Battle of the sexes: the nature of female delinquency.
|Article Type:||Case study|
Arrest (Demographic aspects)
Crime analysis (Demographic aspects)
Crime analysis (Forecasts and trends)
Juvenile delinquency (Remedies)
Juvenile delinquency (Media coverage)
Juvenile delinquency (Statistics)
|Publication:||Name: The Forensic Examiner Publisher: American College of Forensic Examiners Audience: Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Health; Law; Science and technology Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2009 American College of Forensic Examiners ISSN: 1084-5569|
|Issue:||Date: Summer, 2009 Source Volume: 18 Source Issue: 2|
|Topic:||Event Code: 290 Public affairs; 680 Labor Distribution by Employer; 010 Forecasts, trends, outlooks Computer Subject: Market trend/market analysis|
|Product:||Product Code: 9101430 Arrest Procedures; 9101227 Juvenile Delinquency NAICS Code: 9221 Justice, Public Order, and Safety Activities; 92219 Other Justice, Public Order, and Safety Activities|
|Geographic:||Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States|
Content analysis of newspaper coverage of youth crime from the late
1800s to the early 1980s in England, the United States, and Canada shows
striking similarities across time and location (Olivo, Cotter, &
Bromwich, 2006). Newspapers have consistently exaggerated the frequency
and severity of youth crime, especially that of violent crime. Coverage
tends to be biased towards extreme and atypical examples of crime that,
while perpetrated by a select few, are portrayed as being characteristic
behavior of all youth. Both news and entertainment media generally
overestimate the recidivism rates associated with juvenile crime, while
underestimating the range of possible penalties and the actual
punishments meted out for given crimes.
Over 75% of adults rely on news media reports for their knowledge of crime (Dorfman & Schiraldi, 2001). As a result of the way the public's impression is informed by the media, opinion polls regarding youth crime conducted in various locations across decades obtain strikingly similar results (Olivo, Cotter, & Bromwich, 2006). Consistently, each generation tends to believe that children and adolescents were "better behaved" approximately "20 years ago." In those "good ol' days," parents were thought to have done a better job controlling their children's behavior, law enforcement was more effective, and the courts imposed appropriate punishments on youthful violators. Compared to their beliefs about "back then," when "family values" were manifestly respected, at the time of any given opinion poll respondents believed that youth crime was much worse and that harsher punishments are required to curb the rising problem.
Regardless of how the news and entertainment media present youth crime and violence, the fact is that, overall, youth crime is lower today than it was 20 years ago (Adams & Puzzanchera, 2007; Olivo, Cotter, & Bromwich, 2006). While youth crime is not worse, it is definitely different than it was 20 or even 10 years ago. Perhaps the most notable difference is in the area of female delinquency.
Demonstrating the Difference
Historically, the majority of juvenile arrests have been of males, yet over the past 20 years, the number of female teen arrests has increased dramatically (Zahn et al., 2008; Adams & Puzzanchera, 2007; Snyder, 2002). From the early- to mid-1980s through the mid-1990s, the arrest rates of both genders increased steadily, with the male rate far exceeding that of females. In the mid- to late-1990s, a shift began in that while there was an overall decrease in the arrest rates for both boys and girls, the decrease for females was less than that for males (Snyder, 2008). In 1996, an estimated 2.9 million juveniles were arrested, 25% of which (or 723,000) were female (Snyder, 1997). By 2006, the number of juvenile arrests dropped to approximately 2.2 million, but the rate for female arrests increased to 29% (or 641,000) (Snyder, 2008).
In some specific crime categories, the female arrest rate rose more substantially than did the male rate; in other categories the male rate declined while that of females increased (Snyder, 1997, 2008). Between 1980 and 2006, the male arrest rate for aggravated assault rose by 13% while the female rate rose by 94% (Snyder, 2008). During that same time period, male arrests for simple assault doubled, but nearly quadrupled for females under the age of 18. Between 1996 and 2006, male teen arrests for violent crime declined 22%, while the female rate decreased by only 12%. In 2006, arrest rates of male teens for violent crimes decreased by 22% but only 12% for females. Within violent crimes, arrest rates for aggravated and simple assaults decreased 24% and 4% respectively for males. In contrast, the female arrest rate only decreased by 10% for aggravated assault and actually increased 19% for simple assault. Arrests for weapons crimes increased 5% for females while they decreased 11% for males.
