Historically, males have been more delinquentthan females (Goodkind, Wallace, Shook, Bachman, & O’Malley, 2009). However, anincrease in girls justice system involvement and current media and pressportrayals of females; especially those between the ages of 10 to 17 asidentified across Australia as youth with a criminal responsibility, suggestthat female delinquency, particularly their participation in violent crime, isbecoming similar to that of their male counterparts; as mentioned in the women’sliberation hypothesis (Goodkind, Wallace, Shook, Bachman, & O’Malley, 2009) (Urbas, 2000) (Kim, WOMEN’S LIBERATION THEORY, 2002). A hypothesis whichsuggests that women’s involvement in violent crime will come to resemble men’sparticipation more closely, as gender equality, inequality of opportunity andinequality of condition between males and females is diminished by women’s equalityand greater social participation. (Kim, WOMEN’S LIBERATION THEORY, 2002). Furthermore, theories such as the offendergenerated hypothesis, the policy generated hypothesis and the feminist pathway theory also help to explore andevaluate the proposition of convergence in youth violent offending (Steffensmeier & Feldmeyer, ARE GIRLS MORE VIOLENT TODAY THAN A GENERATION AGO? PROBABLY NOT., 2006) (Wattanaporn & Holtfrete, 2014).
In the 1970s, Rita Simon and Freda Alder published’The Second Sex’ and ‘Sisters in Crime: The Rise of the New Female Criminal’,respectively, in which they reported that women’s rates of crime and violencewere increasing at a faster speed then men’s offending, thus creating a genderconvergence in violent offending (de Beauvoir, 2015) (Adler, 1975). Violent crime occurswhen an offender threatens or uses forceupon a victim (Chappell, 2009). Gender convergence can be describedas the blurring of sex roles in modern society in which men and womenincreasingly express similar attitudes and behaviours and partake in similarroles that were once gender confined or defined (Hale, Hayward, Wahidin, & Wincup, 2013). The reports thatthe gender gap in arrests for violent crime and offences is narrowing may infact represent a change in women’s behaviour over the last few decades withrising feminist views, changing definitions of what crime is and changedbehaviour within society (Goodkind, Wallace, Shook, Bachman, & O’Malley, 2009).
Although, few researchers haveoffered an explanation for this change one of the most known arguments is thewomen’s liberation hypothesis. This hypothesis asserts that as women gainsocial power and freedom, they are subject to fewer informal controls. They,therefore, should have more opportunities to commit and engage in crimestraditionally associated with males such as violence and thus close the gendergap in crime rates (Kim, WOMEN’S LIBERATION THEORY, 2002) (Adler, 1975).
The most widely held concept concerning femalecriminality is that, as a direct consequence of the women’s movement, will bean upsurge in female’s criminal activity (Chesney-Lind & Pasko, 2004).This hypothesis was adefining point in the history of criminological thought, as women’sparticipation in crime was put under an academic spotlight along with thegrowing feminism wave which opened up the debate that if women, especially female youth, gained more access tothe legitimate public sphere, would their access to the illegitimate spherealso be increased (Steffensmeier & Feldmeyer, ARE GIRLS MORE VIOLENT TODAY THAN A GENERATION AGO? PROBABLY NOT., 2006)? Throughouttime girls have been less likely than boys to engage in delinquent behaviour(Goodkind, Wallace, Shook, Bachman, & O’Malley, 2009). Current portrayals of girls in thepopular media and press, however, suggest that girls’ delinquency, particularly,their use of violence is on the rise and becoming akin to that of their malecounterparts (Goodkind, Wallace, Shook, Bachman, & O’Malley, 2009). Recent examples of these portrayalsinclude newspaper article titles such as, ‘Bad girls go wild’ and ‘It’sofficial: girl assault rates soar’ (Scelfo, 2005) (Lentini, 2012). These, and relatedpublications, suggest that girls’ behaviour is becoming more similar to that ofboys “… for experts on youth crime, thekilling was another instance of what they view as a burgeoning national crisis:the significant rise in violent behaviour among girls” and that this convergence can beattributed, in large part, to social practices encouraging young females to bemore like boys in both positive and negative life aspects (Scelfo, 2005). Australian nationalcrime statistics have only been reported and collated since 1993 with theestablishment of the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) (Hayes & Prenzler, 2015).
