Sue Scheff: Girls and Violence
Source: Connect with Kids
Girls and Violence
“All that bad stuff is not going to take you anywhere...except you're going to be dead, in jail, or pregnant. Girls need to start doing something positive and think about your future.”
– Toni, 16 years old
Juvenile jails were once filled with boys and young men... but that's changing.
16 year old Toni says, "Girls are out there stealing, killing people, you know, doing all things that, you know, used to be just guys."
In fact Toni went to jail for possession of marijuana.
For the past decade, arrest rates for girls have been rising and new numbers from the federal government show that today one in four teenage girls has gotten into a serious physical fight, either at work or at school.
"More girls are getting involved in more violent activity," says Nina Hickson, a criminal court judge. "I think it's just a symptom of the society in which we live."
Experts say the culture has popularized a "bad girl image," a girl who's strong, aggressive, even violent, which is especially appealing if you want more attention.
Deputy Sheriff Kendrick Jones, says "They feel 'well, ok, I will develop a 'bad girl' attitude so I can fit in and I can get into this group and I can be the center of attention."
He says criminal justice personnel are far less lenient toward girls than years ago. He says today violent girls get arrested, indicted, tried in court and many end up in prison.
Judge Hickson has a recommendation for parents: "Monitor what's going on, stay in touch with the child.... get the child involved in positive activities."
It worked for Toni. She is now volunteering at a museum...with a brand new attitude.
"I started calling places to volunteer and I starting volunteering, and I was like, you know, hey, I'm doing something, I'm doing something positive... people need me."
Arrest Rates Up for Girls
According to statistics compiled by the American Bar Association (ABA), girls are the fastest growing segment of the juvenile justice population. The numbers are hard to dispute:
The federal data show that one in four girls has some involvement in violent behavior, sometimes with a weapon, compared to 33 percent of boys - a difference of just 6 percentage points.
On the surface these statistics seem to indicate dramatic increases in the number and seriousness of delinquent acts committed by girls. But what the statistics actually mean is being hotly debated. Are girls really becoming more violent, or are recent trends partially the result of the way juvenile arrests are now being categorized? As the ABA puts it: "Some experts have found that this growth is due in part not to a significant increase in violent behavior, but to the re-labeling of girls' family conflicts as violent offenses, the changes in police practices regarding domestic violence and aggressive behavior, the gender bias in the processing of misdemeanor cases, and, perhaps, a fundamental systemic failure to understand the unique developmental issues facing girls of today."
Tips for Parents
The causes of delinquency among girls are often different from that of boys. Research shows girls in the delinquency system have histories of physical, emotional and sexual abuse, have family problems, suffer from physical and mental disorders, have experienced academic failure, and succumb more easily to the pressures of domination by older males.
In a study by Leslie Acoca & Associates, No Place to Hide: Understanding and Meeting the Needs of Girls in the California Juvenile Justice System, researchers found girls in the juvenile justice system share many distinct characteristics:
■Family Fragmentation. Poverty, death, violence, and a multigenerational pattern of incarceration.
■Victimization Outside the Juvenile Justice System. Most girls in the system have a history of violent victimization.
■Victimization Inside the Juvenile Justice System. They become vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse similar to and sometimes worse than they experience in their homes and communities.
■Serious Physical and Mental Health Disorders.
■Widespread School Failure. The experience of educational failure is almost universal among delinquent girls interviewed.
■The Breaking Point—Early Adolescence. Girls appear to be most vulnerable to their first experiences of academic failure, pregnancy, juvenile justice system involvement and out-of-home placement between the ages of 12 and 15.
■American Bar Association
■National Criminal Justice Reference Service