Last weekend I attended the Association of Women Martial Arts Instructors‘ annual conference. Great presentations on a variety of topics, including one relevant to this blog. Silke Schultz presented Understanding the Roots of Aggression, about social conditions that lead some people to violence and possible ways to mitigate the effects of these negative conditions.
In passing, Schultz noted that in recent years the rate of girls arrested for violent behavior has increased. This is probably not a surprise to you — I’ve been hearing about it for over a decade now. Actually, what I’ve been hearing from the media (and repeated by my students) is that girls are becoming increasingly and brutally violent, at astoundingly rapid rates. About 5-10 years ago this issue was a media darling, with esteemed venues such as Newsweek declaring it a “burgeoning national crisis” (of course until the next burgeoning, or imminent, or catastrophic, crisis steals the headlines).
I am a big fan of gender equality, but media claims that girls are becoming just as violent as boys is not exactly the expression of equality I’d like to be seeing (if we’d like to exploit a different stereotype, I’d rather see that boys are becoming just as relationship-oriented as girls).
Because we live in the Information Age, with just a few clicks of the trackpad I found a paper from the US Department of Justice (DoJ) called Understanding and Responding to Girls’ Delinquency. This article was useful in elucidating issues around girls and violence.
First, as I’ve been saying in my self defense classes for a LONG time, the rate of violence in the United States is DECREASING. Looking at the DoJ article’s conclusions, the authors found that:
Available evidence based on arrest, victimization, and self-report data suggests that although girls are currently arrested more for simple assaults than previously, the actual incidence of their being seriously violent has not changed much over the last two decades. This suggests that increases in arrests may be attributable more to changes in enforcement policies than to changes in girls’ behavior. Juvenile female involvement in violence has not increased relative to juvenile male violence.
This article also mentioned that assault rates are overall decreasing, and the rate of decrease was more rapid for boys than for girls in some categories.
But what makes a “better” news story — that girls are increasingly arrested for violence, or that girls are becoming more violent? Apparently, the latter.