Many girls in Wisconsin are dealing with sexual violence, human trafficking, bullying, and mental health issues. Girls of color tend to be more affected than their white counterparts. That's according to a new report from Alverno College in Milwaukee.
To get an idea of how girls are faring, Alverno researchers looked at demographic and economic trends — on physical, mental and sexual health, incidents of violence and abuse, substance use, social support and media engagement.
Jodi Eastberg, executive director of Alverno College’s Research Center for Women and Girls, says some of the trends are troubling.
"Girls in higher numbers than boys are spending more time on computers and video games," she says. "That was a change from previous years. Girls are experiencing high levels of anxiety, over 50 percent of girls reported anxiety and are also more likely than boys to be the victims of bullying, both online and in person."
Eastberg says researchers found that more girls than boys report symptoms of depression, or suicidal planning and self-harm. The numbers — and problems — are something Lori Kasun, of Girl Scouts of Wisconsin Southeast, hopes to curb. She says her organization teaches girls to have a strong sense of self and to build resilience and healthy relationships.
Those qualities are reinforced by the organization's four main pillars: STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), the outdoors, healthy lifestyles and entrepreneurship. And Kasun says the Girl Scouts have programs to help girls fight the growing problem of cyber-bullying.
"We’ve brought in police departments to talk about cyber safety, cyber security and bullying, the Amaze program which handles relationships. At camps and events, we have mentors and adults that they feel comfortable with,” she says.
Despite the troubling findings in Alverno's study on girls in Wisconsin, researcher Eastberg says the report also reveals positive trends.
"Girls continue to have high educational attainment and goals for going on to college. They also showed a decreased number of teen pregnancies that community has been working on and that shows up in the report," she explains.
The organization PEARLS for Teen Girls has been working on that aspect of girls' lives. It serves girls in 5th to 12th grades.
“I can say that our 10-year outcomes include 99 percent of the girls that we’ve served have not gotten pregnant. 97 percent of our seniors have graduated high school, and 97 percent of those girls have been on track for post-secondary success," says Gerry Howze, executive director of PEARLS for Teen Girls.
Howze says the organization focuses on five key themes: “Loving myself, building healthy relationships, striving to achieve, believing the sky’s the limit, and helping hands in the community.”
Yet Howze says more work must be done to help girls in Wisconsin.
Alverno researcher Jodi Eastberg and Girl Scouts' leaders agree — they say one of the most serious and extreme problems girls face is human trafficking, which comes up in the Alverno report. Human trafficking is something they’re especially worried about in vulnerable populations, such as girls who are at-risk or who live in group homes.
The Girl Scouts' leaders hope the Alverno report helps shed light on the extent of the human trafficking problem and brings attention to a search for solutions.