Murder on the crest of savagery by girls

3rd April 1998 at 01:00

After the Arkansas school slaughter, TES correspondents report on growing violence among the young worldwide

The trial of Kelly Ellard, a 15-year-old girl accused of murdering her classmate Reena Virk by breaking her neck and throwing her off a bridge, is due to begin this month.

Six high-school girls who have already been convicted of beating and torturing her minutes earlier in November are awaiting their sentence.

Reena Virk's killing is only the most gruesome in a series of violent assaults by girls that has led to calls for schools and parents to return to disciplining children.

In February, a 13-year-old Ontario girl was charged with stabbing an eight-year-old, and a 17-year-old was accused of torturing another girl for more than four hours.

And in March a teenager in British Columbia was beaten by a group of girls over a supposed incident involving a boyfriend.

"Even in these post-feminist times when we want girls to be assertive, such acts shake traditional beliefs about femininity," says Patricia Pearson, author of When She Was Bad: Violent Women and the Myth of Innocence. "Boys are expected to be dysfunctional, but we like to think that girls are better. We shouldn't."

Dr Debra Pepler, who has examined hundreds of hours of videotapes of playground behaviour, and is advising the Ontario government on how to tackle the issue, says: "Almost half of the aggression in (Canada's) school yards is initiated by girl bullies."

Outside schools, male youths are still more violent, accounting for 16,589 of the 21,776 youths charged with violent offences in 1996. But, since 1986 the number of young females charged has risen from 1,728 or 18.6 per cent of the total to 5,189 or 23.8 per cent of the 1996 total, a more than five-fold increase.

University of Victoria professor Sibylle Artz, author of Sex, Power amp; the Violent Schoolgirl, puts the number of Canadian girls who admit to having "beaten someone up in the past year" at 20 per cent.

"Early intervention programmes are vital, but,school programmes that build self-esteem are not enough," cautions Dr Pepler Nathan Greenfield

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