Toronto Star

Wednesday, December 16, 1998

Crimes by girls on rise: Study

Female violence 'catching up' with boys

By Elaine Carey
Toronto Star Demographics Reporter

Girls are committing more crimes, a new report says, and the level of violence is escalating.

The number of girls charged with violent criminal offences increased 179 per cent between 1987 and 1997, Statistics Canada said yesterday in its youth crime study.

The study is based on youth crime data from 179 police agencies in six provinces, including Ontario. It found that 121,122 youths aged 12 to 17 - less than 5 per cent of the youth population - were charged with crimes in 1997.

More than three-quarters were boys, but the percentage of girls has grown to 22 per cent from 16 per cent a decade earlier, the study found.

The youth violent crime rate has risen 119 per cent between 1987 and 1997, which may reflect more aggressive zero tolerance policies of police and schools, the study said.

While the violent crime rate for boys has levelled off since 1991, it is still 85 per cent higher than a decade ago and the rate for girls is still growing.

The number of girls charged with violent criminal offences increased to 47 per 10,000 population, although it is still less than half the male rate (133 per 10,000). Girls' criminal activity appears to peak at 15, while half of all the boys charged are 16 and 17.

Sergeant Brian O'Connor, of the Toronto police youth programs division, said the nature of the violence is getting more serious.

``Before it was a fist fight and it would be over. Now, it tends to be more with sticks, knives, even threats with guns - real or fake,'' he said.

While boys have a history of violence, the girls are catching up, he said. ``It may start off as a perceived insult - dissing stuff - but it escalates very quickly into assaults,'' he said.

Robbery rates for girls increased 417 per cent to 5 per 10,000 in the same decade and for boys, it increased 166 per cent to 25 per 10,000, the study found.

Almost three-quarters of all violent youth crimes are common assault, the least serious kind. The rate for boys has levelled off at almost double the rate of 1987, but the rate for girls is still growing and is now triple the rate it was a decade earlier, or 31 per 10,000.

The youth major assault rate also rose every year from 1987 to 1994 before levelling off at 18 youths per 10,000.

The report cites high unemployment through the '90s, a growing divorce rate that has led to more poor single parents, youth unemployment and high school dropout rates as reasons for youth crime.

Poor single parents often can't afford to put their children in sports and recreation activities, which means they have more unstructured and unsupervised free time, it says.

``There is more opportunity for them to become involved with a negative peer group or to participate in deviant behaviour.''

Other factors that can put youths at risk include physical and sexual abuse, television violence and poor parenting.

While violent crime rates are up, the rate of youths charged with property crimes has fallen 40 per cent to 243 per 10,000 population, the lowest level in 10 years. .

The number of youths sentenced to custody has increased by 3 per cent to 34 per cent in the past four years, particularly among girls and youths under 16.

A third of all youths were sentenced to less than a month in secure custody in 1997.

The statistics show the court system is spending a lot of time dealing with the 5 per cent of the youth population who commit a crime, said Anthony Doob, a criminologist at the University of Toronto.

Canada puts more kids in jail than the United States, he said, ``but we don't leave them there for long. That underlines how stupid the system is.''