GIRLS & VIOLENCE: FEUDS. GANGS. BULLYING. PREVENTIONONCE THE DOMAIN OF ANGRY YOUNG MALES, A TREND OF INCIDENTS INVOLVING FEMALES IS RAISING FLAGS AS SCHOOLS, POLICE AND PARENTS SEARCH FOR ANSWERS
A long-simmering feud turned deadly last month when one female high school
student stabbed another during a fight near their Clearlake homes.
The fatal outcome shocked the community. But police weren't surprised.
Girls are getting arrested in greater numbers for violent incidents. And
fights between girls are getting more vicious, heightening concern among
school, law enforcement and juvenile justice officials across the country and
the North Coast.
A day before the Clearlake stabbing, a teen girl in Hobart, Ind., was left
partially paralyzed after being beaten by another girl. Five days later in
Memphis, Tenn., a 13-year-old girl stabbed an 18-year-old female to death
during a fight.
''Girls are a lot more violent than most people give them credit for,''
said Clearlake Police Lt. Mike Hermann.
So many girls are being sent to Sonoma County's juvenile hall that the
probation system two years ago made its co-ed Sierra Youth Center girls-only.
The sheriff's department has seen an increase in the number of girls
arrested, mirroring a nationwide trend. Petaluma police are arresting more
girls for misdemeanor assault and battery, as were the Santa Rosa police until
a recent drop.
A worrisome trend for law enforcement and juvenile probation is greater
involvement by girls in gangs and a worsening climate at local schools, where
not all fights end in arrests.
Brawls between girls ''have gotten a lot worse and are much more of a
problem'' than fights between boys, said Waid Allred, a Santa Rosa school
Gossip, gang conflict, rumors and boyfriend drama between girls ''sizzle''
constantly in school, many times exploding into physical fights, said a
15-year-old Santa Rosa girl whose name was withheld because she's in the
court-ordered Sierra program.
In the past year she's been in three fights with girls.
It always seems like a ''lose, lose,'' the girl said, whether you ''take
it'' without a response or get physical.
Real-life 'Mean Girls'
The Clearlake case may be ''in some ways the canary in the coal mine; a
preview of coming attractions we might not have seen before,'' said Rick
Phillips, a former Mendocino County teacher and principal.
He helped develop the Safe School Ambassadors program, which has trained
students from 650 schools, more than 35 in Sonoma County, to help their peers
The experiences his trainers shared at a retreat this spring were the same:
Girls are more aggressive. ''It's as if we're seeing more girls emulating
boys,'' Phillips said. ''It's less catty behavior and more overt: 'Watch what
you're doing or else.'''
''Mean Girls'' was not just a movie, Phillips said. ''They're meaner
younger, and hurting each other emotionally, physically and cyber-bullying.''
Girl-on-girl altercations now even fuel entertainment on reality TV with
''The Bad Girls Club'' on the Oxygen Network and MTV's ''Charm School.''
On YouTube, 93,400 related clips turn up in a search for the term ''girl
fight,'' a few even captured by witnesses in school classrooms or hallways.
''We've been seeing girls getting more empowered, taking violence to a
higher level,'' said Deborah Holden, the director of the Girl Scouts of
Northern California-North Coast.
She holds weekly Girl Scouts meetings with girls from Sierra, a residential
camp near Juvenile Hall in Santa Rosa.
The camp was converted from co-ed to girls-only two years ago after an 83
percent increase in girls in the county probation system between 2000 and
''It's like a by-product of feminism; we wanted to have all the privileges
but we also picked up the negatives,'' Holden said.
More arrests, but why?
While girl-on-girl fights are real, and a concern for many, a debate
remains over the extent and severity of the problem.
A May study on girls' violence published by the juvenile branch of the U.S.
Department of Justice examined FBI arrest data, self-reported data, the
national crime victimization survey and research studies.
The study reported girls fight to ''gain status, to defend their sexual
reputation, and in self-defense against sexual harassment.'' It noted that
girls' gang involvement is only slightly below that of boys and is a prevalent
factor in violent incidents.
But, the study's authors argued, girl violence is not an out-of-control
crisis and further study is needed on police and court practices, as well as
on domestic violence and schools' zero-tolerance policies across the nation.
Sonoma County Sheriff's Capt. Dave Edmonds said he doesn't agree with the
study's assertion that girls are being arrested more frequently and are not
actually more violent.
''I'm not aware of any philosophical shift on the part of law enforcement