Recent Trends Regarding the Relationship
Between Youth Victimization and Violence

Since the publication of the Action Plan, several new and emerging trends regarding youth violence have been identified. These trends, including violence perpetrated by children within their families and violence by female youth, are discussed below.

Increase in Violence Committed by Girls and Victimization of Girls

In the later part of the 20th century, it became clear that the involvement of girls and women in criminal activity had increased so greatly that they accounted for the fastest growing segments of both the juvenile and the criminal justice systems (Acoca, 1999). Between 1993 and 1998, increases in arrests were greater (or decreases smaller) for girls than for boys in almost every offense category (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1999:352). This trend suggests that prevention and intervention programs for youth should pay special attention to the needs of at-risk girls. Early victimization, including physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, plays an extremely important, and often paramount, role in affecting the likelihood that a girl will enter the juvenile justice system and it contributes significantly to delinquency, adult criminality, and violent criminal behavior. Almost 70 percent of girls in the juvenile justice system have histories of physical abuse, compared with approximately 20 percent of teenage females in the general population (Lederman and Brown, 2000). More than 70 percent of females in the juvenile justice system and in shelters report sexual abuse and assault, compared with 32 percent of boys (Lederman and Brown, 2000). The significant levels of victimization that girls in the juvenile justice system have experienced provide the first step toward delinquent behavior (Lederman and Brown, 2000). The 1998 National Council on Crime and Delinquency (NCCD) study of girls in the California juvenile justice system confirmed an earlier study of 151 adult female State prisoners who indicated a history of violent victimization (Acoca, 1999:5). Of the nearly 200 juvenile female offenders who were interviewed in the NCCD study, 92 percent reported that they had experienced some form of emotional, physical, and/or sexual abuse. Further, many girls first entered the juvenile justice system as runaways, a high proportion of them seeking to escape abuse at home (Chesney-Lind and Shelden, 1998; Acoca, 1999). Thus, the study found a direct correlation between victimization in the home and involvement in the juvenile justice system.

Victimization as a Precursor to Battering of Parents or Caretakers by Children

Despite the decreasing levels of juvenile arrests for violent crimes (i.e., murder, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault), juveniles still accounted for 17 percent of all violent crime arrests in 1998 (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1999:351). Although accurate data are not available on the percentage of these youthful offenders who were victims of child abuse and neglect or were exposed to domestic violence in their own homes, the percentage is probably very high. In surveys of Federal, State, and local prison inmates conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, both male and female respondents were twice as likely as members of the general population to report childhood physical or sexual abuse (Harlow, 1999:1). In 1997, the Child Welfare League of America released a report on a community study done in Sacramento County, CA, which found that 9- to 12-year-old children known to the child welfare system were 67 times more likely to be arrested than their age cohorts in the general population (Child Welfare League of America, 1997). In addition, several notable reports by researchers, interventionists, and judges agree that the majority of children who witness violence in their homes demonstrate a wide range of problems, including aggression, emotional instability, and violence (Langer, 1997; Osofsky, 1997).

Some studies have tried to clarify the connection between victimization and delinquency. Notably, in 1997, the Honorable Lester Langer, Associate Administrative Judge of the 11th Judicial Circuit, received a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice's Violence Against Women Grants Office (VAWGO, now VAWO) to document the number of cases related to domestic violence that were filed in the Miami-Dade County Juvenile Court in a 5-month period. This study (Langer, 1997) found that a significant proportion of these cases involved domestic violence perpetrated by a juvenile against parents or siblings. The data suggest that the percentage has increased and is likely to continue to increase. Reasons for the increase in reported cases may include better training that enables police to identify domestic violence, a broader definition of domestic violence that includes family members other than parents, and greater awareness of what is unacceptable behavior within a family. In this limited data set, the primary victim of juvenile violence in the family is the mother.

Data from calls to a 24-hour hotline for the Violence Intervention Program (VIP) in New Orleans, LA, support the findings from Miami-Dade. Of the 300 calls received in 1999, more than half were from parents concerned about violent behavior by their 13- to 17-year-old children (Osofsky, 2000). Courts nationwide have developed innovations to address child maltreatment and the problem of abuse perpetrated by children that results in calls to police by a parent.


Addressing Youth Victimization OJJDP Action Plan Update • October 2001