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GIRLS & VIOLENCE: FEUDS. GANGS. BULLYING. PREVENTION ONCE THE DOMAIN OF ANGRY YOUNG MALES, A TREND OF INCIDENTS INVOLVING FEMALES IS RAISING FLAGS AS SCHOOLS, POLICE AND PARENTS SEARCH FOR ANSWERS

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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

resource officer.

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

alleviate conflicts.

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

2004.

``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

that now apply laws more evenly to females,'' Edmonds said. He attributes the

increase, in part, to girls getting caught up in a persistent and burgeoning

gang problem.

In Petaluma, the beating of two store employees and a customer made

headlines last year when they were attacked, apparently for wearing red, by

two 17-year-olds: a boy and a girl.

In the city, the number of girls arrested by police for misdemeanor assault

and battery has risen slightly since 2003, up a few arrests each year to 24

last year, according to police data. By contrast, arrests of boys declined

last year.

The sheriff's department reported the number of arrests of girls has risen,

along with a growth in overall arrests, to 51 girls this spring, nearly twice

the level of the two prior springs.

Boys still take up more space than girls in the county's juvenile-justice

system, and nationwide made up two-thirds of the 2.1 million juvenile arrests

reported in 2005.

But their arrests for misdemeanor and felony assaults are dropping

nationwide as girls' are rising.

And Meredith Helton, division director of county juvenile probation

services, sees another growing trend: More girls seriously involved in gangs.

``That itself introduces more issues,'' Helton added. ``Girl members of

gangs are often gang-raped in.''

Drawn-out fights

Conflicts between boys often erupt quickly into fist fights, then are

resolved, Allred said.

Girls, on the other hand, drag out tensions for days, weeks, or months, he

said, and more often involve their friends, harassment and bullying.

He's assigned as an officer to Elsie Allen High and Lawrence Cook Middle

schools and has served in all Santa Rosa schools in the past five years.

One feud he recalled between two girls at Piner High lasted three years --

escalating from dirty looks to name-calling, harassing text messages and phone

calls, and nasty messages on MySpace.

They were arrested on campus last fall after a fist fight that was the

feud's culmination.

Then there are high-profile cases like a 12-year-old girl who was attacked

by four girls in a restroom at Slater Middle School in Santa Rosa. That fight,

in 2006, apparently grew out of a dispute between two girls over a boy at a

dance.

In Santa Rosa, girls' arrests for misdemeanor assault and battery arrests

spiked to 60 arrests in 2005, nearly double that reported five years prior.

They have since declined, back down to 37 last year.

But while hopeful, such police numbers don't reflect the climate at

schools. While most fights result in suspension, not all end with arrests,

particularly those deemed ``mutual'' by school officials, Allred said.

Although it was a fatal stabbing, which is fairly unusual among girls,

Allred said he wasn't surprised that a feud between the Clearlake schoolmates

ended in death.

``Violence has been down on campuses the last few years,'' he said. ``But

the ones we're seeing are more girls than guys.''

Feud turns deadly

On Friday, Gabrielle Varney is scheduled to appear before a Lake County

Superior Court judge to receive a preliminary hearing date in the death of

Heather Valdez.

Varney, 18, could face up to 26 years or even life in prison if convicted

of the charges of murder and using a knife to commit murder in the fatal

altercation with Valdez, 17, on June 5.

Each violent felony case is different and ``it's hard to generalize,'' said

Lake County senior deputy D.A. John DeChaine, assigned the Clearlake case.

But ``it's not at all uncommon for females to be the aggressor'' in violent

crimes, he said.

``You see that commonly in domestic violence situations as well as cases

where jealousy or envy takes over,'' he said.

DeChaine said he could not comment before a hearing on the case of Varney,

who told police she acted in self-defense in the stabbing death of Valdez.

They both attended Carle Continuation High School in Lower Lake, where

friends said they had feuded for months. And, on a school bus on the way home

to Clearlake last month, Valdez was stabbed. She suffered a fatal neck wound

and died at the scene near her home.

At a hearing June 20, Varney pleaded not guilty and waived her right to a

speedy preliminary hearing.

Memorials were assembled at the school and in the neighborhood after

Valdez' death, with flowers, candles and photographs of the teen.

``It's sad, but it's not a total surprise,'' said Hermann, the Clearlake

officer. ``There's only so much people can take and just because they're girls

doesn't mean they're not capable.''

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