Historically, changing definitions of what crime is

    Historically, males have been more delinquent
than females (Goodkind, Wallace, Shook,
Bachman, & O’Malley, 2009). However, an
increase in girls justice system involvement and current media and press
portrayals of females; especially those between the ages of 10 to 17 as
identified across Australia as youth with a criminal responsibility, suggest
that female delinquency, particularly their participation in violent crime, is
becoming similar to that of their male counterparts; as mentioned in the women’s
liberation hypothesis (Goodkind, Wallace, Shook,
Bachman, & O’Malley, 2009) (Urbas, 2000) (Kim, WOMEN’S LIBERATION THEORY, 2002). A hypothesis which
suggests that women’s involvement in violent crime will come to resemble men’s
participation more closely, as gender equality, inequality of opportunity and
inequality of condition between males and females is diminished by women’s equality
and greater social participation. (Kim, WOMEN’S
LIBERATION THEORY, 2002). Furthermore, theories such as the offender
generated hypothesis, the policy generated hypothesis and the feminist pathway theory also help to explore and
evaluate the proposition of convergence in youth violent offending (Steffensmeier &
2006) (Wattanaporn &
Holtfrete, 2014).



   In the 1970s, Rita Simon and Freda Alder published
‘The Second Sex’ and ‘Sisters in Crime: The Rise of the New Female Criminal’,
respectively, in which they reported that women’s rates of crime and violence
were increasing at a faster speed then men’s offending, thus creating a gender
convergence in violent offending (de Beauvoir, 2015) (Adler, 1975). Violent crime occurs
when an offender threatens or uses force
upon a victim (Chappell, 2009). Gender convergence can be described
as the blurring of sex roles in modern society in which men and women
increasingly express similar attitudes and behaviours and partake in similar
roles that were once gender confined or defined (Hale, Hayward, Wahidin, & Wincup, 2013). The reports that
the gender gap in arrests for violent crime and offences is narrowing may in
fact represent a change in women’s behaviour over the last few decades with
rising feminist views, changing definitions of what crime is and changed
behaviour within society (Goodkind, Wallace, Shook,
Bachman, & O’Malley, 2009). Although, few researchers have
offered an explanation for this change one of the most known arguments is the
women’s liberation hypothesis. This hypothesis asserts that as women gain
social power and freedom, they are subject to fewer informal controls. They,
therefore, should have more opportunities to commit and engage in crimes
traditionally associated with males such as violence and thus close the gender
gap in crime rates (Kim, WOMEN’S
LIBERATION THEORY, 2002) (Adler, 1975). The most widely held concept concerning female
criminality is that, as a direct consequence of the women’s movement, will be
an upsurge in female’s criminal activity (Chesney-Lind & Pasko,
This hypothesis was a
defining point in the history of criminological thought, as women’s
participation in crime was put under an academic spotlight along with the
growing feminism wave which opened up the debate that if women, especially female youth, gained more access to
the legitimate public sphere, would their access to the illegitimate sphere
also be increased (Steffensmeier &

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time girls have been less likely than boys to engage in delinquent behaviour
(Goodkind, Wallace, Shook,
Bachman, & O’Malley, 2009). Current portrayals of girls in the
popular media and press, however, suggest that girls’ delinquency, particularly,
their use of violence is on the rise and becoming akin to that of their male
counterparts (Goodkind, Wallace, Shook,
Bachman, & O’Malley, 2009). Recent examples of these portrayals
include newspaper article titles such as, ‘Bad girls go wild’ and ‘It’s
official: girl assault rates soar’ (Scelfo, 2005) (Lentini, 2012). These, and related
publications, suggest that girls’ behaviour is becoming more similar to that of
boys “… for experts on youth crime, the
killing was another instance of what they view as a burgeoning national crisis:
the significant rise in violent behaviour among girls” and that this convergence can be
attributed, in large part, to social practices encouraging young females to be
more like boys in both positive and negative life aspects (Scelfo, 2005). Australian national
crime statistics have only been reported and collated since 1993 with the
establishment of the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) (Hayes & Prenzler, 2015). Prior to this, the
only source of data was based on state/territory annual reports by police. Although data is limited, there is empirical evidence of this trend in
Australia. For example, between 1960 and 2007, the difference between juvenile
male and female involvement in crime matters in the New South Wales Children’s
Court narrowed substantially; in 1960, female youth were involved in only 1 in
13 criminal matters, but 1 in 4 in 2007 (Holmes, 2010). Although, young men
consistently form the majority of those involved in crime, research suggests
that rates of contact with the juvenile justice system among young women have
increased in recent decades starting in the 1960s with the feminism wave, both
in Australia and around the world (Kong &
AuCoin, 2008)
(Snyder &
Sickmund, 2006)
which supports the liberation hypothesis that posits an occurrence of gender
convergence within crime statistics with the increase of women’s rights and
equality brought about by the feminist movement.


