because I knew what to expect, but somehow the walls did not feel as oppressive, nor the inmates and staff as rigid this time around. The relationship that RLR and Girl Scouts developed has tuned out to be amazing. Their program in the juvenile detention center is probably the one I enjoy servicing the most. In jail there is no questioning anyone’s brokenness, the only question for me is: how do we get them healing?
As I was being escorted to the room for the presentation, the guard began a conversation about the previous presentation I did last year. During that presentation one of the girls disclosed that she had been trafficked. She was very straightforward, and chose to answer every question based on her personal experiences. Apparently the guards did not want that to happen again. At an aftercare facility in which I was a peer mentor for survivors, there was much encouragement to steer conversations away from the residents sharing their experiences in the life with one another. There were many reasons for this, most of which involved concerns for safety and triggering. But as I discussed with the guard why she did not want me asking open-ended questions throughout the presentation, it became very clear, very fast that her reasons were different.
“When an inmate shares those kind of things, there is a lot that we have to do for it. We have to report it, we have no other choice.”
I asked if it was known before the disclosure from the last presentation that the girl was a victim of sex trafficking. “No, that was the first time we found out.”
Throughout the brief discussion I tried asking the same questions and making the same comments, but all in different ways to see if I might get a deeper reason out of this guard about why a disclosure was unwanted. But only one reason was given.
That is what it all came down to: paperwork.
This sickened me. I was ecstatic that a girl had disclosed for the first time because that meant that maybe, just maybe, for the first time in her experience with the juvenile system, that girl could have gotten the help she really needed and not the punishment that only made it worse.
I don’t believe that everyone who works in juvenile feels the same way as this guard (that the convenience of no paperwork is worth the possible criminalization of a victim), but it sickens me to think that there are people out there with this mindset. There are plenty of valid reasons to not encourage disclosure during that setting, but convenience is not one of them.
But it makes me wonder about how many of us respond the same exact way to injustices of other kinds. Many of us refuse to engage injustice because of the inconvenience it creates.
Sweatshops: clothes, make-up, cell phones, computers, children’s toys, shoes, coffee, food. A lot of the products on the shelves we buy at stores are there because people are being forced to work 18-20 hour days with little to no pay, encumbered by debt accumulating interest at astronomical rates. Is it easier to care about sex trafficking than labor trafficking because it doesn’t require us to change any part of our lives (except donating some money of course, and being more intentional about taking to our kids about stranger danger)?
Let us all, myself included, be careful not to be vested in some causes more than others for the purpose of convenience, less we become as shallow as the guard who cared more about extra paperwork than getting a teenage girl help.