In the past half century academic literature and research regarding female youth crime has vastly popularised. Previous to this, society and theorist treated young women and women as homogenous and treated “youth crime” as a way to describe male youth offending. However over the past half a century, theorist such as Frances Hiedensohn (1968) drew attention to a largely ignored field of human behaviour namely deviance and criminal women. In this essay question several key issues are going to be addressed. Firstly this essay will explore a historical context of female youth offenders (FYO’s), this will prove significant, if we seek to answer the essay question we have to make the distinction between the numbers of female youth that previously were involved in violent and gang-related activities, and compare them to recent female youth involvement within the same field. Secondly this essay will explore the media aspect on the subject to deeply seek/find out if young women are becoming more involved within violent activities or media representations are the results of the recent claims, furthermore moral panic will be examined in this section and offer an insight into how that impacts young female offenders and the public perception that accompanies them. Thirdly the double standard of morality theory will be discussed and work drawn on from the Youth Justice board (YJB) and the issue surrounding the double standard of morality will be essential in answering the essay title. Finally in the conclusion the essay will ultimately address/answer the essay title and give a clear unanimous understanding of the involvement of young women in violence and gang-related activities. Along with the above a wide range of academic sources such as official research statistics, articles, web pages, journals and academic literature will be used to portray a clear understanding and support a clear organised framework.
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Throughout recent history work undertaken on violent and gang-related FYO’s has been few and far between. However upon entering the 21st century a new emergence of young female gangs and a new phenomena regarding young female violence has been socially displayed as a major social problem in which a new generation of teen mothers, binge drinking girls and unemployed young women are to blame. Historically criminological theory has been dominated by males. Female deviance was seen as primarily one of sexual immorality and as such, a blight on the moral fabric of society rather than direct malice against one individual. In the criminological field, females have been relatively ignored up until recent times. In recent times a fair assumption to make regarding violent and gang-related FYO’s, would be to assume a massive increase in the subject however looking back as far as the early 20th century, women were involved in violent and gang-related incidents.
During the early 1900’s, male theorists emerged trying to explain why young women committed crimes. These women were said to be “tomboys who were trying to assume a male role” (Trasher, 1927:41), suffered from penis envy (Freud, 1924:12), and even that they were deceitful to overcome such things as their lack of a penis, menstruating, and their wanting to be stronger (Pollak, 1950:27). Leading on from this, starting in the 1960’s rates in female violence and crime increased. Women were found to participate in more violent acts almost becoming more like men (Simon, 1975). The House of Commons 1999 research paper revealed “By 1971 women numbered only 3% of the total prison population. The proportion of women prisoners has risen slightly since the 1970s; in 1998 5% of all prisoners were female” (House of Commons 1999:15). As these findings show, numbers of female offenders has steadily risen within the past 30 years. It is important to note, during this 1980s crime rates peaked and almost doubled the rates previously recorded. Another significant thing to take into account is the age in which young female offenders were committing violent crimes. The Home office (2004) reported the peak offending age for girls was 15 compared to boys at 18. On average young women were committing violent crimes at a younger age than their male counterparts. Following on from the increased crime rates of the 80s, Schramm (1998) in September 1998 found percentage rates of 88% amongst female’s crime which involved assault. Additionally rises have been detected in the admission of females appearing before the youth court. In 1999 women made up 21% of all cases that appeared before a justice court, in comparison to a 4% increase detected in the year 2000. However the youth offending act (1984) is arguably an excuse to why increased crime levels have been detected. The implementation of stricter charging saw an increase in police charges, but this does not necessarily mean actual crime increased. In contrast to the use of informal techniques used by the police the youth offending act practically called for higher levels of police charging. Additionally whilst Rutter et al (1998) suggests the number of arrests of girls for violent offences more than doubled and has increased by 250% in the last quarter of the century, we have to keep in to perspective the small amount of FYO’s and when statistically handling small numerical numbers the slightest numerical increase results in a large percentage increase.
From the statistics above it is easily identifiable, that female involvements with violent offences are becoming more prominent. It is significant this essay examined a historical context, as this gives a fundamental inkling into the basic numbers of female’s involvement with violent crimes. Leading on from this historical framework, the media will be the next aspect this essay will discuss. This is equally significant as analysing the role of the media and the moral panic that accompanies it, helps us conjure up further ideas to whether females are becoming more involved with violent and gang-related crime.
The media holds a substantial role in influencing the public’s opinions, thoughts and actions. ‘Girl violence’ has become a very newsworthy and common topic in recent British newspapers. This is purely because of the offender’s gender along with the way ‘violent girls’ seem to challenge the common perceptions of ‘nicely behaved’ girls and how they are supposed to act. This also links in with the double standard of mortality which will be discussed later. Newspapers usually use horrifying titles such as “Ladette Britain: Violence among women soars as record 250 are arrested every day” (Daily Mail 29/1/10) or “Violence is just a fact of life say teenage girls”, (Daily Telegraph, 7/10/00) to portray research findings. However in some cases, inaccurate and biased data is manipulated into sensational newspaper headlines. Titles such as “one girl she was too scared to leave the house for fear of being attacked”, was manipulated from the quote “one girl told she was afraid to leave the house for fear of being sexually attacked” (Batchelor 2001:58). An important thing to note would be newspaper headlines don’t capture or represent the typical British female, furthermore it could be argued, that they only write on violent female youth crime because it generates a strong supply for an interesting thus newsworthy story. Arguably the primary concern with misrepresenting the reality of young women’s lives is that it can contribute to unrealistic public attitudes, which in turn can create misdirected public policy and moral panics.
