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Report highlights female offensive

Nicholas Pyke reports on girls and violence while Linda Blackburne recounts a personal experience

The killing of 13-year-old Louise Allen has prompted much speculation that girls and women are becoming more violent.

It has been argued that the incident in which Louise was kicked to death by a gang of some 30 teenage girls at a fairground in Corby, Northamptonshire is a sign of the times. As females acquire the economic trappings once associated with men, so other less desirable aspects of male behaviour are following.

This is a plausible theory backed up by some, but not abundant, evidence. The Home Office crime figures are a good start. They show that violent crime among women has risen by 12 per cent over the past five years, four times the rate of increase among men. The rise over the 10 years since 1984 is more dramatic. In 1984 5,300 women were cautioned or convicted for violent offences against other people; by 1994 this was 9,500.

Overall, however, the numbers are small: less than one-fifth of the offences committed by men. The more convincing evidence seems to relate to attitudes rather than recorded incidents of violence.

An 18-month survey of 2,000 18 to 34-year-olds by the Demos independent think-tank suggests there is increasing androgeneity, which is to say that both young men and young women are more willing to adopt attitudes traditionally held by the opposite sex.

An apparent willingness on the part of young women to espouse and even enjoy violence is one aspect of this.

"The feminising of young men is being matched by the masculinisation of women," says the report. "Risk-taking is a good example; many more young women seem to enjoy doing things that are physically dangerous or forbidden."

"Perhaps the most disturbing trend is the darker side of this attraction to masculine values. While it might be less surprising that 25 per cent of young men aged 18 to 24 agree that 'it's acceptable to use physical violence to get something you want', our data also show a remarkable rise in attachment to violence among younger women, with 13 per cent of 18 to 24-year-old women agreeing."

Indeed Demos goes on to produce comparative figures for 15 to 17- year-old females which show that they are more likely than males of the same age to take pleasure in violence.

But, as a spokesman for Demos says, these are "small findings from a large report". and while interesting as an account of attitudes, they can say little about actual behaviour or how it has changed.

"Freedom's Children: work, relationships and politics for 18 to 34-year-olds in Britain today" by Helen Wilkinson and Geoff Mulgan is available at Pounds 9.95 from Demos, 9 Bridewell Place, London EC4V 6AP.

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