Between 1996 and 2006, arrests for property crimes decreased for both genders, but more so for males. By 2006, females represented 32% of all property, crime arrests. During the same time period, male arrests for drug abuse violations decreased 14%, while the female arrest rate increased by 2%, with females representing 16% of all such arrests in 2006. Female DUIs went up by 39% so that in 2006, 23% of all juvenile DUI arrests were of females. Arrests of females on charges of disorderly conduct increased by 33% during the same time period. In other crime categories, by 2006, females accounted for 41% of arrests for larceny, 33% of arrests for forgery and counterfeiting, 34% of arrests for fraud, and 45% of juvenile embezzlement arrests. Most notably, females represented 57% of all runaway arrests.
The increase in arrest rates for females has been attributed to a change in female teen behavior and/or a change in how law enforcement responds to female teen suspects (Hawkins et al., 2009; Zahn et al., 2008). The results of several studies (conducted in conjunction with the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention) aimed at better understanding the nature of female delinquency determined that the increase in female arrests is primarily due to a change in arrest patterns and procedures (Hawkins et al., 2009; Zahn et al., 2008). These include lowered thresholds for reporting and classifying crimes, mandatory and pro-arrest policies, and the "zero-tolerance" practices implemented within school districts. While it would seem these changes should affect the arrest rates of males and females equally, the changes in statutes related to crimes against family and children affect females more, as a larger proportion of female offending is related to domestic issues.
The Nature of Female Teen Crime
While the largest percentage of female teen arrests is for property crimes, an increasing proportion of females are being arrested for crimes of violence. By 2006, 31% of juvenile assaults were committed by females; of all adult assaults, only 25% were perpetrated by females (Snyder & McCurley, 2008). Within the category of assaults, females committed 31% of all juvenile assaults on acquaintances and 21% of those on strangers. In domestic assaults, females committed 37% of those offenses against family and children, including 41% of parental assaults and 35% of assaults upon a child (Snyder, 2008).
A second study looked at approximately 1,200 New York high school students who were in dating relationships at the time. Of those students whose relationship was characterized by violence, 66% of the boys and 65% of the girls reported the violence was mutual. Twenty-eight percent (28%) of the girls admitted to being the sole perpetrator and 5% the sole victim. In contrast, only 5% of the boys admitted to being the sole offender and 27% the sole victim. In a third study, in which teen couples were videotaped while they performed problem-solving tasks, 30% of all the couples demonstrated physical aggression by both parties. In 17% of the couples, only the females perpetrated violence as compared to the 4% in which only the boys did. The researchers in this study concluded the low percentage of male sole perpetrators was due to boys being less likely to demonstrate violence when being "watched" or observed.
While the majority of violence in teen relationships is mutual, the underlying motives appear to vary somewhat by gender. Based on self-report, both boys and girls cite anger as their primary motivation for initiating violence. Beyond that initial emotional provocation, girls frequently reported "self-defense" as a motivating factor whereas boys reported the "need to exert control." Of note, unlike adults, teens reported a relatively equal balance of power in their romantic relationships. When a power imbalance was reported, both boys and girls felt the girl had more power. Boys in violent relationships perceived themselves as having less power than did their counterparts in nonviolent relationships. Females did not perceive a power differential regardless of whether the relationship was violent. Unlike adolescent females, adolescent males are apt to react to their partner's violence with laughter. Girls are more apt to show long-term negative consequences from teen dating violence victimization, including depression, suicidality, marijuana use and abuse, and addiction to cigarettes.
