New report examines unchecked “crisis” with Florida’s most vulnerable young girls

Vanessa Patino Lydia with the Delores Barr Weaver Policy talking about a report on girls in Florida at Press Association bldg. in Tallahassee

Vulnerable young girls – including young girls of color, those identifying as LGBT, and others in rural areas — face significant rates of violence and victimization in Florida, according to a new report.

“We must always remind ourselves these children are first and foremost dependent child victims of the worst abuse, the worst neglect, trafficking and a host of other horrors,” said Roy Miller, president of The Children’s Campaign, who spoke at a press conference Wednesday in Tallahassee.

The report titled “Status of Girls in Florida: Educational Attainment and Disparities by County,” was written by three researchers with the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center, a Jacksonville-based nonprofit organization which has previously published research reports focusing on girls in the juvenile justice system.

Among the most stunning statistic: One in 10 girls have reported being raped, though the numbers vary by race/ethnicity, with 20 percent of native Hawaiian girls and 17 percent of Native Americans reporting forced intercourse experiences.

Thirteen percent of girls don’t feel safe in their neighborhoods, and one in three don’t feel safe in school. One in ten said they didn’t attend school because they didn’t feel safe there.

Nearly two in three girls in high school (61 percent) reported being verbally bullied, and one in five girls (18 percent) say they have seriously considered suicide.

“These experiences are happening right now in the lives of girls in our communities,” said Vanessa Patino Lydia, vice president of research and planning for the Weaver Policy Center and a co-author of the report. She spoke at the press conference in Tallahassee.

The researchers want Florida officials to develop policies and programs and services that are “grounded in research and that are aligned with what we know about the needs of girls, and to move away from placing girls in settings that were never deliberately designed to meet their needs, and where we continue to see girls retraumatized and revictimized in those settings,” said Lawanda Ravoira, president & CEO of the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center.

Ravoira said that too often, girls who have serious mental health issues end up in the juvenile justice system.

The survey data in the report came from a variety of federal and state sources, from the U.S. Census Bureau to the Department of Juvenile Justice  and the Florida Department of Health, which provided data from 27,000 girls in middle and high schools.

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