Girls, Youth Justice and the Regulation of Sexualities

Girls, Youth Justice and the Regulation of Sexualities

By Lisa Pasko

Anthem Studies in Sexuality, Gender and Culture

Girls, Youth Justice, and the Regulation of Sexualities shows historically and contemporarily the complexities in responding to girls’ sexualities (bodies, behavior, and identities) in the juvenile justice system.

Hardback, 250 Pages


December 2024

£80.00, $110.00

  • About This Book
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  • Author Information
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  • Table of Contents
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About This Book

Girls, Youth Justice, and the Regulation of Sexualities examines the youth justice system’s construction, control, and overall reaction to girls’ sexualities, from early Child Savers Movements to the twenty-first century. The book shows how despite of, and occasionally due to, transformations in juvenile justice processing and corrections, the correctional focus—through one definition or another—continues to be on girls’ sexual behavior as cause for legal response, detention, and commitment. In the early eras, courts and corrections noted poor moral character and various environmental causes for girls’ sexually impish behavior: bad families, alcohol or drug use, poverty, immigrant status and “the lure of the military man.” Girls were incarcerated for immorality, incorrigibility, and truancy, but underlying the recorded charge was usually some form of “sexual delinquency.” Despite these external factors, girls were made to be responsible for their own choices and occasionally their own victimization, with staff often noting “promiscuous” girls as “too adventurous,” “unadjusted,” “defective,” and “amazingly indifferent to her actions on herself and parents.” Suffering from moral degeneration, girls were sentenced to reform school in order “to supply a home; to provide protection from physical abuse; to prevent further lewd acts; and to effect moral salvation.” Utilizing interviews with justice professionals, the book also shows how in the contemporary era, a shift from the moral domain to psychological and medical authority occurred, with the same environmental conditions understood as leading girls to risky sexual behaviors and delinquent activity. Regardless of structural constraints and difficulties, the focus remained on girls’ “bad” choices and refusal to accept responsibility. Such behaviors were pathologized as an illness, resulting from another psychological/personality disorder. 

Using interviews with girls in trouble with the law, Girls, Youth Justice, and the Regulation of Sexualities also examines system-involved young women’s and girls’ life events, turning points, and reflections, from their own perspectives, and shows how extreme disadvantage and marginalization, childhood neglect and victimization, sexual abuse and assault, maternal abandonment, and involvement with informal and formal systems of control interact to produce and amplify girls’ offending, especially for those interviewees who were deeply impacted by the justice system. Sources of structural strain (poverty, residential instability) produce a normalization of crisis, substance abuse, as well as severe problems with family violence and early sexual abuse. Many of the interviewees relate how their involvement with the justice system was the outcome of their own survival strategies (which involve running away, using and possessing drugs, sometimes joining gangs, and prostituting) having been criminalized. Their experiences with court and corrections often reveal policies and conditions that further eroded their sense of agency and hope for change, while also being heteronormative and homophobic in language and practices. Girls, Youth Justice, and the Regulation of Sexualities concludes with recommendations for improved programming and strides made in gender-responsive programming in the US and across the globe. 


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Author Information

Lisa Pasko is Associate Professor of Sociology and Criminology and affiliated faculty in the Gender and Women’s Studies Program at the University of Denver. Her research examines the intersectionality of race, gender, and sexualities in the lives of system-impacted girls.


Anthem Studies in Sexuality, Gender and Culture

Table of Contents

1.Introduction; 2. History of Youth Corrections and Girls’ Sexualities; 3. On the Straight and Narrow: Justice Professionals’ Understanding of Sexualities; 4. Running the Gauntlet: Girl Offenders’ Perspectives on Sexualities; 5. Girls, Justice, and the Regulation of Sexualities: A Push for Reform


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