Dozens of justice advocates rallied on the steps of the Los Angeles County headquarters this morning, calling on supervisors to prevent the incarceration of girls and young women, and to improve safety conditions at juvenile halls and detention camps.
The protest focused on recent allegations made against probation staff, who are accused in court documents of sexually abusing more than 70 girls in county facilities over a three-decade period.
Protesters at today’s rally — organized by youth leaders with the Young Women’s Freedom Center and the Youth Justice Coalition — chanted “Lift us up, don’t lock us down!”
Twenty-three-year-old organizer Carolyn Travis spoke to the assembled, who waved signs reading “Stop Sexually Abusing the Girls” and “Justicia y Libertad.”
“We stand here today in solidarity with the women and girls who are courageously opposing these systems and who have filed lawsuits against L.A. County,” Travis said. She described the victimization of dozens of incarcerated girls as part of a continuing culture of abuse that has harmed generations of vulnerable young people.
According to the second of two lawsuits filed in Superior Court last month, Los Angeles County probation employees raped, molested or sexually harassed at least 70 girls at the county’s youth detention facilities and camps. The alleged crimes began in 1985 and took place as recently as 2019, court records state. The first of these legal filings appeared in March, following passage of a state law that opened a three-year window for survivors of childhood sexual abuse to file claims later in life.
County officials have so far declined to answer questions The Imprint filed under the California Public Records Act, seeking information on whether staff members named in the lawsuit were still employed at the time the case was filed, or whether anyone has been placed on leave in response to the allegations. In response to the request, an attorney for the county stated that release of such information would violate the staff members’ privacy rights.
A spokesperson for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office did not provide an answer when asked whether the office had launched an investigation into the allegations of sexual abuse made against probation staff.
But late last month, elected county supervisors Janice Hahn and Holly Mitchell responded to the claims with outrage.
Hahn called the allegations “stomach-turning,” and said in a statement: “We need to get to the bottom of how this abuse was allowed to happen for so long and whether any of the perpetrators are still employed by the county.” Hahn added that “the officers responsible for this abuse need to be held accountable. They have no business working for the County and they should face criminal charges.”
The lawsuits claim that probation staff intimidated girls with punishments, or proposed rewards like early release to force them into sexual acts. One formerly detained girl said she was impregnated by a probation officer at Camp Joseph Scott; other girls said they were forced to perform oral sex or to strip naked in front of staff members.
At today’s rally, Travis called the allegations “unacceptable” and said the true number of girls who have suffered violence at the hands of Los Angeles County probation staff could well number hundreds more.
“This is nothing new,” she said, but “we have a moral obligation to put an end to this.”
Gloria Gonzalez, youth development coordinator with the Youth Justice Coalition, called for county leaders to improve conditions in juvenile halls for girls and “gender-expansive” youth, and to ensure that appropriate grievance procedures are put in place.
Gonzalez also implored supervisors not to direct further resources to the county’s probation department. In recent years, state investigators have found the county’s two juvenile halls “unsuitable” for the detention of youth, citing health and safety risks.
At a meeting later in the day, the board of supervisors weighed a proposal by the probation department to lift a hiring freeze currently in place. Department officials say nearly a third of all probation employees in juvenile halls are absent due to medical leave and workers compensation cases. Supervisors decided to wait another two weeks before voting on the request.
Gonzalez called the request for more probation staff, at this point in the county’s history, particularly problematic.
“When we see these young people saying that they’re being sexually assaulted and harmed by the probation department,” she said, “why would you lift a hiring freeze?”
Annie Sciacca contributed to this report.