    One of the most consistent and robust
findings in criminology is that for nearly every category of crime females
commit much less crime and juvenile delinquency than males (Hayes &
Prenzler, 2015).
During the past few decades, however, female juvenile delinquency has undergone
changes; yet not as elaborate and far-fetched as the media portrays. The
NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research reports that the number of assaults
committed by female youth in the past decade has dropped 3% per year, whilst,
the rate of female youth charged with intent to cause injury has remained relatively
stable over the past 6 years (Lattouf, 2016). Examining arrest
data also reveals that male youth arrest rates have increased more than that of
female youth. A closer examination of arrest data also reveals that
the arrests of male youth have increased, in many cases more than girls’ (Goodkind, Wallace, Shook,
Bachman, & O’Malley, 2009) (Snyder &
Sickmund, 2006).
In regards to youth violence, Snyder and Sickmund found in their report that
girls did in fact account for a greater percentage of juvenile violent crime arrests
with an increase of 7% over 26 years (Snyder & Sickmund, 2006).
However, an examination male youth arrest rates reveal a much larger increase during
the same period, thus exhibiting gender divergence at that time, something the
women’s liberation hypothesis does not hold true (Snyder & Sickmund, 2006).
Furthermore, little empirical data can be seen to support the media’s
desperate attempt to scare the public into believing that the rate of offending
female youth in the violence sector has drastically inclined and can rather be
seen as an attempt to create a scare factor and in return generate revenue. For
example, images young girls as more violent and delinquent have arguably affected
an increasing tendency to arrest young females and to eliminate public outcry.
Yet, substantial evidence that young girls are not, in fact, increasing in
delinquency suggests that trends toward increased intervention might be being misplaced
(Goodkind, Wallace, Shook,
Bachman, & O’Malley, 2009).


    Taking into consideration the media,
literature reports and primary statistical data, young women’s violence has
increased between the 1960s and the current day, yet this increase, does not
put them in a similar range to that of violent juvenile male offenders and therefore
a convergence as per the women’s liberation hypothesis has not and is not
taking place. Furthermore,
an investigation within ‘An assessment of
recent trends in girls’ violence using diverse longitudinal sources: is the
gender gap closing?’ which compared arrest
statistics with victimization data concluded that young female’s violent
behaviour hasn’t changed, but society and its’ response to their behaviour have
changed ( Steffensmeier,
Schwartz, Zhong, & Ackerman, 2005). This was attributed
to changing definitions of violence over time, increased policing of violence
within relationships and private settings and decreased tolerance towards delinquent
behaviour ( Steffensmeier,
Schwartz, Zhong, & Ackerman, 2005). Therefore, this goes to show that there are other
plausible explanations and theories to support and explain the evidence at hand
that could better suit the primary sources and the minute convergence of
violence seen amongst youth offenders.


