By TEDDYE SNELL
Hair-pulling and eye-gouging used to be the norm if and when a disagreement between girls escalated into anything more than name-calling.
But no more. Nowadays, girls are just as likely as boys to throw a right hook or land a sucker punch.
Anyone surfing the Web has probably seen the recent headlines: Violent girl fight caught on video and distributed on YouTube, or some such thing. And it has many psychologists, juvenile service attorneys and educators concerned.
Shannon Otteson, a Tahlequah juvenile delinquent defense attorney, has seen a local increase in violence among teenage girls.
“They [girls] seem to have taken over areas previously dominated by boys,” said Otteson. “I first noticed it when they began using foul language that used to be reserved for guys when talking to other guys, then they began to use hand gestures. Their violence then graduated from ‘girl fighting’ - pulling hair, scratching, etc. - to actual punching, hitting, kicking and then to the use of weapons. They appear to have little or no remorse, and a kind of ‘they deserved it’ attitude.”
According to a recent report on MSNBC, federal statistics indicate if the trend continues, female delinquents will take up even more of the time and attention of researchers, policymakers, court officials and service providers.
From 1992 to 2003, the most recent year for which complete figures are available in the Justice Department’s Uniform Crime Report, the number of girls arrested on all charges increased by 6.4 percent, compared with a decline among boys of 16.4 percent.
The glaring observation involved the figures for assault: Within the study’s time frame, girls arrested nationwide rose 41 percent, as opposed to a 4.3 percent increase among boys.
Despite Otteson’s observations, Dr. Nick Migliorino, principal at Tahlequah High School, has seen very little change in girls’ behavior.
“You always have the ‘he said, she said,’ ‘she’s mad at me,’ or ‘she was messing with my boyfriend,’ kind of thing go on,” said Migliorino. “But I can’t say I’ve seen more frequent fights among girls.”
Denise Deason-Toyne, another local attorney who has experience with juvenile cases, believes violence among girls has gone much farther than cat scratches.
“No longer is name-calling or snotty looks and ostracizing those the girls deemed ‘unworthy’ common,” said Deason-Toyne. “It has evolved into physical violence and by groups of girls. The pack mentality, which has been ascribed to by boys, has caught up to the girls.”
Migliorino has only broken up one “girl fight” on campus this year, but he’s noticed a difference between boys and girls when it comes to squaring off for battle.
“Now, this is my opinion, but it seems that when there’s a girl fight, it’s much more violent than guys,” said Migliorino. “They dig in and don’t let go. When guys fight and someone in authority shows up, the fight ends.”
Not true with girls, he said.
“They just don’t hear you. They continue punching, kicking and flailing about,” Migliorino said. “Although I’ve only had to break up one girl fight this year, I must say it was a particularly nasty one. I know, because I was in the middle of it trying to stop it.”
According to the MSNBC report, these fights are not random, isolated incidents. The report blamed the Internet and mass media for sending increasingly misogynist and violent messages to young girls, making it hard for them to work out their differences in appropriate ways.
“Part of the reason is - and I know people will choke and so what - violence on television and violent video games,” said Deason-Toyne. “More and more video games show ‘sexy’ women who engage in violent behavior as do television programs. Women in television are now allowed to be law enforcement agents, spies - like in ‘Alias’ - and other roles previously left to men. Those roles often have the women using weapons, martial arts, and not just for self-defensive purposes. So the message to girls is, ‘Hey, physical violence is OK; it can help you get what you need.”
In addition to violence-saturated media, violent behavior among girls has also been attributed to problems at home.
The Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence concluded the roots of female teen violence are found in the early learning experiences in the family, including weak family bonding and ineffective monitoring and supervision.
Otteson believes girls are unaffected by what few consequences are meted out for violent behavior.
“What can happen? They get a juvenile record; big deal!” said Otteson. “They have to attend counseling; big deal! Their parents are contacted and asked to become involved; big deal! The worst-case scenario is that they are placed in detention, but we don’t have enough beds, and the kids don’t know that. As to the parents, we actually have parents who call and ask the state to take their kids because the kids are out of control, and the parents don’t want to deal with them any longer.”
Dr. Howard Spivak, director of the Tufts University Center for Children, told MSNBC parents need to pay more attention to how their children behave in social situations, and that bullying behavior often appears early in childhood.
According to Spivak, parents of girls should watch for these signs: declining performance in school and at after-school jobs, new friends who set off suspicions, and more time spent alone.
Above all, Spivak recommends parents talk to their children about issues concerning them.