Aside from those assaults occurring within the context of a dating or romantic relationship, the victims of female offenders are more likely to be female than are those of male offenders (Snyder & McCurley, 2008). In 2006, 63% of assaults by males were against male victims while 78% of female assaults were against females. In domestic assaults, both genders were likely to victimize females; that is, 66% of male offenders had female victims as did 70% of female offenders. The typical victim of juvenile domestic assaults was the juvenile's mother. In 2006, 68% of males and 81% of females assaulted their mother.
Just as the arrest rate for female juveniles has increased, so too has the female delinquency caseload (Puzzanchera & Sickmund, 2008). Between 1985 and 2005, the number of female delinquency cases increased from 223,800 to 464,700, or by 108%, while the male caseload only increased by 32% (from 937,700 to 1,233,200). Although the number of male delinquency cases far exceeds that of females, the percentage of females in the juvenile justice system grew significantly faster. The female caseload was 25% that of the male caseload in 1985 but had grown to 40% that of males by 2005. In every crime category, the female caseload outgrew that of males every year from 1985 to 2005, with the most significant areas of growth being in person (e.g., assault, robbery, homicide), public order, and drug offenses.
Case rates for property and drug offenses tend to increase by the female's age through age 17, while the rate for female person and public order offenses increases steadily through age 16 followed by a slight decline. Between 2001 and 2005, person offense cases for females ages 10-12 dropped by 8%, increased by 8% for females ages 13-15, and increased 15% and 16% for females aged 16 and 17, respectively. Between 1991 and 2005, the rate for drug offense cases increased continuously for females of all age groups, including a rise of 255% for ages 10-12, 306% for those 13-15, 304% for those aged 16, and 281% for females aged 17. As compared to delinquency offenses, between 1995 and 2005, female petitioned status offenses (i.e., formally handled cases for truancy, running away, ungovernability, curfew violations, or liquor law violations) increased 33% (while the male caseload rose 25%). During the same time period, female truancy cases outnumbered all other types of female status offenses.
Delinquency: Causes and Cures
Not only is there a difference in the manifestation of delinquency between males and females, but also in its etiology and prevention. In an effort to identify those internal and external factors that protect youth against making poor personal and interpersonal choices, a survey was conducted in 2003 of approximately 150,000 sixth through twelfth graders from 202 cities in 27 of the United States (Benson et al., 2006a). The study revealed 40 characteristics or "developmental assets" that differentiate youth who make good life choices from those whose choices are more destructive to themselves and/or others.
The assets were divided into two main categories. Internal assets include "commitment to learning" (achievement motivation, school engagement, homework, bonding to school, and reading for pleasure), "positive values" (caring, equality and social justice, integrity, honesty, responsibility, and restraint), "social competencies" (planning and decision making, interpersonal competence, cultural competence, resistance skills, and peaceful conflict resolution) and "positive identity" (personal power, self-esteem, sense of purpose, and positive view of personal future). External assets include "support" (family support, positive Family communication, other adult relationships, caring neighborhood, caring school climate, and parent involvement in schooling), "empowerment" (feeling valued by their community, having a useful role in the community, service to others, and safety), "boundaries and expectations" (family, school, and neighborhood boundaries; adult role models; positive peer influence; and high expectations), and "constructive use of time" (3 or more hours spent in creative activities, 3 or more hours per week spent in youth programs, one or more hour per week spent in activities in a religious institution, and time at home or two or fewer nights per week "just hanging out" with friends).
The degree to which assets were present or absent in a child's life was found to be associated with negative or problem behavior as well as with positive or pro-social attitudes and behavior (see Tables 1 and 2). The more assets a juvenile possessed, the less likely they were to involve themselves with tobacco, drug or alcohol use, drinking and driving, or sexual activity. They were less apt to have problems at school, engage in antisocial behavior, or to behave violently. Emotionally, high-asset youth appeared to be "protected" from depression. Based on the results of their study, the researchers determined that youth possessing 31 or more assets experienced the most positive effects and greatest psychosocial developmental benefit. Of note, only 8% of the juveniles from the study group had 31 or more assets, while 59% possessed 20 or fewer.