Prior to this, theonly source of data was based on state/territory annual reports by police. Although data is limited, there is empirical evidence of this trend inAustralia. For example, between 1960 and 2007, the difference between juvenilemale and female involvement in crime matters in the New South Wales Children’sCourt narrowed substantially; in 1960, female youth were involved in only 1 in13 criminal matters, but 1 in 4 in 2007 (Holmes, 2010). Although, young menconsistently form the majority of those involved in crime, research suggeststhat rates of contact with the juvenile justice system among young women haveincreased in recent decades starting in the 1960s with the feminism wave, bothin Australia and around the world (Kong & AuCoin, 2008)(Snyder & Sickmund, 2006)which supports the liberation hypothesis that posits an occurrence of genderconvergence within crime statistics with the increase of women’s rights andequality brought about by the feminist movement. One of the most consistent and robustfindings in criminology is that for nearly every category of crime femalescommit much less crime and juvenile delinquency than males (Hayes & Prenzler, 2015).During the past few decades, however, female juvenile delinquency has undergonechanges; yet not as elaborate and far-fetched as the media portrays. TheNSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research reports that the number of assaultscommitted by female youth in the past decade has dropped 3% per year, whilst,the rate of female youth charged with intent to cause injury has remained relativelystable over the past 6 years (Lattouf, 2016).
Examining arrestdata also reveals that male youth arrest rates have increased more than that offemale youth. A closer examination of arrest data also reveals thatthe arrests of male youth have increased, in many cases more than girls’ (Goodkind, Wallace, Shook, Bachman, & O’Malley, 2009) (Snyder & Sickmund, 2006).In regards to youth violence, Snyder and Sickmund found in their report thatgirls did in fact account for a greater percentage of juvenile violent crime arrestswith an increase of 7% over 26 years (Snyder & Sickmund, 2006).
However, an examination male youth arrest rates reveal a much larger increase duringthe same period, thus exhibiting gender divergence at that time, something thewomen’s liberation hypothesis does not hold true (Snyder & Sickmund, 2006).Furthermore, little empirical data can be seen to support the media’sdesperate attempt to scare the public into believing that the rate of offendingfemale youth in the violence sector has drastically inclined and can rather beseen as an attempt to create a scare factor and in return generate revenue. Forexample, images young girls as more violent and delinquent have arguably affectedan increasing tendency to arrest young females and to eliminate public outcry.Yet, substantial evidence that young girls are not, in fact, increasing indelinquency suggests that trends toward increased intervention might be being misplaced(Goodkind, Wallace, Shook, Bachman, & O’Malley, 2009). Taking into consideration the media,literature reports and primary statistical data, young women’s violence hasincreased between the 1960s and the current day, yet this increase, does notput them in a similar range to that of violent juvenile male offenders and thereforea convergence as per the women’s liberation hypothesis has not and is nottaking place. Furthermore,an investigation within ‘An assessment ofrecent trends in girls’ violence using diverse longitudinal sources: is thegender gap closing?’ which compared arreststatistics with victimization data concluded that young female’s violentbehaviour hasn’t changed, but society and its’ response to their behaviour havechanged ( Steffensmeier, Schwartz, Zhong, & Ackerman, 2005). This was attributedto changing definitions of violence over time, increased policing of violencewithin relationships and private settings and decreased tolerance towards delinquentbehaviour ( Steffensmeier, Schwartz, Zhong, & Ackerman, 2005).
Therefore, this goes to show that there are otherplausible explanations and theories to support and explain the evidence at handthat could better suit the primary sources and the minute convergence ofviolence seen amongst youth offenders. Theoryoccupies a critical role within the criminology sector and provides anessential foundation for the organisation of knowledge that is crucial in orderto be able to understand crime and provide intervention when needed (Hayes & Prenzler, 2015). The women’sliberation hypothesis isn’t the only theory that can be utilised to explain patternsof youth violence and why females’ participation in violence has experienced a smallrise in the past decades or why it hasn’t decreased. Other plausibleexplanations include the ‘offender generated hypothesis ‘which hypothesises that the small femaleyouth arrest rate rise is due to changing gender-role expectations that haveallowed young females a greater freedom (Steffensmeier & Feldmeyer, ARE GIRLS MORE VIOLENT TODAY THAN A GENERATION AGO? PROBABLY NOT.
