Ashley, 16, was recently detained in a Dallas center for juveniles for violating her probation for an earlier crime by unlawfully carrying a gun. “The most violent thing I’ve ever done was robbed somebody. I was 14,” she said, Women’s eNews reports. “After we took his money, I hit him upside the head with a bottle. We robbed him because we were high.”
The arrest rate for girls in the U.S. rose 103 percent between 1981 and 1997, say the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports. During that same period, the arrest rate for boys rose only 27 percent. Women’s eNews says the FBI’s compilation for 2002 shows a surge of arrests of girls for violent offenses. Between 1993 and 2002, girls under 18 arrested for aggravated assault rose by 7 percent; such arrests among boys fell 29 percent. There was a 46 percent rise in women who were a party to forcible rape. Among males, the figure fell by 28 percent.
Are girls really becoming more violent? Researchers aren’t sure. “The juvenile justice system used to be about 95 percent male and 5 percent female,” says Elizabeth Cauffman of Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic at the University of Pittsburgh. “For whatever reason, we’re seeing a shift. Now, it’s 80 percent male, 20 percent female and it’s still climbing. It could very well be that girls are becoming more violent. We don’t know.”
Cauffman attributes some of the shift to schools’ adoption of stricter disciplinary codes and the loss of mental health programs serving troubled girls.
“The girls are becoming more violent and sophisticated,” says Florence Barnes, who has 22 years experience in the Dallas juvenile justice system. “We’ve had girls for murder over the years, but we’re seeing more and more girls for fondling and molesting little boys.”
Research has shown that young female offenders are more likely to be victims of a traumatic experience, to have suicidal tendencies, and to be more apt to “act out” their anger rather than internalize it, as is more typical among female teens.
The National Criminal Justice Reference Service says that several states have tried or are trying to implement treatment programs for female juvenile offenders. Yet no national standards are in place. Young females’ access to such programs depends on the budget and policy priorities of individual cities and states.