New Zealand Herald

Saturday, August 21, 1999

Women lash out more readily: crime stats

By Jan Corbett
NZ Herald

Once it was incredibly rare to have a woman appearing in court charged with a violent offence, says Chief District Court Judge Ron Young.

"Now it's just rare."

While women account for just 14 per cent of people arrested for violent crime, their rate is increasing.

Ministry of Justice research shows the number of women convicted of violent crimes between 1986 and 1996 was up 135 per cent, while the number of male offenders had increased 83 per cent.

Rotorua's youth aid officer, Sergeant Jim Harvey, says that while boys are still committing most of the juvenile violence, the worst attacks in the past two years have been committed by packs of girls.

He describes them as unprovoked attacks with robbery as the motive. It might begin with "gimme your jacket," and then the jacket is taken by force.

A South Auckland high school principal says girls used to pass horrid notes to each other, "but now they slug it out, fist to fist."

They also incite the boys to fight and stand by, egging them on.

Sue Webb, president of the New Zealand Association of Counsellors, says feminism has allowed girls to express their anger, rather than turning it in on themselves.

Part of that anger stems from the pressure on young people leaving school with no jobs, she says.

Once young women had the option of early marriage and childbearing. Young marriages are now rare and if they choose pregnancy regardless, they suffer considerable social stigma.

Women have also been encouraged into self-defence courses, says Sue Webb.

"If you promote a healthier approach to women defending themselves, there's bound to be a dysfunctional downside to it."

Female violence has received little international academic attention, except in Canada.

Author Patricia Pearson points out in her book When She Was Bad: Violent Women and the Myth of Innocence that young Canadian women now account for 24 per cent of violent offences in their age group.

At Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, criminology researcher Candice Odgers is part of a team studying violent young women, a topic she says has been neglected for too long.

The research has found that violent young women share the same cultural backgrounds and behaviour patterns as male offenders.

But "we have also observed the emergence of a tough-girl mentality," says Candice Odgers, "where violence is viewed as a legitimate means to resolve a whole range of conflicts and serves to illicit respect from both male and female peers."

Fleur Grenfell, manager of Arohata women's prison, says the increase in women convicted of violent crime reflects the police and courts holding them more accountable.

And because feminism has removed societal constraints on women, they have more freedom to behave badly.