Academic journal article Fordham Urban Law Journal

Sex before Violence: Girls, Dating Violence, and (Perceived) Sexual Autonomy

Academic journal article Fordham Urban Law Journal

Sex before Violence: Girls, Dating Violence, and (Perceived) Sexual Autonomy

Article excerpt


Something amiss is happening to adolescent girls on their way to womanhood. It appears that girls today are experiencing violence, both as victims and as perpetrators, to a far greater extent than a generation ago. (1) Thus, they are finding themselves more frequently in contact with the criminal justice system, both as victims and, increasingly, as defendants.

Two related trends are particularly troubling. The first is the rising tide of girl violence, which has received much literary attention. (2) The interest in girl violence is fueled by government statistics that show that even though violent crime rates are down overall, they are rising among women under age eighteen. For example, from 1993 to 2002, juvenile arrests for simple assaults rose forty-one percent for girls but only four percent for boys. (3) During this period, girls also experienced a seven percent increase in arrests for aggravated assault, while boys experienced a twenty-nine percent decline. (4) Even though boys are far more likely to engage in violent crime than girls, (5) this and other data suggest that aggression and physical violence play an increasingly prominent role in girls' behavioral repertoires. What is particularly striking is that forty-two percent of female victims of violent crimes by juveniles were victimized by other females. (6)

A similar amount of media attention and scholarly research has focused on dating violence. (7) Even though rates of domestic violence as measured by domestic homicides have fallen dramatically in the last fifteen years, (8) teen dating violence seems to be a serious, and arguably growing, problem among our nation's youth. Girls between the ages of sixteen and twenty-four are most at risk for non-fatal dating violence. (9) Some studies estimate that one-third of teenagers have been victimized by dating violence, (10) and one-fourth of teenage girls in relationships endure repeated verbal abuse. (11) This suggests that aggression is more commonplace among teen dating relationships today than it was a generation ago. More than half of teens know friends or peers who have been physically, sexually, or verbally abused. (12) While girls are more likely than boys to be severely injured in violent exchanges, (13) both girls and boys report that girls increasingly use physical aggression in their intimate relationships. (14)

What is even more troubling about these trends is that, if violence is becoming more common in the lives of young women, it comes after more than three decades of legal reform geared at advancing women's physical safety and personal autonomy. Women today still face subtle, and sometimes not-so-subtle, discrimination. Yet, young women born after 1985 have come of age in an era where most legal barriers to women's advancement in education and the marketplace have been removed. Young women have unprecedented access to reproductive choices, and have never known a time before Title IX. They excel in the classroom and on the playing field. These granddaughters of the women's rights movement are the inventors of girl power--that in-your-face, I-can-be-and-do-anything-I-want attitude. Why then would we see an increase in violence, both by and against them?

In this Article, I explore that question. In particular, I explore the phenomenon of girl violence by examining teen dating violence and girls' experiences with intimate abuse both as victims and as perpetrators. While there is a tendency to view women's experiences as victims of violence as separate and distinct from their experiences as inflictors of violence, the two phenomena are interrelated. A girl's violent victimization can lead her to victimize someone else, just as her own violence can lead her to violent victimization. (15) Indeed, recent research suggests that boys and girls who have been victims of violence are more likely to perpetrate adolescent violence. (16) Moreover, any exposure to violence within an intimate relationship puts a girl at risk of finding herself in the criminal justice system. …

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