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Chicago hearing debates rise in attacks by girls

Friday, October 21, 2005
Chicago Tribune
by Charles Sheehan

The home videos that have surfaced are troubling, showing groups of teen girls swinging fists and kicking their victims.

Some of the statistics are sensational, too, with the number of girls arrested for aggravated assault on a dramatic rise, according to FBI statistics.

The issue of girl-on-girl violence was the only topic on the agenda Thursday during the annual hearing of the Cook County Commission on Women's Issues, which will submit a report on the subject to the Board of Commissioners next year.

The issue has become a topic of discussion nationally in part because of a number of home videos that show girls attacking others. One of the most notorious videos, which circulated nationally in 2003, showed girls at a Glenbrook North High School "powder puff" football game in a forest preserve beating and throwing things at younger classmates. Sixteen students were found guilty of criminal battery or alcohol-related charges in that incident.

Nearly everyone who testified at the public hearing said girl-on-girl violence is a problem, but also questioned whether statistics tell the whole story.

"My preliminary research has shown this issue to be very complex and it's not at all clear if this type of violence is on the way up or if it's just that more girls are being arrested more often," said Eva Mika, a researcher with the county commission who will put the report together.

Chicago Public Schools officials say there is little evidence of an acute rise in attacks.

The school district breaks down student offenses in its Uniform Discipline Code by numbers ranging from one to six--one being a very minor offense and five and six being crimes like aggravated battery or arson.

In the 2001-2002 school year, of the 15,214 violations of four or greater, 27 percent were committed by girls.

That number remained flat until the 2004-2005 school year, when such violations increased to 18,675, with 28 percent being committed by females, according to Chicago Public Schools.

The district, however, has been much more aggressive in requiring schools to report violations, which could account for some of the increases, said spokesman Mike Vaughn.

"I'm not suggesting that there was not an increase, but at first glance, there is no real trend toward more girls being involved in more serious crime," he said.

The percentage of female detainees in the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center on Sept. 1, 1995, was 6 percent. The percentage of girls at the center this year, as of Sept. 1, was more than 9 percent, according to Ron Olbaker, who runs statistics for the facility.

Nationwide between 1967 and 1996, the number of female juveniles arrested for violent crimes jumped 345 percent, compared with 124 percent for males during the same period, according to FBI figures.

A report completed last year by the state of Illinois found similar figures but also that police may be filing charges against girls today when they may not have in the past.

"Girls are now being arrested for behavior that 10 or 20 years ago, because of paternalism, they would not have been arrested," Mika said.

There is also a belief that easy access to video cameras has skewed the public perception, making it seem as though such attacks occur constantly.

Last month in Orland Park, teenagers videotaped an assault by three girls on another girl. All three are scheduled to appear in court on Monday.

Two high school students who testified Thursday at the hearing said it was common practice for girls to slick their faces with petroleum jelly at Chicago schools to avoid gashes from fingernails.

Hair is often clipped back so it would not be pulled out, said Maya Yancey-Gilmore, 17, one of two students who gave a presentation.

Her mother pulled her from Lincoln Park High School after her first year because of fights there. Maya is now a junior at St. Scholastica, a Catholic school.

"I didn't want to live with the fear and I was afraid every day," said her mother, Greer Gilmore.



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