Girls just wanna have fun - fighting and mugging

Tomorrow's `Panorama' reveals an alarming rise in female rates of violence, reports Su Pennington
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The Independent Online
Kimberly is 13 and so afraid that she never goes out on her own. What scared her beyond measure was the time she was set upon by three girls, just a little older than herself, who forced her at knifepoint to drink a mixture of LSD and alcohol.

She was found eventually by a friend, wandering the streets, unaware of where she was, and was taken to hospital.

Kimberly had fallen victim to one of the most worrying trends of recent years - female violence. For while women were once only likely to be involved in violent crime as lookouts or as someone encouraged to seduce a victim, now they are the ones doing the punching, biting and butting.

The actress Liz Hurley was mugged at knifepoint by four teenage girls outside her London flat in 1994. The gang held a six-inch knife to her stomach and demanded money. The four attackers - two aged 18 and two 17 - were each given 12 months' detention for what Judge Gerald Butler described as a "thoroughly nasty" robbery.

In 1987 women and girls accounted for just 10 per cent of violent crimes, but by 1995 the figure was 16 per cent. Psychologists agree that these figures mark a significant change in female behaviour, particularly that of younger women.

Oliver James, a clinical psychologist, said: "If the rate of increase goes on women will be as violent as men within 20 years. In 1987 only 6 per cent of all juvenile-girl crimes were violent, whereas by 1994 that figure was 11 per cent, almost double."

Dr Sue Bailey, an adolescent forensic psychologist, sees young women referred to her by the courts or by social workers, and is extremely concerned about their behaviour. "Women are increasingly involved in violent crime," she said. "We'll have descriptions from the girls of them punching, locking, butting and continuing to hurt victims once they're down on the floor."

Austin White died at the hands of his girlfriend, who had attacked him several times before fatally stabbing him. Austin's sister had once witnessed her enjoying meting out a punishment to him by slashing him with a knife. "I saw Austin once," she said, "and he was cut down the side of his face from his ear downwards. When we asked him what he'd done, he said he'd done it shaving, but we knew he used a safety razor and it was such a thin cut, it wasn't a graze you'd make shaving.

"She broke his nose once and he was so ashamed he told everyone at work he'd been mugged. She worked at the same place and people were saying, `Have you seen Austin's face?' She just said: `I did it last night.' She was bragging about it and thought it was great that a girl could do that to a man."

On the night of the fatal stabbing, she knifed him through the heart, cleaned the weapon and went to bed, leaving him to die on the floor.

Violence is not just the province of young women or girls belonging to inner-city gangs. One who admits to becoming more violent in response to assaults is Tessa Wood, a middle-class woman who has been half-strangled and bitten by one assailant, sexually assaulted by another, and suffered the humiliation of being flashed at.

"I decided I was sick of it," she says. "I was going to do something about it, so I joined the gym and I started to learn Wing Chung, an aggressive form of martial arts. I learnt how to make a fist and how to deliver a pretty punishing blow to anybody who got in my space."

One night on a packed train a group of young men started to verbally abuse her. "I got angrier and angrier and suddenly I felt this tornado of anger coming out of me and in spite of the fact that there were four of them, all pretty well-built, I leapt out of my seat, and I lifted one out of his seat, got my hands around the base of his neck and whacked his head against the back of the train. I just shouted, `Enough!' Then I sat down again and there was a stunned silence."

Oliver James thinks that women are mirroring men's violence, just as they have reflected men's promiscuity. "It is possible that women could become as violent as men in the same way as they have become as sexually promiscuous as men, as keen on drinking alcohol, as keen on directing their aggression outwards in all sorts of ways."

The real problem, says Dr Bailey, is the impact on the next generation as violent young women become mothers. "It's particularly important that we intervene early with these girls, so that we don't enter into a cycle where the next generation of girls are become increasingly violent."

Panorama: Violent Women: 9.30pm tomorrow, BBC1