An increase in girls fighting girls
An increase in girls fighting girls
By ADAM TAYLOR and MIKE BILLINGTON
It started with hostile words and insults, followed by an exchange of dirty looks called “ice grilling.”
The confrontation between two Northeast Wilmington girls and a group of East Side girls quickly escalated.
They kicked, punched and scratched each other. Rocks were thrown. One girl’s hair extensions were ripped from her head and left on the pavement.
No one was seriously injured in the April 27 scrape at 22nd and Jessup streets, but this fight between girls from different Wilmington neighborhoods raised concerns among parents, police and members of the clergy.
Girls are fighting more than ever, according to state and federal statistics and juvenile crime experts. It’s a nationwide phenomenon that also is happening across Delaware with increasing frequency, police and prosecutors said.
Violence among boys was once 10 times more prevalent than violence among girls, the U.S.Justice Department said. Now, a generation later, it’s four times more prevalent. In Delaware, adolescent girls committed five times more aggravated assaults in 2002 than in 1985.
This is not an urban or low-income phenomenon, Rhonda Denny, a prosecutor in the Delaware Attorney General’s Office, and other experts said.
“When I was in school, girls didn’t fight,” Denny said. “Now they do, and they do regardless of racial, ethnic and economic boundaries. The fact is that girls, in today’s society, are willing to fight more often than in the past.”
Nancy Pearsall, director of the state’s Division of Youth Rehabilitative Services, is responsible for the management of the state’s juvenile detention facilities for both sexes. She said girls from all races and income groups who have been involved in violent confrontations with other girls are in detention at the Stevenson House in Milford and at the division’s main campus in Milltown.
Two of the girls involved in the April 27 fight in Wilmington are cousins. One, 17, attends Delcastle Technical High School. The other is 16 and attends Brandywine High School. The girls asked not to be identified because they feared further confrontations.
The16-year-old said she was “banked,” a street word meaning she was ganged up on, by East Side girls. She was hit and scratched and her hair weaves were pulled out. She punched one of her attackers in the face.
It wasn’t the first fight she’s had.
“It can happen any day. We just go about our business and fight if we have to,” she said.
Her17-year-old cousin rushed to her aid.
“I’m really tired of them banking on her,” she said. “One time a girl snuck me, so I cracked her. If I have to defend myself, I have no problem putting a girl on her back pockets.”
That kind of talk concerns the Rev. Derrick Johnson, founder and pastor of Joshua Harvest Church in Wilmington who has helped organize anti-drug and anti-gunrallies.
Fearing the violence will escalate, Johnson wants to have a summit between warring girls from different parts of the city.
“They all want a shot at the title, to be the queen knuckle driller,” he said.”They all want an image, but I refuse to funeralize a 13-, 14-, or15-year-old girl.”
Johnson said his fears are legitimate, pointing to more serious incidents from across the country. In February, for example, four girls and a woman beat a12-year-old Baltimore girl at a party after the boyfriend of one of the attackers kissed the victim on the cheek. Last year, girls from a wealthy Chicago suburb were videotaped kicking and punching one another in a hazing incident. Five were hospitalized.
Master Cpl. Norman Cochran, a state trooper assigned as the resource officer at McKean High School in Mill Creek, has had to break up 20 fights between girls this year. Most are one-on-one fights, but occasionally, two girls will attack one, he said. The fights tend to be inside the school.
“Boys tend to take their fights off campus, but girls don’t wait to do that,”Cohran said. “They fight in the cafeteria and the hallways and I’ve seen hair pulled out and earrings ripped out. When one girl goes down, I’ve seen other girls kick her, and they often aim for the head.”
Equality in violence
Yaw Ackah, a Delaware State University sociology professor, said there are several reasons why more girls are exhibiting violent behavior today, including a radical change in the way they are being raised.
“We don’t want to socialize girls into specific gender behaviors anymore,” he said. “Equality is gradually weaving into other behaviors and that means criminal behaviors, as well.”
Today’s girls also are encountering situations that once were strictly male, such as physically challenging sports in which aggressive behavior is rewarded, he said.