In an effort to identify those factors that contribute specifically to female delinquency, an exhaustive review of the literature was conducted by the Office of Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Prevention as part of its "Girls Study Group" (Hawkins et al., 2009; Zahn et al., 2008). Several factors found are highly predictive (or, in their absence, preventative) of female delinquency. One of the identified factors that increase the risk of delinquency in females (more so than in males) is early puberty, especially for females raised in a dysfunctional family and an impoverished neighborhood. While child abuse of all types is a risk factor for delinquency in both sexes, sexual abuse has a greater impact on future delinquency in females. Depression and anxiety are risk factors for both boys and girls, but as more females are diagnosed with the disorders, they appear as a more significant factor for females. Boys and girls are equally affected by romantic relationships as relates to more serious crimes; however, girls are more influenced by their boyfriends than are boys by girlfriends as relates to less serious offenses.
In addition to risk factors for delinquency, the "Girls Study Group" found several protective factors. Girls who have an actively caring adult in their life are less likely to join a gang or to commit a number of crimes, such as selling drugs, status or property offenses, or simple or aggravated assault. This protection appears to extend beyond adolescence, as they are less likely to commit simple assaults as young adults. Success in school (specifically as measured by grade point average) is a protective factor for boys and girls, but moreso for females. While there is not clear consensus, it appears that feeling connected to school (that is, having a positive perception of the academic environment and having positive interactions with staff and students) may be a protective factor for girls, especially for those whose home life is dysfunctional. Finally, adolescent females who value religion are less likely to sell drugs and appear to be protected against the commission of minor offenses.
Empirical evidence demonstrates that the fewer risk factors and the more "developmental assets" a juvenile experiences in multiple contexts (home, school, neighborhood, workplace, extracurricular programs, religious institution, with peers), the fewer high-risk and the more health-promoting behaviors the youth will manifest (Benson et al., 2006h). These indicators of "developmental success" include such things as maintaining good health, succeeding in school, exhibiting leadership, valuing diversity, delaying gratification, resisting danger, overcoming adversity, and a tendency to help others. The introduction or development of a single asset (or resolving or ameliorating a single risk factor) in a juvenile's life can have a profound and long-lasting positive effect.
While protective factors and assets curb the development of delinquency in female and male juveniles, they do not completely obliterate the influence of risk factors. Youth who are seemingly on a positive development pathway may evidence a foray into delinquency. In the "Girl's Study Group" sample, 90% of the female participants had committed some type of delinquent act. While most of these were status offenses, 22% committed more serious property offenses and 17% committed simple or aggravated assault. Of note, the delinquent behavior of those females who committed serious offenses was comparatively shortlived. Most returned to committing less egregious delinquent offenses or the even less serious status offenses.
Dealing with Female Delinquents
Between 1990 and 1999, there was a 27% increase in the number of youth processed through the juvenile court system (growing from 1.3 to 1.7 million juveniles), resulting in an 11% increase in juveniles remanded to detention (for a total of 33,400 by 1999) (Harms, 2003). While the overall growth was comparatively small, there was a significant change in the juvenile population being processed. By the end of the 1990s, there had been a 50% increase in the number of females in public juvenile detention facilities but only a 4% increase for males. The number of juveniles charged and detained on drug and person offenses rose dramatically, including a 102% increase in females charged with crimes against people. More recently, between 1991 and 2003, there was a 52% increase in the number of female offenders in custody (Snyder & Sickmund, 2006). This reflects a 96% increase in females held on delinquency charges and a 38% decrease in those held for status offenses.
Males and females enter the juvenile justice system and detention facilities with differing behavioral and emotional needs (Baerger et al., 2001; Lipsey, 1992). Males are more apt to present with (and have service needs related to) extensive histories of delinquency, more severe conduct and behavioral disorders, and with a higher prevalence of learning disabilities than do females. On the other hand, female detainees typically present with more severe histories of abuse (especially sexual), greater disruption in psychosexual development, and more significant symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder than do males.
