Saturday, 15 January 2005 - 8:00 AM
This presentation is part of: Delinquency in Female Adolescents
How Different are Female Delinquents?Anne Dannerbeck, PhD, University of Missouri-Columbia.
Purpose: Understand the differential life experiences of female delinquents and the meanings associated with those experiences Methods: This was a sub-study of a larger study ‘Explaining the Relationship between Juvenile Delinquency and Parental Incarceration’ in which administrative data were first analyzed to identify significant differences between youth with and without a parental incarceration history. Then, open-ended interviews were conducted with 104 youth housed in juvenile treatment facilities across Missouri. They were queried about their communities, schools, peers, family life, and future plans. The interviews were taped, transcribed, and originally coded to quantify patterns of responses. The sample included 22 females. Their responses were compared to the males and significant differences (Chi Square) were found in several key areas. Next, to understand these seemingly gender-related differences in behaviors, interpretations, and experiences, the coded data for the females were examined to identify important differences among them in experiences and behaviors. The female transcripts were then coded in much more detail to understand how the young women interpreted life experiences. As part of the coding process, risk factors and behaviors associated with delinquency were mapped out for the life course of each young woman to identify pathways to delinquency.
Results: In comparison to the young men, the young women were significantly more likely to report that most of their peers were older and almost exclusively male, that they had been treated unfairly by their families, and that they had been subjected to severe physical punishment. Their reasons for affiliating with older males included ‘acting like one of the guys’(protective response to perceived mistreatment of women), seeking a father figure (half had no contact with their biological father), and immaturity of same age peers (many took on adult roles caring for younger siblings and parents who had substance addictions and mental illness). In interpreting their life experiences, 21 of the young women reported feeling threatened in some way in the home, school, or community. All 22 expressed feelings of abandonment because of drug addiction, parental incarceration, family breakup or the lack of a protective response when they were harmed. Two distinct pathways to delinquency emerged. One pathway is cumulative, more and more risk factors build up until the young woman ‘falls into drugs and delinquency’ without an identifiable transition point. In the other pathway, the young woman also experiences an accumulation of risks but it is some event (sexual assault, death, sudden change in living arrangements), identified by the young woman, that causes an abrupt entry into delinquency. Implications for practice: In treating female delinquents it is important to understand the underlying meaning of their behaviors and then helping them sometimes even reinterpret those meanings in a more empowering way. Females need positive role models to understand their own identity and to learn appropriate gender roles. As victims, they need a sense of empowerment and opportunities to develop self-efficacy. For healthy development, female delinquents need encouragement to nurture friendships built on mutual respect and trust (not exploitation).
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