Work conducted by Gelsthorpe and Sharpe (2006) state “current perceptions of girls’ apparent violent behaviour can perhaps be seen as an indication of prevailing societal concerns about morality: girls purported violence is seen as a threat to social order, just as during the last century their sexuality was the primary focus of attention” (56). In basic terms, they depict how violent behaviour in young women maybe a new phenomena to society thus being susceptible to moral panics. They later discuss how old concerns about girls’ status on binge drinking and high teen pregnancy rates relate to the moral panic of increased female violent offences. In the case of a moral panic, frequently government policy is implemented to prevent a potential problem from escalating. Following on from this, research produced by Chesney-Lind (2001) and Steffensmeier et al (2005) proposes that girls are being prosecuted more willingly for offences that may not have been prosecutable in the past. This harsher approach is debatably due to the moral panic aspect of the spectrum and how the government want to be seen as taking action against this social threat. This ultimately leads to a negative perception on young females as it shows them in a negative setting.
As briefly mentioned above, the media and the double standard of morality theory are very much linked together. The way the media use misrepresented and stereotypical views of women as a tool for creating a ‘good taboo’ story, as opposed to how females should conform to the ideas of womanhood. The double standard of morality theory also looks at differences between men and women and attempts to challenge why women are interpreted differently by criminal justice professionals. Discussing this is important due to the implication the theory still subconsciously has on today’s criminal justice system. Additionally analysing the theory may help to offer an insight into the treatment of young women. This also inter-links with the media portrayals of young female offenders as both approaches impose the same views on them.
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The double standard of morality is the morality co-existent with chivalry imposes double-standards on men and women, in terms of this essay that is relevant to note that the theory condones the same behaviour in one sex (males) while punishing it in the other (females). Key theorists such as Kennedy and Carlen believe women get treated differently due to the perception and ideas regarding womanhood. Kennedy continues to explain; ideally women should conform to the appropriate ideas of womanhood. Carlen elaborates that female offenders are seen as “other than real women, other than real criminals and other than real prisoners” (1988:34). A key distinction made in the double standard of morality theory is the idea that society expects men to get into trouble, and that men’s criminality is normal and inherently natural. Women on the other hand, in particular girls are seen as sick, mad, disturbed or deficient and in need of treatment because the behaviour does not equate with the idea of how a woman is ‘supposed’ to behave. These women are said to be doubly damned and doubly deviant (Bottoms, 1996: 1). They are seen as ‘mad’ not ‘bad’ (Lloyd, 1995: 36). These behaviours frequently lead to interpretations of being mentally abnormal and unstable. The theory is undoubtedly ‘gender bias’ and doesn’t seem to understand, changing social and economic conditions, environmental influences, cultural traditions and physiological factors must be taken into account when dealing with crime. It fails to acknowledge the myriad of complex interplay’s of cultural and biological factors that make people individuals. The way this impact on YFO’s is by the treatment they receive from criminal justice professionals. In 1987 Hilary Allen argues mental health explanation (including PMS) for female criminality results in lighter punishments by the courts. However, Eileen Leonard five years previous challenges the ‘chivalry factor’ pointing out how ‘bad women’ are treated more harshly than some men. As we can see the differential treatment women receive is a mixture between positive and negative, but this still has to be taken into account as it portrays the way young female offenders are viewed.
Today’s criminologists are looking more closely at female offenders than ever before. In concluding this essay and taking into account the argument presented throughout. We will evaluate the effects social history, the media and moral panics have on young female offenders and how this affects the way they are portrayed and treated. This essay will ultimately answer whether or not young females are becoming increasingly involved in violent and gang-related crime.
Two books published in 1975 Fred Adler’s sisters in crime: the rise of the new female criminal and Rita Simmons women in crime, led to a new view of gender and crime. Although both books looked an increase in violent female crimes they both reached different conclusions. Adler stressed the impact of the women’s movement. She believed as the roles of women changed, their criminality will be more like that of men. She noted, “When we did not permit women to swim at beaches, the female drowning rates were quite low. When women were not permitted to work as bankers the female embezzlement rate was low” (Adler, 1975:31). In other words, there was an assumption that because women were confined to the private world with limited access to the public world, they lacked opportunity for crime. Additionally now that women of the current era have more freedom there is more scope for women to be categorised as criminals.
In reading this essay it would be fair to assume, that moral panics play a huge role in generating public concern around young female offenders. The moral panic produced by the small increase in female offending patterns contributes to the increasing criminalisation of, and punitiveness towards, them. The small rise in violent female offending has little symbolic significance. Many academics have argued that ‘youth’ is a social category which has the power to carry a deeper message about the state of society. The collective agonising about girls’ violence thus perhaps symbolises regrets about the changing social order in late modernity. Ultimately it can be answered according to available evidence including the Youth justice board there certainly is an increased number of convictions for girls and young women for violent offences. However it is not possible to directly attribute these to a real increase in actual offending in this area (for example, self-report data would not suggest an increase). However based on facts and statistics, it shouldn’t be a huge public concern. Girls continue to commit fewer and less serious offences than boys and are less likely to reoffend. Young females are no more threatening to society than any other particular group of people but due to gender and the nature of the crime it gets reported on more frequently thus more open to public scrutiny and perception.
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