In chapter i, I argue that there has been a dearth of scholarly attention to the problem of violence against African American young women in distressed urban communities. For decades now, researchers have examined the criminogenic effects of disadvantaged community contexts and have documented the vast and overwhelming harms to young people that result from growing up in such settings.1 For the most part, however, criminological research on neighborhoods has been gender blind or has focused specific attention on young men or adult offender networks. Research on young women, likewise, has focused primarily on their participation in delinquency, even when the emphasis has been on the blurred boundaries of victimization and offending.2
In addition, given the goals of feminist researchers—to problematize violence against women as a societal-wide phenomenon rooted in gender inequality—specific investigations of violence against urban African American girls have also been limited. As I suggest, part of the reticence to address this problem is grounded in legitimate concerns about further demonizing young Black men, who already face an abundance of harmful stereotypes that affect their treatment across any number of social institutions in America.3 Ultimately, though, our inattention to such violence causes its greatest harm to young Black women, who are left to fend for themselves in addressing this systematic danger.
Because violence against women is an endemic problem in American society, of course we should expect that such violence would be particularly acute in impoverished community contexts where other forms of violence are widespread, community and personal resources are limited, collective efficacy is difficult to achieve, and young men are faced with a masculine street code that emphasizes respect, interpersonal violence, and heterosexual prowess demonstrated via sexual conquest.4 Several recent studies bear this out,5 and we have certainly seen