Beyond Gangs And Delinquency: Comprehending Female Delinquency

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Table of contents

  1. Juvenile delinquency and a deeper theoretical comprehension
  2. Female delinquency: Damocles’ sword
  3. References

Group delinquency, and also juvenile and female delinquency, had been in the focus of theoretical research of classical American sociology, mainly through the view of gang delinquency and delinquent subcultures, and more significant and polemical theories which emphasize irrational explanations of gang delinquency (Bordua, 1961).

Cohen (1955) and Cloward and Ohlin (1960) combine strain and cultural deviance models, mainly derived from Merton’s (1951) theory of social structure and anomie. In deep, these axioms attempt to demonstrate that deviance, as an unacceptable behavior distant from traditional or accepted norms and values, is a catapult toward delinquency. Furthermore, for these authors, environmental aversion, social control, and subcultural deviance conduct directly to delinquency patterns (Agnew, 1985).

A strong classical point of view is Cohen’s (1955) characterization of the delinquent subculture as nonutilitarian because it includes some unaccepted activities, especially theft, which are not oriented to calculated economic ends. Also, the delinquent subculture, the gang, is, at this point of view, a way of recouping the self-esteem destroyed by middle-class-dominated institutions (Bordua, 1961). It is also important Cressey’s (1964) epidemiology of crime trough differential social organization, which supports Merton’s deviant behavior as the comprehension of crimes in the working-class population.

But, in general, this sociological and instrumental conception responds to the theoretical inheritance that on the culture of poverty was reflected in various disciplines of the social sciences of the second half of the twentieth century, mainly after the studies of Lewis (1966). This multidisciplinary tradition focuses, in broad strokes, on the impotence of the impoverished majorities, which as a genetic condition, is perpetuated throughout the generations. Precisely because of this, and despite its many merits, the original investigations of gangs and crime show little understanding of the political-economic conditions that make poverty inevitable for some.

Juvenile delinquency and a deeper theoretical comprehension

With the arrival of more comprehensive and inclusive researches, there are more convincing notions that support the influence of social bond to commit theft and violent crime among male and female adolescents (Chui and Chan, 2012; Peterson, Lee, Henninger, and Cubellis, 2014), and also the dilemmas of cultural transmission and its solutions through a cultural pedagogy focused on values (Kováts-Németh, 2016).

Baz and Fernández-Molina (2017) and Nihart, Lersch, Sellers and Mieczkowski (2005) weigh up school, parental monitoring and, especially, police legitimacy, toward the formation of young people’s attitudes. In this last branch, many interesting investigations reveal the increasing interactions between younger citizens and law enforcement. In 2015, there were nearly 1 million arrests of adolescents under age 18, and in 2014, there were over 3 million arrests of young people between the ages of 18 and 24 (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 2018).

These neo-comprehension of subcultural patterns is assumed sometimes as the street culture, by authors like Jacobs and Wright (1999), who explain that “street culture subsumes a number of powerful conduct norms, including but not limited to the hedonistic pursuit of sensory stimulation, disdain for conventional living, lack of future orientation, and persistent eschewal of responsibility” (p. 165). In this way, the theoretical-methodological gap is open to the study of other social indicators, such as race, gender and nationality, and its link with the norms of subculture and delinquency in young people.

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Undoubtedly, one of the most worrying and relatively poorly studied edges is female crime, primarily in American society, accustomed to hearing about drug or interracial crimes, but little concerned about the problems of women who commit or are vulnerable to commit any criminal act.

Female delinquency: Damocles’ sword

Even though significant progress has been made in the empowerment of women, it remains a reality that, in the study of juvenile delinquency, more attention is paid to boys, perhaps because “girls’ delinquent acts are typically less chronic and often less serious than those of boys (Zahn et al., 2010). Even under this bias, it has been shown that these minor offenses may mask serious problems that girls are experiencing, as running away from home or even sexual and physical victimization.

This suggests that although their offense behavior may not appear to be very serious, these girls may be fleeing from serious problems and victimization, some involving illegal behavior by adults, which in turn makes them vulnerable to subsequent victimization and engaging in other behaviors that violate the law such as prostitution, survival sex, and drug use. (Zahn et al., 2010, p. 3)

Some statics show two issues in this regard: girls are the fastest-growing segment of the juvenile justice population, and also they enter the juvenile justice system at younger ages than boys. To prove this, in 2007, there were 2,5 million arrests for females of all ages, and a quarter were girls under 18; also, of all youth incarcerations, 42 % were 15 and younger but only 31 % of boys were 15 or younger. Otherwise, issues from differential social organization, as race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, abuse and victimization, emotional and mental health, and family issues, can also affect each offense type and severity, which, in the case of prostitution and commercialized vice, is still more significant in girls than boys (NCCD Center for Girls and Young Women, 2009).

As Hoyt and Scherer (1998) explain, female delinquency traditionally emphasize sexuality as either the cause or expression of females’ delinquent behavior, because “the «deceitful» nature of women (derived from practice at faking sexual arousal), along with precocious biological maturity, were proposed to account for female delinquency” (p. 82). For that reason, female delinquents are mostly seen differently, with a social stigma. But, with the change of generations and scenarios, women must be seen with a holistic comprehension, and statics can demonstrate how integrated they are today to American society, mainly through employment data.

Is a fact that, today, in American society there are more than 70 million women in the civilian labor force; almost 47 % of U.S. workers are women, and more than 39 % of women work in occupations where women make up at least three-quarters of the workforce (U.S. Department of Labor, 2017). Even, in August 2019, unemployment rates for young people are very similar, and for example, in the ages 20 to 24, 7,9 % of men and 6,2 % of women are unemployed (Bureau of Labor Statics, 2019). These statics represent a very important climbing for women’s participation in the U.S. labor force, taking into consideration that it is almost double than participation in 1948.

Female delinquency, and youth delinquency in general demand further attention from social sciences. But, first of all, it must be said that young offenders need more the application of efficient and creative pedagogical strategies to extend the age which they begin in the criminal act, in these complex times where there should be less scientific plethora and more socio-political action.


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  2. Baz, O., and Fernández-Molina, E. (2017). Process-based model in adolescence. Analyzing police legitimacy and juvenile delinquency within a legal socialization framework. European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research, 24(3), 237-252. doi: 10.1007/s10610-017-9357-y
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  8. Cressey, D. R. (1964). Crime and Differential Association. Springer: Dordrecht.
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  10. Jacobs, B., and Wright, R. (1999). Stick-up, Street Culture, and Offender Motivation. Criminology, (37), 149-173.
  11. Kováts-Németh, M. (2016). Dilemmas of Cultural Transmission. Universal Journal of Educational Research, 4(7), 1698-1707. doi: 10.13189/ujer.2016.040723
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  14. NCCD Center for Girls and Young Women. (2009). Getting the Facts Straight about Girls in the Juvenile Justice System. Retrieved from
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  17. Peterson, B. E., Lee, D., Henninger, A. M., and Cubellis, M. A. (2014). Social Bonds, Juvenile Delinquency, and Korean Adolescents: Intra- and Inter Individual Implications of Hirschi’s Social Bonds Theory Using Panel Data. Crime & Delinquency, 1-27. doi: 10.1177/0011128714542505
  18. U.S. Department of Labor. (2017). 12 Stats About Working Women. Retrieved from
  19. Zahn, M. A., Agnew, R., Fishbein, D., Miller, S., Winn, D., Dakoff, G., … Chesney-Lind, M. (2010). Girls Study Group. Understanding and Responding to Girls’ Delinquency. Washington D. C.: U. S. Department of Justice.
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