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Why Are Young Women Becoming More Violent?

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Why Are Young Women Becoming More Violent?


December 28, 2022

These three stories about domestic assaults appeared in a single day on December 27, 2022:

  1. New Jersey woman allegedly shoots, kills husband on Christmas
  2. Florida mother stabs 3-year-old daughter to death: Police
  3. Woman arrested in South Carolina airport after attacking husband over ‘indecent’ photos on his phone: Police

Criminologists have known for more than 30 years that young women are rapidly becoming more violent. To illustrate the phenomenon, here’s a story from 2006, at which point the trend was already more than a decade old:

Are US Girls Becoming More Violent?

July 2006

Adolescent U.S. girls are being arrested in record numbers. … [N]ational arrest statistics for simple and aggravated assaults by girls have been on the rise for more than a decade. The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports note the female percentage of total juvenile assault arrests jumped from 21 percent to 32 percent between 1990 and 2003. And the U.S. female juvenile assault rate rose from about 200 for every 100,000 girls to 750 between 1980 and 2003.

Some analysts trace the surge in the number of girls arrested to increased pressures—from the breakdowns of family, church, community, and school—that have increased their propensity for violence. Other analysts reason that girls are more likely to act out or lash out due to changing gender-role expectations: Greater female freedom and assertiveness have masculinized female behavior and are expressed in an imitation of male machismo competitiveness. And violence by girls is also pervasive in much of today’s entertainment. (Even in a recent Harry Potter movie, a girl character—Hermione Granger—hits a boy, only to say afterwards: “Boy, that felt good.”)

The trend is all the more remarkable because, until 2020, the crime rate for every other demographic group had been declining for more than 20 years. Young women were the only demographic group that showed an increase in violent crime. Here’s a story from early 2020:

Female fugitives: Why is ‘pink-collar crime’ on the rise?

The Guardian, Jan 6, 2020

Men commit more crimes than women do. A lot more. This holds true over time and across cultures. In America, the incarceration capital of the world (more than 2 million detainees), males comprise 93% of the prison population. Men also account for 73% of all arrests and 80% of those charged with violent crimes. This disparity between the sexes is particularly stark when it comes to murder: 90% of the time, the ones who do the killing are men.

All these numbers add up to what criminologists call the “gender gap”. But read enough academic journals and government crime reports, and some curious facts emerge: while crime rates in the western world have steadily declined over the past three decades, the number of young women being convicted for violent crimes in some western countries has increased significantly; law enforcement records indicate the opposite is true for their male counterparts. In other words, the gender gap is closing.

In some UK cities, the number of female arrests increased by 50% from 2015 to 2016. That’s more than a blip. A 2017 report by the Institute For Criminal Policy Research at Birkbeck, University of London came up with this sobering data point: the global female prison population has surged by more than half since the turn of the century, while the male prison population increased by just a fifth over that same period. Women and girls may account for only 7% of all incarcerated people today, but their numbers are now growing at a much faster rate than at any time in recorded history.

Going Easy on Female Offenders

Criminologists advance several different theories for the increase in violent crime by young females, including the substantial disparity in criminal justice outcomes for women compared to men. Young female perpetrators understand they are much less likely to be prosecuted than similarly-situated male offenders. And, even if prosecuted, are likely to receive substantially lower sentences than similarly-situated male offenders. In other words, young women are becoming more violent, at least in part, because they believe they can get away with it.

Numerous studies confirm this sex bias. Here’s a small sample of these studies:

Sex bias in the criminal system arises from the actions of police officers, prosecutors, and judges, and well as from the misconceptions of lawmakers and the public at large. It’s time to stop these egregious violations of the Equal Protection provision of the Fourteenth Amendment.