This year’s surge in Chicago homicides to levels unseen in two decades shines a light on the risks so many boys and young men face each day in the city’s toughest neighborhoods. Far less often told or understood are the stories of girls and young women who witness the violence up close or end up in the middle of the conflict themselves, the Chicago Tribune reports. They must walk to school through gang battles. They have lost boyfriends and brothers to gunfire. They’ve seen countless shootings. Their roles are not always as passive bystanders. They carry guns for gangs and sometimes assume leadership roles. They slug their way through fistfights, fearing that backing down will be a sign of weakness. They are “tatted” up to show allegiance.
With the proportion of girls in the juvenile justice system increasing, advocates and law enforcement have reconsidered how to intervene early with girls and get them the help so many desperately need. Experts welcome the overdue attention but also wonder if it is enough. So, too, do some of the girls growing up amid all the daily drama and stress. “You see a lot of stuff in my neighborhood. People argue every single day. I have been through it all,” said a teenage girl who recently was enrolled in a mentoring program for young women. “I think girls need attention. They need to feel they are important, that they are worth something.” Girls and young women are far more often the victims of violence than the perpetrators. Through the first eight months of 2016, 850 girls aged 17 and under were victims of an array of violent crimes, including homicides, aggravated batteries and robberies. Dozens of girls in the same age category — 117 in all — were arrested for their roles in violent crimes.