occupies a critical role within the criminology sector and provides an
essential foundation for the organisation of knowledge that is crucial in order
to be able to understand crime and provide intervention when needed (Hayes & Prenzler, 2015). The women’s
liberation hypothesis isn’t the only theory that can be utilised to explain patterns
of youth violence and why females’ participation in violence has experienced a small
rise in the past decades or why it hasn’t decreased. Other plausible
explanations include the ‘offender generated hypothesis ‘which hypothesises that the small female
youth arrest rate rise is due to changing gender-role expectations that have
allowed young females a greater freedom (Steffensmeier &
2006). According to this view, with
greater freedom, such as attending school, young females have become
masculinized and now partake in competitive and aggressive behaviour once only
associated with males. This hypothesis also links increasing entertainment
media and its’ exposure amongst young females to messages condoning girls as
violent, as exemplified by the video game ‘Tomb Raider’ that has a violent heroine
(Steffensmeier &
2006). The ‘policy generated
hypothesis’ posits that female
arrest trends are by-products of policy changes that have led to a greater
visibility and reporting of girls’ violence, especially amongst youth (Steffensmeier &
2006). Policy changes include;
changing definitions of violent behaviours and the broadening of what was once
considered violent. This would then accommodate the small rise of female youth
offenders, unlike the women’s liberation hypothesis which likens it to a sense
of equality that women are yet to even fully ascertain. Furthermore, the
feminist pathway theory suggests that victimization throughout ones’
life is a risk factor for offending (Wattanaporn & Holtfrete,
Whilst victimization is a risk factor for both young males and females when it
comes to violence, it is a stronger predictor for females (Wattanaporn & Holtfrete,
It was not until the 1970s that research analysed trauma, abuse and previous victimization,
as factors that can influence women to commit crimes. Victimization risk peaks between ages 16 and 19 (Wattanaporn & Holtfrete,
2014). According to the National Crime Victimization
Survey, the risk of victimization increases by 8 percent from ages 12 to 15 and
16 to 19. The young age at which the risk of victimization peaks has
significant implications on the psychological and social development of the
victim (Wattanaporn & Holtfrete,
2014). Thus, victimization during developmental years has the
potential to disrupt the normal maturation of an individual, and shape the
paths the juvenile may take such as violence (Wattanaporn & Holtfrete,



    In light of the evidence gained through
research, it is safe to say that although the women’s liberation hypothesis is
relevant in explaining how changed social situations and conditions have led to
a small gender convergence in youth crime statistics, more relevant theories
such as the policy generated hypothesis and the feminist pathway theory are
suitably better at explaining violence amongst youth and changing patterns that
have occurred throughout time. The women’s liberation hypothesis posits that with
female societal emancipation, women’s offending will increase in frequency and
become more akin to male crime statistics. Although reports, media and some
literature argue that juvenile female’s violence is increasing, it is nowhere
near similar to that of male participation in crime (insert statistic) and a
clear gender convergence in youth violent offending is not obvious. In addition,
the women’s liberation hypothesis attributes the increase of female arrests in
regards to violence to the struggle of women towards equality which took rise
in Australia from the 1960s onwards. However, other factors take a more salient
position in explaining why a slight increase may have occurred but not a
complete gender convergence and include increased exposure to violent behaviour
with the average teenager spending 20 or more hours in front of a TV or
computer screen weekly and 81% of teenagers either owning or having access to a
gaming console which supports the offender generated hypothesis (American Heart Association,
2015) (LENHART, 2015). Broadening definitions
of crime as the ABS grew and expanded from its beginnings in the 1990s and
links between victimisation at a young age with research
bringing to light that childhood abuse can significantly increase risks of partaking
in violence later in life (Hayes & Prenzler, 2015) (Malvaso, Delfabbro, &
Day, 2016).


   It is therefore just
to conclude that if based on secondary sources such as media articles and press
which have a purpose of creating a revenue which can be achieved through scare
tactics and undue hype, the women’s liberation hypothesis would be a suitable
theory to explain the extreme gender convergence expressed and needed in order
to be similar to that of young men. However, if primary and more reliable data
such as bureau and crime statistics were relied upon it would be correct to say
that the gender convergence in youth violent offending is minute and women’s
equality hasn’t been reached as suggested by the women’s liberation hypothesis.
Therefore, the women’s hypothesis theory is cannot help us to understand
current youth offending rates, and theories such as offender generated
hypothesis, policy generated hypothesis and feminist pathway theory would be
better-suited theories when exploring gender in regards to violence amongst
youth (Steffensmeier &


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