Female detainees typically have highly dysfunctional and destructive families and cite their relationship with their parents as the impetus for their delinquent behavior (Pasko, 2006; Acoca & Dedel, 1998). In addition to being exposed to domestic violence, approximately one-third of female detainees were victims of parental/guardian neglect (which may have been severe enough to result in their entering the juvenile justice system as a dependent ward of the court). The caretakers of female detainees are less likely to have a clear understanding of the juvenile's needs than are the caretakers of male detainees.
Not only do female detainees have histories of significant and long-term childhood sexual abuse, they are apt to have been sexually assaulted in early- to mid-adolescence. Approximately 66% of detained females were sexually active prior to admission (Lederman et al., 2004). Of those, approximately 33% had a "consensual" sexual relationship with a man who was 5 years older than she. Prior to entering the system, female delinquents are likely to have experienced the loss of a significant loved one to either death or incarceration. As a result of their family environment and history of abuse, female delinquents have more extensive histories of running away, and they enter detention with high levels of depression (and other affective disorders).
As a result of the increased rate of females entering juvenile detention facilities and in recognition of their differing needs, in 1992, the U.S. Congress amended the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 (Public Law 93-615, 42 U.S.C. 5601 et seq.). The law was amended to require that states generate and provide delinquency prevention and treatment services that meet the specific needs of females. Despite this, gender-based programming is notably lacking (Chesney-Lind, Morash, & Stevens, 2008; Pasko, 2006). A comprehensive analysis of intervention and treatment programs for juvenile delinquents revealed that 91% "exclusively or primarily" served boys, while 5.9% "primarily" served girls and only 2.3% served girls "exclusively" (Baerger et al., 2001; Lipsey, 1992).
A review of the available (albeit, limited and localized) research reveals specific core elements of successful treatment programs for female delinquents (Chesney-Lind, Morash, & Stevens, 2008). Certainly the specific causes of the female's delinquency need to be addressed, but other more general issues are essential to maximize the juvenile's positive development through adolescence and into adulthood. These include resolving issues related to the female's ability to face and address racism, sexism, and/or harassment. Certainly issues related to abuse should be a focus of treatment, along with education regarding healthy sexuality and intimacy. Similarly, delinquent girls need guidance in developing supportive relationships with pro-social friends and benefit significantly from a long-term relationship with an adult mentor.
Given the dysfunction in their families, delinquent females may benefit from family counseling, although parent involvement has not been proven essential in the treatment of female delinquents. Given the vulnerabilities with which they enter detention, females benefit from programming that teaches and empowers them in decision-making, assertiveness, and leadership. Ideally, female programming would include wrap-around services and provide practical services such as general health education, job training, and finding safe and secure housing. Although gender-based delinquency prevention and treatment programs are emerging, a great void remains.
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Baerger, D.R., Lyons J.S., Quigley, P, & Griffin, E. (2001). Mental health service needs of male and female juvenile detainees. Journal of the Center for Families, Children & the Courts, 3, 21-29.
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Bruce Gross, PhD, JD, MBA, is a Fellow of the American College of Forensic Examiners and is an Executive Advisory Board member of the American Board of Forensic Examiners. Dr. Gross is also a Diplomate of the American Board of Forensic Examiners and the American Board of Psychological Specialties. He has been an ACFEI member since 1996 and is also a Fellow of the American Psychotherapy Association.
Table 1: Correlation between "developmental assets" and problem behaviors in youth. 0-10 Assets 11-20 Assets Problem Alcohol Use 45% 26% Violence 62% 38% Illicit Drug Use 38% 18% Sexual Activity 34% 23% 21-30 Assets 31-40 Assets Problem Alcohol Use 11% 3% Violence 18% 6% Illicit Drug Use 6% 1% Sexual Activity 11% 3% Table 2: Correlation between "developmental assets" and positive attitudes and behaviors. 0-10 Assets 11-20 Assets Exhibits Leadership 48% 66% Maintains Good Health 29% 48% Values Diversity 39% 60% Succeeds in School 9% 19% 21-30 Assets 31-40 Assets Exhibits Leadership 78% 87% Maintains Good Health 69% 88% Values Diversity 76% 89% Succeeds in School 34% 54%
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