2014 Stoneleigh Symposium: What About the Girls?
This week, we held the fourth annual Stoneleigh Symposium. As in years’ past, we used the symposium as a vehicle to expose a diverse cross-section of our community to a topic that we believe needs collective attention. What About the Girls? resonated loud and clear. Afterwards, many attendees asked me how we are going to create the movement that speaker Gwen Bailey challenged us to take on. As a first step, we have created this web page that includes resources to continue the conversation and inspire all to find ways to individually and collectively address and protect the unique needs our girls in our city.
Though we pride ourselves in having a strong understanding of the experiences of our children in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems, even we had never considered the girls’ Abuse to Prison Pipeline that our keynote speaker Malika Saada Saar described. We had not fully understood how girls are criminalized for the very coping behaviors we expect from women who are physically abused. Too often, when our girls run to get away from harm, they get arrested for the status offense of running away—even when we know it is a form of self-protection. Once in jail, Stoneleigh Fellow Leslie Acoca described the challenge of screening, treating and understanding their unique health needs. And as we hoped and prayed for the safety of the Nigerian girls who have been missing for weeks, we wondered, who is praying for the 200,000 girls who are bought and sold in America? When will we start seeing our girls as victims of child rape and stop locking them up for something over which they have no agency?
Additionally, we were all moved by Larbriah Morgan’s presentation and personal narrative. The outpouring of support for her was indeed encouraging. I am delighted to share that DHS Commissioner Ambrose let no time pass before responding to Larbriah’s situation. Though this is clearly a matter of federal policy, Commissioner Ambrose stepped up and found a local solution and requested that we convene a focused conversation about the hundreds of other children who are aging out of the system that need stable, safe housing.
Stoneleigh is committed to keeping the dialogue flowing and facilitating connections. We will continue to blog, tweet and share information about ways to better harness the strength and resilience of girls and develop strategies to help them break out of intergenerational cycles of violence and abuse. Certainly, we will continue to use our convening and funding roles to find solutions that could result in meaningful and sustained changes.
Cathy M. Weiss
Continuing the Conversation