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Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

TTI preys on vulnerable youth

Across the U.S., there is a $23 billion industry making its fortunes by abusing vulnerable youth under the guise of providing therapeutic and correctional services.

The “troubled teen” industry is made up of camps and facilities where parents can send unruly teenagers with the goal of correcting their behavior. Annually, 120,000-200,000 teens are held in these programs, and despite continuous coverage of the horrors that occur at these facilities, they remain largely unregulated.

On paper, these places encourage an obedient, disciplined attitude in the youth residing in them, but this could not be further from the truth.

The TTI is a nightmare plaguing society which most profoundly affects women and sexual minorities. It must be eliminated, and concerned parents should look elsewhere if they truly want what is best for their children.

Jamie Mater, a graduate student from the University of New Hampshire, published a study in 2022, investigating the abuse that takes place at these facilities.

Participants in the study recalled being punished for having panic attacks. One claimed to be “sat on” by a staff member, and another chased to the point of hyperventilating in the grass “just crying and panicking.”

When one 14-year-old victim was admitted to their camp, they recalled having to strip naked in front of two staff members, squat and cough.

This thinly veiled sexual abuse is common. In Paris Hilton’s account of her experience with the TTI, she details constant strip searches and unwarranted cervical exams by male staff.

Rowan Bissette, who was sent to WinGate Wilderness camp at 16, shared in an article by The Guardian vile stories of mistreatment at the camp.

She was forced to hike through treacherous conditions, and rain would often soak toilet paper and feminine hygiene products. Bissette and other girls were denied fresh, dry supplies and forced to bleed through their clothes.

These conditions put girls at a greater risk of abuse at these camps, but they are not the only group being specifically harmed by the TTI. Queer youth have a long history of abuse in these facilities because “troubled teen” camps can often take on a role much like conversion therapy.

Bissette came out to her parents as gay when she was very young, and they never took issue with it. Despite her sexuality having nothing to do with her being admitted to WinGate, she was told by staff that homosexuality was a sin, and she must seek God.

WinGate is not religiously affiliated, but Bissette says that did not stop some staff from projecting their beliefs onto them.

Not only are these programs horrifically abusive, but they simply do not work. The National Youth Rights Association claims that discipline interventions like these have been calculated to increase recidivism, the tendency for delinquents to re-offend, by 8%. Counseling intervention, an alternative they propose to the TTI, decreases recidivism by 13%.

Compassionate, therapeutic-based services are a better approach to handling unruly teenagers. In Mater’s study, multiple participants reported having PTSD from these camps, as well as relapsing into old problems.

A tough-love approach is neither appropriate nor effective to correct teenagers’ behavior, but the TTI has devolved past tough-love. It is a manipulative industry that is torturing teenagers and taking advantage of parents.

It has gone unregulated for so long, but there has been a recent motion to change that. A bill called the Stop Institutional Child Abuse Act is currently circulating and has received bipartisan support in Congress. This bill should lead to greater regulation and increased transparency surrounding what occurs at these facilities and how much federal funding they receive.

This is not enough, though. The TTI is firmly rooted in a history of abuse and manipulation that it cannot shed. It is a fundamentally flawed and ineffective system for solving teenage delinquency.

The “troubled teen” industry must be torn to the ground and replaced with a system that approaches teens with care and empathy.

This story was written by Joey Schamber. He can be reached at [email protected].

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About the Contributor
Joseph Schamber, Opinions Columnist
Joey Schamber is a first-year from Downers Grove, Illinois studying journalism and is an opinions columnist at the Marquette Wire for the 2023-2024 school year. Outside of the Wire he enjoys cooking, drawing and skateboarding. He is excited to be writing stories and to be active in his community!

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