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Violent Crime Committed by Girls Is on the Increase

WebMD Health News

Aug. 6, 2001 (Washington) -- Although boys are often thought of as the culprits behind school violence, an increasing number of juvenile girls are acting out and getting arrested for violent crimes.

Overall, violence in schools has decreased in recent years. But at the same time, the level of violence has been increasing in girls. And according to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, girls now account for 25% of juveniles arrested for violent crimes, Deborah Prothrow-Stith, MD, of Harvard University, said at a U.S. Department of Education conference on Monday.

This number is even more alarming considering that two decades ago girls accounted for almost none of the violent crimes committed by juveniles.

Dan Iser, Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities advisor with the Pennsylvania Department of Education, says that although his state does not keep individual statistics on girls and boys, there is anecdotal evidence to suggest an increase in violence committed by girls. In one disturbing case, a dispute between two girls ended with one girl hanging the other while other students of both sexes looked on, Iser tells WebMD.

Prothrow-Stith attributes the increase in girls to the same factors that induce violence in boys. These include living in homes in which guns are accessible, witnessing or being a victim of domestic violence, poverty, bullying, and the abuse of alcohol and other drugs.

An increase in movies depicting women superheroes solving problems with violence, such as Tomb Raider, led Prothrow-Stith to speculate whether "we've now socialized girls to solve problems violently as we have done with boys.

"It's not that girls are hurt more than they have been in the past, its that they've added [violence] to their responses," she said, pointing out that women's responses to trauma or violence used to be limited to running away, using drugs, or becoming prostitutes.

The solution to this problem is not more punishment but forgiveness, Prothrow-Stith said. Society has adopted a culture of "meanness" where "power equals violence," and that has even crept into the teaching profession, she said. "Sometimes we're mean when we need to be nice. Sometimes we punish when we need to forgive."

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