Friday, 13 February 2009

violent women... or maybe not

generally, i'm a fan of judge andrew beecroft, the chief youth court judge. he has many sensible things to say about youth justice and has made a significant contribution to this
country. currently, he is concerned at the increase in violence committed by young women:

in the past the principal youth court judge andrew beecroft has spoken about a dangerous view. a small group of hardened young offenders mostly young men who he has described as unexploded human time bombs. but now now he says youth courts are reporting a noticeable and concerning increase in the young women appearing in court on violence offences.

"any time that there's a rise in violence that appears to be discernable for one gender, you've got to ask questions why is that happening. and it's also a concern because if we don't deal with it chances are it could get worse."

which is all very good. but this bit is a little more concerning:

mr beecroft says there are clear differences in the types of violence committed between the sexes. he says most vioelnt crime committed by boys is mindless and spontaneous and is often fuelled by drugs or alcohol.

"for the girls it's quite different. it's planned. it's premeditated. it's targetted. it's often two or three girls targetting another girl, or an older woman or an older man. and there's usually a reason thought about behind it."

is premedidated violence worse than mindless and spontaneous violence, and if so, how? the end result is, after all, the same. (a similar point is made by hugh in comments here). and it's not like boys don't premedidate at all, or commit violence in groups at all. those aspects are possibly more prominent in violence committed by girls because of their lesser physical strength, hence a greater concern for physical safety. it's the way these two paragraphs are constructed, promoting the stereotype of helpless, hapless males (it's the drugs/alcohol, not them) compared to scheming, conniving females, which makes me distinctly uncomfortable.

mr beecroft says the number of girls involved in violent crime is proabably no more than a few hundred. he says it's hard to give an exact number as there are no official court statistics that provide a breakdown between individual crimes and the gender of offenders, but no matter how many girls are involved, mr beecroft says the rise in violence committed at their hands is a worry and he says the increase appear to be a global trend.

"these are issues really which are facing the whole western world. i went to a conference of judges in the united states and the most popular seminar by miles was that entitled 'rediscovering the way we deal with young female violent offendors'."

ok, this gets worse. the number of violent young women doesn't matter, since we don't have any proof of an increase in numbers, but the increase in the intensity of the violence matters. which is true, but isn't the level of intensity increasing for male offenders as well? is there any proof that this is something specific to women?

and i hardly think that lots of people attending one seminar at one conference gives any proof of a global trend! but wait, there's more:

the police national manager for youth services, superintendent bill harrison, said that officers around the country have also reported an increase in the number of young women coming to their attention, in particular those aged from fourteen to seventeen. but he says at the moment, there are no specific statistics to back up these anecdotes.

"to say that it's a real one, well i think the jury's still out. but it's certainly a concern that we are getting reports back from our districts that is saying that the number of young women coming to to notice is on the increase."

again, quite a bit of contradiction happening here. the jury's out, we don't have any numbers to prove it, but yes there's an increase.

last month, the social welfare development minister paula bennett stepped in to stop a group of about 30 teenagers at a west auckland shopping mall who were fighting. mr harrison says such incidents are quite rare but the incident is one example officers have given where young girls were involved.

so young girls "were involved". was this a fight involving only 30 girls? if not, i don't see involvement of young girls being a greater concern than the involvement of young boys ie both are equally concerning.

"we've got other reports of young women being involved in youth-gang type situations where they're either committing offences or supporting the commission of offences by their male counterparts."

the police are currently studying the extent of crime committed by young women. they are looking at their own statistics as well as literature and hospital and ACC data and will report back later this year.

in which case, i would think that it's better to get the evidence before telling us there is a disproportionate problem. unless the rate of violent offending by girls is increasing higher than the rate for boys, the only issue is how to reduce violence by young people overall. the strategies used to do this may be different for each gender, so in that sense, i can agree with judge beecroft's desire to investigate the nature of the violence committed by girls. but i just don't like the undercurrent here, seeming to imply that girls being violent is worse than boys being violent.


Anna said...

I've liked what I've seen of Beecroft as well (his comments are usually really thoughtful) so this is a bit surprising.

I'm not sure what exactly pre-meditation is when it comes to violence. 'Spontaneous' acts of violence aren't really spontaneous, I don't think.

Not everyone is equally likely to get involved in a fight. A person has to have some sort of inclination towards it or feel some sort of 'cultural permission' to do it - otherwise we'd all be whacking one another. As you say stargazer, calling some male violence 'spontaneous' suggests that we simply expect an amount of violence from boys is 'natural' or beyond their control in some way.

I wonder, for example, if a woman had run after a tagger and stabbed him, would we think of this as a regrettable but understandable act of rage? Probably, it would have been seen for the inexcusable act it is.

Julie said...

Fantastic post Anjum, thanks for writing it.

It would have been more helpful I think for Beecroft and friends to focus on the fact that the court and justice system are not always all that good at dealing with young people, and that historically they have probably evolved more to deal with young men than young women, so perhaps some new ideas might be in order?

stargazer said...

yes, as i say in the post, i wouldn't have minded an approach that said "we're noticing more young women getting involved in serious violence, what strategies might be more effective for reducing violence by young women." and i would have like to see some actual evidence that there was an increase.

with a lot of these kinds of things, i always sense an undertone of "see what equality brings you" and "isn't feminism bad, it was so much better when women were confined to the home". of course, judge beecroft wouldn't generally be coming out with anything like that, which is why i was a bit surprised by the way he chose to raise this issue.

Hugh said...

So the lesson Beecroft should learn is that one shouldn't talk about trends unless one has statistical evidence that they actually exist?

stargazer said...

well it isn't a trend unless you have proof that it is, right? but you may have missed the bit where i said that i have no problem with him talking about gender-based strategies to reduce violence if the way the violence played out is different. i just didn't like the "male helpless/female conniving" framework he seemed to put it into.

it was mr harrison who was more objectionable, with the "there were young women involved" as if this is somehow worse than young men being involved. it's all equally bad, let's just figure out how to deal with it.

M-H said...

Here in Aus we are now following the deplorable UK trend of referring to young woman who drink a lot and hoon around as 'ladettes'. 'Lads' are just having fun; 'ladettes' should know better and must be trained out of it. As several of you have said the real problem isn't that young women are engaging in this behaviour (they've done that before!), but that society (and especially the courts) don't seem to have a useful way to deal with the numbers of young people of both sexes who are doing it.

the Scarlet Manuka said...

Most of what you have objected to came from the reporter not the interview subjects. For example, Beecroft's description of male violence may well have been more carefully worded than the 'mindless and spontaneous' it is summarised as.