Another study found that more than ninety percent of a sample of juvenile delinquents had
experienced at least one traumatic event, and more than half of the population had been exposed
to trauma six or more times.51 Additional research illustrates “that a significant proportion of
juvenile offenders have a substantiated history of child maltreatment,”52 and “that at least
[seventy-five percent] of youths in the juvenile justice system have been exposed to
victimization.”53 Traumatic victimization is defined as “being threatened or harmed intentionally
by a caregiver or other trusted person (e.g., sexual, physical, or emotional abuse), witnessing
caregivers or significant others being intentionally harmed (e.g., domestic violence), or neglect,
separation from, or abandonment by trusted adults or youths.”54 Such traumatic victimization has
been linked to psychological disorders such as PTSD, and can cause youth to develop ongoing
difficulties with oppositional-defiance and aggression.55
Youth with PTSD or other trauma-induced illness may feel like their victimization has
“stripped away” their sense of self-respect and control, and, consequently, they may enter a
“survival coping” mode where they resort to anger, defiance of rules and authority, and
aggression.56 They may also become persistently stubborn, resistant to directions, and unwilling
to compromise.57 Because psychological trauma is emotionally and physically shocking,
victimization can have a physiological effect as well.58
Trauma also slows down development and can cause disturbances of emotional
regulation, relationships, and communication.59 Aggressive youth tend to overreact to actions by
correctional officers as a perceived threat, typically because it is reminiscent of past
victimization.60 These youth do not see their responses as excessive, because they “have little
experience expressing their thoughts and resolving their feelings verbally rather than through
aggression,” and “may feel helpless about regulating their behavior.”61 Instead of helping youth
heal from the victimization that has traumatized them, juvenile facilities are prone to punishing
aggressive children by placing them in isolation for their misbehavior.
The placement of youth in isolation who have already experienced trauma may further re-victimize the youth.62 Research on victimized children shows that the experience of trauma
increases their “vulnerability to stressors- even mild stressors that healthy individuals are able to
51 Abram et al., supra note 39, at 407.
52 Heather Y. Swanston et al., Juvenile Crime, Aggression and Delinquency After Sexual Abuse: A Longitudinal Study, 43 BRIT. J.
CRIMINOLOGY 729, 729 (2003).
53 Julian D. Ford et al., Pathways from Traumatic Child Victimization to Delinquency: Implications for Juvenile and Permanency
Court Proceedings and Decisions, JUV. & FAM. CT. J., Jan. 2006, at 13, 13.
54 Id. at 14.
55 Julian D. Ford, Traumatic Victimization in Childhood and Persistent Problems with Oppositional-Defiance, 6 J. AGGRESSION,
MALTREATMENT & TRAUMA 25, 26 (2002).
56 Ford et al., supra note 53, at 17.
57 CAELAN KUBAN, NAT’L INST. FOR TRAUMA & LOSS IN CHILDREN, OPPOSITIONAL DEFIANT DISORDER AND TRAUMA 2 (2011),
available at http://www.lianalowenstein.com/articlesODDKuban.pdf.
58 Id. at 5-6. Kuban notes that “[c]hildren with a history of trauma have greater oppositional defiant behaviors,” likely because “of the
negative physiological impact that trauma has on core regulatory systems.” Id. at 5. Trauma increases the individual’s vulnerability to
stressors, and makes problem solving more difficult. Id. at 6. Central nervous system brain structures are affected by trauma, which
can impact the ability to communicate, affect how individuals respond to perceived threats, and impact new memory storage and
learning, social behavior, and decision making. Id. at 6.
59 Id. at 5-6.
60 MICHAEL PUISIS, CLINICAL PRACTICE IN CORRECTIONAL MEDICINE 124 (2d ed. 2006); see also Ford, supra note 55, at 39 (“[T]hese
children’s emotions and thought processes reflect a fearful and hypervigilant concern with the possibility of severe danger. It is as if
they view their lives as an almost constant effort to be prepared for, and to survive, the recurrence of traumatic danger.”).
61 PUISIS, supra note 60.
62 JULIAN D. FORD ET AL., NAT’L CTR. FOR MENTAL HEALTH & JUVENILE JUSTICE, TRAUMA AMONG YOUTH IN THE JUVENILE
JUSTICE S YSTEM: CRI TICAL ISSUES AND NEW DIRECTIONS 3 (2007),