Increasing violence among girls catches educators unprepared

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Twelve-year-old Nicole Townes of Baltimore is out of a coma but still struggling to recover after being pummeled and stomped at a birthday party in a beating that was shocking not just because of its savagery, but because it was meted out by other girls.

Authorities say it is symptomatic of a disturbing trend around the country: Girls are turning to violence more often and with terrifying intensity.

"We're seeing girls doing things now that we used to put off on boys," former Baltimore school police chief Jansen Robinson said. "It's a nationwide phenomenon and it's catching us all off guard."

Local school officials say that they have seen no more violence among girls than usual.

Brenda McCowan, a counselor with the Cape Girardeau School District, said that "girls' fights are vicious," but she hasn't seen any more of them lately than she has in her more than 20 years of teaching and administration.

Principals in the Jackson School District said they also have seen no difference in the amount of violence among female students.

Juvenile officer Randall Rhodes said it used to be that girls were involved in perhaps 25 percent of juvenile cases; now it's more like 50 percent, and most of it comes from the junior high level.

Nationally, violence among teenage boys -- as measured by arrest statistics and surveys -- outstrips violence among teenage girls 4 to 1, according to the Justice Department. But a generation ago, it was 10 to 1.

Experts say the trend simply reflects society -- girls are more violent because society in general is more violent and less civil. Some say that the same breakdowns in family, church, community and school that have long been blamed for violence among boys are finally catching up to girls.

Rhodes disagrees with that. He thinks girls aren't as timid as they were in years past.

"Pretty much girls are ready to jump up and smack somebody," he said. "It's frightening to watch girls; we get probably more tears and crying from boys. With females, there's not too much remorse."

Staff writer Linda Redeffer contributed to this report.

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