06/13/2008 11:03 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Stop Selling Child Abuse as Therapy: Call Congress Today to Support HR 5876

Finally, the end may be in sight for residential programs that sell child abuse as therapy for teens. The House of Representatives will vote next Friday on HR 5876, the Stop Child Abuse in Residential Programs for Teens Act of 2008, introduced by California Rep. George Miller.

For years, when I have described the inhumane treatment -- beatings, months of isolation, sexual humiliation, emotional battering, stress positions, denial of food and sleep, punitive use of restraint -- that is routinely inflicted on teens in "boot camps" and other tough love residential programs, people have asked me "Why isn't this illegal?"

How can it be that there are unregulated private jails for teenagers in which they can receive corporal punishment that is prohibited even for convicted murderers in 21st century America?

The answer I have always given is that there is no federal legislation that prevents it: it is not illegal to use corporal punishment in schools and these residential facilities have generally managed to avoid state regulations which bar such treatment in psychiatric hospitals, group homes and rehabs.

HR 5876 would begin to put an end to that situation -- banning such tactics, putting all programs under oversight and providing a federal hotline to which teens must have access in order to report abuse. Everyone who cares about children should call or email their representative to urge support for it today and throughout next week. No legislation is perfect, of course-- but this is an enormous step towards change.

This link provides an easy way to show your support.

It beggars belief that teenagers in America do not now have the right to be free of the kind of degrading and humiliating treatment banned by the Geneva Conventions.

Although I have never heard of waterboarding being used by these programs, the following scenarios have all been reported either directly to me by more than one witness to the incident or in court documents or Congressional testimony in these programs:

1) Boys hooded, with nooses around their necks, made to stand for hours in searing desert heat.

2) A girl forced to dress as a hooker, with "slut, 25 cents" smeared on her with lipstick, made to walk past catcalling boys. Then, she was forced to kneel in front of a middle-aged man who asked if she liked performing oral sex on older men. This occurred in front of around 100 people.

3) Teens were chained for days and spent nights in outdoor dog cages.

4) In subfreezing temperatures, boys were not provided toilet paper, just snow, to clean themselves.

5) Both boys and girls have had their limbs broken in brutal "restraints," inflicted for violations as minor as looking at a member of the opposite sex.

There are hundreds of other equally egregious examples. Please, call your Congressperson and help put an end to this now! [It should go without saying -- but there is no evidence that these tactics help or are therapeutic for any kind of teenage misbehavior or mental illness].