Crime rates among girls on the rise

By Nicole Osuch
December 1, 2006

Girls now account for 29 percent of all juvenile arrests, up from 23 percent in 1990. Girls are getting arrested more and are gaining on boys in juvenile arrests. This news is reported by Dr. Meda Chesney-Lind, a women’s studies professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Dr. Jeffery Gingerich, a sociology professor, speculates that violent images in the media are just one of the culprits of the rate of arrests among girls rising. Gingerich said, “We would expect that this would also increase rates of violence among males as well and not just women. Men continue to be the most predominant violent images in the media. Yet, we are seeing more and more strong females talking about violence.”

According to Chesney-Lind’s “Girls and violence: Is the gender gap closing?” the FBI has reported that girls’ arrests increased 6.4 percent from 1992 to 2003, while boys decreased 16.4 percent. Even more unexpected, girls’ arrests in result to committing assaults increased by 40.9 percent from 1992 to 2003, while on the other side boys’ arrests due to assault increased by 4.3 percent.

Chesney-Lind explains that one reason why there is an increase in arrests for young girls due to their violent behavior is because of policy changes. In the past, behaviors such as running away from home and fighting with parents were not recorded in the violent offenses category.

In addition, many schools have instilled a zero-tolerance policy, which means that smaller petty crimes that typically were once dealt with by the school have now been turned into a larger deal with punishment resulting in arrest. As a result, more girl offenses are being reported and showing up in public records.

“I think the criminal justice system is more willing to prosecute females than they used to be. So females are not necessarily committing more violent acts, but we are recording them more in the criminal justice system,” Gingerich said.

“The other larger issue that I would add is that it seems to me that there has been a significant cultural shift in what it means to be feminine in our society,” Gingerich said.

“Femininity is no longer defined as being quiet and submissive. Rather, women are encouraged to be assertive and to stand up for themselves.”

Gingerich added that, “This change in society is great progress for society, but it also may at times translate into increased violent behavior among girls because our society has a misguided way of confusing assertiveness with violence.”

Sarah Egan, a sophomore, elementary education major, said, “I think that it is good that girls are standing up for themselves. Why should it be a big deal that girls are getting in fights now when boys always have?”

Instead of making girls who commit minor forms of youthful behavior into criminals, Chesney-Lind suggests that we need to advocate better responses to violence problems, and organize gender specific violence prevention programs. In addition, Chesney-Lind suggests that we need to seek opportunities with the media for example, meetings with journalists and editors to challenge media images of crime that sensationalize girls’ violence rather than putting it into context.

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Nicole Osuch

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