IN THIS EDITION WE FEATURE TWO BOOKS, GIRLS AND VIOLENCE: TRACING THE ROUTS OF CRIMINAL BEHAVIOUR AND NEGOTIATING SEX WORK: UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES OF POLICY AND ACTIVISM.
Ryder, J. (2013). Girls and Violence: Tracing the Roots of Criminal Behaviour. Bolder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner.
Reviewer: Dr. Elaine Arnull, Reader in Social Policy & Social Work and Deputy Director of IDRICS, Buckinghamshire New University, UK
Girls and Violence: Tracing the Roots of Criminal Behaviour is a timely book which adds to the canon of feminist scholarship. It forms part of the series ‘Qualitative Studies in Crime and Justice’ and draws on a study of 24 adjudicated teenage girls remanded into custody for offences of robbery or violence in the 1990s. The narrative approach taken throughout the book allows for the exploration of the meaning girls have placed on events in their lives. In so doing, it allows us to understand a little more about the developmental pathways that lead some girls towards offending. Dr. Ryder’s psychosocial perspective pushes the field's theoretical boundaries focussing on the concept of attachment.
Dr. Ryder’s book tells a tale that is powerful and which draws us in, illustrating how we have created and constructed societies with a woeful lack of social, structural, community, and familial supports. The book poses the question: ‘How is it that girls spend years being shuttled among social institutions…that consistently fail them?’ And it demonstrates how this happened to the 24 girls in the study. The evidence provided leaves us pondering how children can be so consistently failed when we also know from research evidence that holistic services are the most effective way of supporting vulnerable children and young people (Munro, 2011; Morash, 2010; Arnull, et al., 2005). This book therefore helps us to explore and consider those trajectories in which young people are systematically failed.
Girls and Violence demonstrates considerable levels of social, structural, community, and family violence. The violence which the girls, their families and their communities experience and engage in is extreme but is also integrated into daily life and experience to the extent that as the book describes it, it may for some become ‘the norm’ (pp. 167). The similarity with past and current war zones is writ large. The stories told by the girls are those in which they and others live in constant fear of rape, assault, harm, and death for themselves and close others. The extremities of gun violence and levels of death and associated criminalisation for some groups of young people and some communities in U.S. society have not been felt to the same extent in Europe; nor have the extreme ravages to certain populations of the use of, and the war on, drugs. The experiences are, however, similar to accounts of war zones. An approach being considered by some criminologists right now is one informed by conflict resolution and healing. These methods have been developed from war zone experiences and may prove valuable for some communities struggling to deal with the extremities of violence. The possibility for these communities is that they may be able to draw on, and in time also inform, international work in this area. Further, they may help to build a knowledge base which is truly at the intersections of criminological knowledge – across gender, race, society, ability, infrastructure, development, expectation, and culture. Such an approach could potentially offer a better, fuller, richer understanding of violence and the role it plays in our lives.
In addition, this book’s descriptions of the normalisation in the daily lives of some girls of the extremes of fear, lack of control, abuse and violence also forces us to examine other uncomfortable events in our societies. Parallels surface with the U.K. and the recent Rochdale and Oxfordshire abuse scandals and trials. These and subsequent reports led to the uncovering of the apparent widespread and systematic abuse of girls and young women; abuse that had been recounted to police officers and other officials but where the words of girls were disbelieved or went unheard and remained not acted upon for many, many years (The Guardian, 2015).
Against this backdrop, Dr. Ryder’s contribution is significant because she gives us the voices of girls and young women, centre stage and without apology. Her work therefore delivers against a feminist agenda, which argues for the centrality of researching, understanding and promulgating the lived experience of girls and women. And she adds weight to the feminist concern with equality – equality of voice, equality of access, equality of power – for all. This argument appears constantly under threat in a time of fundamentalist religion of all types. And further from complacency, because some advances can lead to a belief that equality is ‘won’. The importance of work that shows how girls and young women can be systematically let down, neglected, abused, ignored and side-lined cannot be overstated. What we know from Dr. Ryder’s book and the U.K. experiences is that girls do not suffer in silence and anonymity – they tell people. However, frequently their individual voices are not heard and with little familial, community, social or structural power to make themselves heard their voices pass unheeded. Work like Dr. Ryder’s gives voice to the lived experience and places itself at the feminist core - that the personal is political.
What we know about the use and experience of violence is mainly predicated on the male model (pp. 166) and cultural and historical resonances echo throughout the book. The girls also told stories of agency, resilience, and striving; and I could recognise words and experiences of girls who use and experience violence many of whom I met and worked and researched with in the criminal justice system in the U.K. (Arnull & Eagle, 2009). Thus, this book crosses borders and it promotes reflection and learning. This aspect of the book will be particularly useful to those who are studying criminology, social sciences and social work and those who are teaching those subjects because it prompts, provokes and promotes questioning, thinking and criticality.
To summarise, the importance of Dr. Ryder’s work is that it helps us to hear the words of girls, to understand their experiences, and how those have shaped who they are, what they hope for, what they have done, and what they might be. By tracing the roots of criminal behaviour it enables us to understand the complex nexus of factors which have contributed to it. It demonstrates how those factors would need to be disentangled for the girls to be better supported and live safer and more hope-filled lives. In so doing it challenges a degendered approach to criminology and is an important work in the growing canon which seeks to make criminological empirical research and theory building more scientific, making it more rounded and more reflective of the world which it seeks to describe and understand.
- Arnull, E. & Eagle, S. (2009). Girls and Offending: Patterns, Perceptions and Interventions. London: Youth Justice Board. http://yjbpublications.justice.gov.uk/Resources/Downloads/Girls_offending_summary.pdf.
- Arnull, E., Eagle, S., Gammampila, A., Archer, D., Johnston, V., Miller, K., & Pitcher, J. (2005). Persistent Young Offenders: A Retrospective Study. London: Youth Justice Board. www.youth-justice-board.gov.uk .
- Harper, G. & Chitty, C. (2005). The Impact of Corrections on Re-Offending: A Review of What Works. 3rd edition. Home Office Research Study 291 London Home Office.
- Morash, M. (2010). Women on Probation and Parole: A Feminist Critique of Community Programs and Services. Northeastern University Press.
- Munro, E. (2011). Munro Review: A Child Centered System. Dept. of Health: London, UK. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/.../Munro-Review.pdf
- Laville, S. (2015). "Professionals Blamed Oxfordshire Girls for their Sexual Abuse." The Guardian, 3 March 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/mar/03/professionals-blamed-oxfordshire-girls-for-their-sexual-abuse-report-finds
- Van Voorhis. (2012). "On Behalf of Women Offenders: Women’s Place in the Science of Evidence-Based Practice." Criminology and Public Policy 11:2:111-145.
Showden, C. & Majic, S. (Eds.; 2014). Negotiating Sex Work: Unintended Consequences of Policy and Activism. University of Minnesota Press
Reviewer: Lara Gerassi, MSW, LCSW. Pre-Doctoral Fellow at Washington University in St. Louis, Brown School of Social Work