Offending in every way: Toward an understanding of physically violent girls
Historically, aggression among girls has not been regarded as a problem worth studying due to the cultural assumption that aggression is a male phenomenon. Recently, however, the juvenile justice system has documented increasing rates of violent offending among adolescent girls. Girls now account for one out of four arrests, with non-traditional and/or violent offenses among those showing the greatest increase. Unfortunately, little is known about physically violent girls. The current study sought to advance our understanding of the nature of girls’ aggressive behavior by differentiating girls in the juvenile justice system adjudicated on violent versus nonviolent offenses while attending to racial and ethnic differences. Participants included 242 girls who had been committed to or detained within a Massachusetts Department of Youth Services (DYS) residential facility and referred for a psychological evaluation between the dates of 1996 and 2003. Results indicated that among the entire sample, girls who identified as Black and had a lack of positive parental support were significantly more likely to be classified as “violent” based on their criminal offense histories. Results also revealed significant racial differences in the pathway to violence among White and Black participants. Findings from the current study highlight the importance of treating girls in the juvenile justice system as a heterogeneous group and attending to issues of diversity in future research and interventions.