To transport the child to the program against their will, these programs will often recommend youth escort services or “legal kidnapping.” These services are controversial as there is little or no government regulation over them and the act itself can be traumatic to children. Children are often forcefully seized, handcuffed, and transported from their beds in the middle of the night by strangers. In many cases, these methods have resulted in permanent trauma for the child.
Instead of delivering evidence-based treatment, many of these programs deliver a mix of maltreatment such as physical, verbal, and sexual abuse, isolation, forced hard labor, chemical sedation, sleep and food deprivation, attack therapy, aversion therapy, etc. This abuse is further compounded by the program’s function as a “total institution” where the students live under the authority of the program, have contact restricted to the outside world, and are forbidden to freely leave the programs for months to years.
Upon arrival to the programs, the child is further traumatized as part of the intake process by having their belongings immediately taken. This is often followed by a forced strip-search and/or cavity. After this initial intake process, the child is transferred to the group living quarters where they initially have no privileges.
Most programs utilize antiqued points and levels-based systems that force the child to earn basic privileges. These systems are often punitive “tough love” approaches and attempt to correct behavior instead of treating mental health issues or working through trauma. Regardless of diagnosis, children are expected to adhere to the same set of stringent rules or be harshly punished. Some of the punishments and abuses that have been reported in TTI programs (Troubled Teen Industry programs) include but are not limited to the following:
- Food and/or sleep deprivation
- Use of isolation/solitary confinement rooms
- Forced to eat bodily fluids
- Emotional, physical, and sexual abuse
- Dangerous use of physical, chemical, or mechanical restraint methods
- The punitive use of restraints
- Forced and excessive exercise
- Military methods of discipline
- Forced labor
- Deprivation of base necessities such as food, water, sleep, and/or access to a bathroom
- Restricted social interaction or social ostracization
- Exposure to harsh elements like extreme heat, snow, or rain
- Use of attack therapy, group attack therapy, aversion therapy, conversion therapy
- Sexual shaming and/or forced sexualized behavior/sexual abuse as a part of “treatment”
- Peer hierarchies where children are responsible for punishing and restraining each other
While program deaths are not officially tracked by a single authority, we have been able to find records of over 350+ children who have died while in these facilities. Thousands more have passed due to suicide completion after their time in the programs.
For years, thousands of survivors have come forward and spoken out about the abuses they received or witnessed while interned in programs.
It is time to believe the survivors.
It is time to take action.