, 2006). According to this view, withgreater freedom, such as attending school, young females have becomemasculinized and now partake in competitive and aggressive behaviour once onlyassociated with males. This hypothesis also links increasing entertainmentmedia and its’ exposure amongst young females to messages condoning girls asviolent, as exemplified by the video game ‘Tomb Raider’ that has a violent heroine(Steffensmeier & Feldmeyer, ARE GIRLS MORE VIOLENT TODAY THAN A GENERATION AGO? PROBABLY NOT., 2006).
The ‘policy generatedhypothesis’ posits that femalearrest trends are by-products of policy changes that have led to a greatervisibility and reporting of girls’ violence, especially amongst youth (Steffensmeier & Feldmeyer, ARE GIRLS MORE VIOLENT TODAY THAN A GENERATION AGO? PROBABLY NOT., 2006). Policy changes include;changing definitions of violent behaviours and the broadening of what was onceconsidered violent.
This would then accommodate the small rise of female youthoffenders, unlike the women’s liberation hypothesis which likens it to a senseof equality that women are yet to even fully ascertain. Furthermore, thefeminist pathway theory suggests that victimization throughout ones’life is a risk factor for offending (Wattanaporn & Holtfrete, 2014).Whilst victimization is a risk factor for both young males and females when itcomes to violence, it is a stronger predictor for females (Wattanaporn & Holtfrete, 2014).It was not until the 1970s that research analysed trauma, abuse and previous victimization,as factors that can influence women to commit crimes.
Victimization risk peaks between ages 16 and 19 (Wattanaporn & Holtfrete, 2014). According to the National Crime VictimizationSurvey, the risk of victimization increases by 8 percent from ages 12 to 15 and16 to 19. The young age at which the risk of victimization peaks hassignificant implications on the psychological and social development of thevictim (Wattanaporn & Holtfrete, 2014).
Thus, victimization during developmental years has thepotential to disrupt the normal maturation of an individual, and shape thepaths the juvenile may take such as violence (Wattanaporn & Holtfrete, 2014). In light of the evidence gained throughresearch, it is safe to say that although the women’s liberation hypothesis isrelevant in explaining how changed social situations and conditions have led toa small gender convergence in youth crime statistics, more relevant theoriessuch as the policy generated hypothesis and the feminist pathway theory aresuitably better at explaining violence amongst youth and changing patterns thathave occurred throughout time. The women’s liberation hypothesis posits that withfemale societal emancipation, women’s offending will increase in frequency andbecome more akin to male crime statistics.
Although reports, media and someliterature argue that juvenile female’s violence is increasing, it is nowherenear similar to that of male participation in crime (insert statistic) and aclear gender convergence in youth violent offending is not obvious. In addition,the women’s liberation hypothesis attributes the increase of female arrests inregards to violence to the struggle of women towards equality which took risein Australia from the 1960s onwards. However, other factors take a more salientposition in explaining why a slight increase may have occurred but not acomplete gender convergence and include increased exposure to violent behaviourwith the average teenager spending 20 or more hours in front of a TV orcomputer screen weekly and 81% of teenagers either owning or having access to agaming console which supports the offender generated hypothesis (American Heart Association, 2015) (LENHART, 2015).
Broadening definitionsof crime as the ABS grew and expanded from its beginnings in the 1990s andlinks between victimisation at a young age with researchbringing to light that childhood abuse can significantly increase risks of partakingin violence later in life (Hayes & Prenzler, 2015) (Malvaso, Delfabbro, & Day, 2016). It is therefore justto conclude that if based on secondary sources such as media articles and presswhich have a purpose of creating a revenue which can be achieved through scaretactics and undue hype, the women’s liberation hypothesis would be a suitabletheory to explain the extreme gender convergence expressed and needed in orderto be similar to that of young men. However, if primary and more reliable datasuch as bureau and crime statistics were relied upon it would be correct to saythat the gender convergence in youth violent offending is minute and women’sequality hasn’t been reached as suggested by the women’s liberation hypothesis.Therefore, the women’s hypothesis theory is cannot help us to understandcurrent youth offending rates, and theories such as offender generatedhypothesis, policy generated hypothesis and feminist pathway theory would bebetter-suited theories when exploring gender in regards to violence amongstyouth (Steffensmeier & Feldmeyer, ARE GIRLS MORE VIOLENT TODAY THAN A GENERATION AGO? PROBABLY NOT., 2006).