Description of the Problem
Research attention specific to girls' aggression and violence has been limited (Chesney-Lind & Sheldon, 2004). Few research studies explore girls' use of relational aggression as a pathway to physical violence among girls (Moretti & Odgers, 2002). The underlying relational processes that provoke and maintain episodes of female youth violence are not well understood (Mullins & Miller, 2008). Furthermore, studies aimed to explore young women's subjective experiences of aggression and violence elicited through qualitative methodologies are limited (Owens, Shute & Slee, 2000).
The purpose of this research was to explore urban adolescent girls' experiences of relational aggression and violence in their friendships/peer relationships with other girls.
The central research question of the study was exploratory in nature: How do young women live and experience relational aggression and violence in their relationships with other young women?
Four sub-questions aimed to explore young women's lived experiences of relational aggression and violence: 1. What are the subjective experiences of relational aggression and violence in young women's relationships? 2. What are the stories that can be told from these experiences? 3. What are the socio-cultural contexts of relational aggression and violence in the lives of young women? 4. What are the emerging themes of connection and disconnection in young women's narratives on relational aggression and violence?
Description of Participants and Sampling Methods
The population studied consisted of a purposeful sample of 19 African-American and Latina young women ages 18-21 years. Participants were recruited from two community based youth development organizations in New York City for voluntary participation in the study. Participants were recruited through agency presentations and distribution of research recruitment flyers and study brochures.
Data Collection and Analytic Approach
Data was collected in the form of semi-structured, open-ended, audio-taped individual interviews conducted over a 10-month period during June 2008 to March 2009. The researcher conducted a total of 21 interviews. Nineteen were first interviews and two were second member checking interviews. A qualitative method of narrative data collection and analysis was utilized in the study (Riessman, 1993). Specifically, the Listening Guide method was used to code young women's experiences of voice, narrative and interpretive meaning in the study (Gilligan et al., 2003).
Analysis of the narrative data demonstrated relational aggression as a precursor to physical violence in the lives of urban adolescent girls. Participant narratives provided insight into the underlying relational processes animating girls' use of relational aggression and violence against other girls.
Conclusions and Implications:
The results highlight the complexity of girls' involvement in relational aggression and violence in urban communities, including the salience of intersections of gender, race and social class and girls' use of violence and aggression against other girls. Findings inform social work education, research, policy and practice on the critical role of communities in the prevention of girls' violence and the urgent need for gender-specific and culturally responsive programs for adolescent girls involved in violence and aggression.