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Violence, criminal deviance among girls increasing

Mon, 14 Mar 2005 - 3:49 PM CST

Baltimore residents reacted in horror last spring after 12-year-old Nicole Townes was stomped and pummeled into a coma at another child’s birthday party.

That all of the girl’s attackers were female made the story even more shocking.

According to police, the beating took place after a boy kissed Nicole, a guest at the birthday party, on the cheek on a dare. The birthday girl’s mother, apparently offended because the boy who kissed Nicole was supposed to be her daughter’s boyfriend, allegedly urged her daughter to “handle your business.” Police filed charges against the 36-year-old mother and five teens in the assault.

Some say the Maryland incident represents a growing trend toward female violence in today’s society. Across the country, school administrators and juvenile authorities report that more girls are settling disputes through physical aggression.

In the Miami area, girls accounted for nearly 25 percent of all juveniles arrested last year and the crimes committed by girls are becoming more violent, according to Dr. Gladys Negron, a director’s assistant at Miami-Dade County Juvenile Assessment Center.

Negron says that when she started working with juveniles in 1991 girls most often faced arrest because of petty theft. Today, she sees an increasing number of teenage girls entering the court systems for such crimes as carjacking, assault and battery, and attempted murder.

“When people think of the typical juvenile offender, girls probably don’t come to mind,” Negron says. “But the crimes girls commit are becoming similar to those of boys.”

Nationwide, the juvenile crime rate overall has declined in recent years while the number of girls involved in criminal activity is on the rise. The trend has many states scrambling for explanations as well as solutions.

The rising number of female offenders in Miami led to the formation five years ago of a unique intervention program designed to mentor and educate girls in juvenile facilities. Eileen Nexer Brown, who co-chairs the project, says girls are becoming more violent partly because society is more violent.

“Girls are getting more hardened and are modeling what they see,” she says. “They want to be powerful like the boys.”

Brown points out that many girls turn to violent behavior as a means of survival in tough inner-city neighborhoods or difficult family situations.

She recalls one teenage girl whose mother and grandmother beat her whenever she backed down from a fight. On one occasion, the girl called her mother on a cell phone to ask what she should do about another teen’s insult. The mother threatened her with a beating if she didn’t fight. After obeying her mother’s instructions, the girl went to jail on an assault charge.

“Behind the arrest forms and the offenses, most of the time these are damaged little girls who look for love in the wrong places and get involved with drugs to dull their pain,” Brown says.

As many as 70 percent of the girls in the nation’s juvenile system have been sexually abused and 80 percent have been physically or verbally abused, Brown says.

“The kind of abuse that some of them have experienced creates rage,” she says.

Brian Bailey, supervisor at a violence intervention program in Bellevue, Washington, believes more girls are acting out in violent ways because media portrayals have made that kind of behavior more socially acceptable.

“Girls have always been angry,” he says. “Now they’re allowing themselves to show their aggression. They see it in movies and music videos and figure it’s OK.”

Statistics at the Bellevue program mirror national trends. More than 13,767 girls received aggression-management counseling at the facility in 2003, more than quadruple the number from a decade earlier, according to Bailey.

“Girls’ aggression used to involve cutting insinuation,” he says. “Now it’s hands-on. I hear girls talking about gang involvement, beating people up, jumping people and killing.”

Mark Barrentine, director of Evangeline Christian Academy, a Teen Challenge intervention program for girls in Lafayette, Louisiana, agrees that the media has contributed to the deviant behavior seen in many teenage girls. Still, Barrentine believes there is hope for today’s girls.

“We’ve had several girls involved in gang activity and serious criminal activity,” he says. “But by introducing them to Jesus and teaching them how to cling to God’s Word, we’ve helped them work through a variety of crises and begin a new life in Christ.”

The program, which accepts troubled girls ages 12 to 18, emphasizes Christian counseling, Bible study, discipleship and church attendance while separating the girls from television programs, magazines and music that promote non-Christian values.

“Our ministry finds success in introducing troubled teen girls to Jesus Christ, then teaching them biblical values while training them to live by those values in their personal lives, their family and peer relationships and within their communities,” Barrentine says.

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