Jeff Lawson, the principal at A.I. du Pont High School in Greenville, agreed.
“There is a real emphasis on girls sports now and they are starting at ages four and five the same as boys do,” Lawson said. “They are being taught the same competitiveness and drive and we’re seeing that they are exhibiting the same physically aggressive behavior boys do.”
Ackah and others pointed to a steady increase of violence in the mass media by strong, aggressive female characters. They cited Uma Thurman’s “The Bride” in the “Kill Bill” movies; video game heroine Lara Croft; the “Charlie’s Angels” characters; and the female killing machine in”Terminator 3.” Even Charlize Theron, known for her portrayal of glossy feminine characters, punches a man in “The Italian Job,” and won an Academy Award this year for portraying a female serial killer.
Pike Creek psychologist Rick Holmes also sees the rise of violent, aggressive female heroines as a contributing factor.
“Many girls feel empowered by these characters, especially if they have low self-esteem,” he said. “The more aggressive they become in their own lives, the better they feel.”
Holmes said mental health professionals are not completely sure why girls have become more violent. But some of the reasons are all too apparent.
“In many cases, girls have become desensitized to violence because they have seen it in the home,” Holmes said. “When you are exposed to violence,either because you witness it or because it is perpetrated on you, then you are more likely to engage in violent behavior.”
Dr. Tamara Walker, a psychologist in the state’s Youth Rehabilitative Services division, sees that, too. A majority of girls in detention for violent behavior in Delaware have been physically or sexually abused at home, she said. A new study by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia backs that up. In the study, researchers found that, among other causes, girls in middle and elementary schools involved in violent incidents may be more likely than boys of the same age to experience violence at home. The study appeared in the June issue of the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.
Holmes said young girls also seem to take insults more personally than boys do.
“With guys, it’s more of an attack on their macho but with girls, there seems to be a feeling that an insult is an actual, very personal attack on their identities as human beings. Their response often tends to be more violent as a result,” he said.
Holmes said the redefinition of “respect” in street-level and school corridor societies also is a factor. There was a time when respect was something that was earned. Today, respect is something that is owed and demanded.
Delaware State Police Detective Scott Kleckner, a former teacher, said this new definition of respect is passed down to children from parents. In one case he investigated, a principal was assaulted by two girls after he broke up a fight.The mother of one of the girls told the principal it was his fault he’d been attacked because he had not shown the proper respect to her daughter.
“That mentality is difficult to comprehend,” Kleckner said. “It’s outrageous, actually.”
The girls involved in the April 27 brawl said fights often begin when one group of girls insults another’s hair styles or clothing. Gossip also is a factor in many fights between girls, Denny, the prosecutor, said. Third-party instigators play a role as well, spreading rumors that a fight is going to occur between girlswhen in fact neither girl really wants to fight, Cochran said. The majority of fights he broke up at McKean High School were started as the result of third-party instigation.
The number of fights seems to be escalating, even among girls who would prefer not to get into a physical confrontation. The 17-year-old Wilmington girl involved in the April 27 fight said she’d rather not brawl.
“But it’s impossible to get around the fighting unless I stay in my house all my life,” she said. “Even then, if they want me, they can get me.”
Lawson, the A.I. du Pont principal, said curbing violence must be done on an individual basis. That’s why he has an assistant principal whose job includes mediating disputes between girls.
“For us, it starts with having a climate in the school where students are comfortable coming to adults about issues,” he said. “You’ve got to know these kids. You’ve got to talk to them and you have to listen when they say there’s a problem.”
Latisa Alls, 26, and Verna Womack, 31, were teen fighters. Now Alls is a single parent studying to be a dialysis technician at Harrison Career Institute. Womack works at Chrysler and is working on a business degree at DSU.
“These young girls need to know that it’s so easy to get into trouble but so hard to get out of it,” Womack said. “They’re not looking at their lives in the long run.”
Womack said a violent street life is a dead end.
“Been there, done that, bought the T-shirt,” she said. “It’s just not worth it.”