Many concepts and ideas have been developed on why there seems to be such a quantitative difference between male and female juvenile delinquency rates. Originally, experts discounted female offenders as not important to the theories of explaining delinquency as the low rate of female offences allowed them to be overlooked. Criminologists saw female crimes as mainly limited to crimes of a sexual nature, such as prostitution. Violence and other types of criminal behavior were considered exclusively a male dominated activity. Those few females who did act out in violence were thought to be outside of the norm. Early theories were influenced by these assumptions.
Much of the early theorists believed that physical differences between males and females accounted for the tendency for delinquent behavior. Beginning with the work of Cesare Lombroso, women were thought to be of lower sensitivity and intelligence. Women that committed offenses where thought to have male features. Sigmund Freud’s work evolved into the concept of penis envy. This means that girls wish that they were boys and thus need to compensate for their lack of this attribute.
The masculinity hypothesis which believed female offenders to have male biological and psychological traits advanced from these earlier perceptions of male and female juvenile offenders. They included differences in the socialization of male and female children and also cognitive and personality differences. There developed a belief that female offenders required more psychological treatment than male juveniles. Experts concluded that females differed from males in terms of their anxiety, depression, social stresses, control stimuli, parental relationships, and self-esteem.
More contemporary theorists that have focused on physical differences argue that gender-related hormones may account for a difference in aggressive behavior. Most contemporary theorists argue against these earlier theories as stemming from an era of which thought of men as being created for a dominant role and women maintaining a role of passivity.
Similarly the feminist view theorized that the explanation of the differences between male and female delinquency was due to economic conditions and sex role differences. This theory explains that females act with less criminal behavior because their roles allow them less opportunity than males. Proponents of this theory base female crime on the influences of male crimes. Traditionally, females were not open to the opportunities to commit the offenses that males were. As modern times have opened up more opportunities for females, included are situations where they are able to commit more crimes.
These modern views focus on the socialization of male and female children. For the most part, female children are supervised more regularly than that of male children. During their development, male children learn to take more risks and become more independent. Female children are more guarded or watched over and protected. They learn to better adapt interpersonal skills and have greater regard for others. This socialization process makes female children less likely to commit violence against others. Males’ personalities are more aggressive, where females tend to have more passive personalities. Female children are much better suited to talking out their problems or conflicts than their male counterparts. Since male children are less supervised and exhibit much more aggressive personalities, they are more prone to delinquency than female children.
Because of this difference in the socialization process that is experienced by boys and girls separately, delinquency rates differ. Boys develop values that make them more perceptible to gang mentalities and seek excitement and adventure. Girls whom exhibit these types of behaviors are thought to be outside acceptable behaviors for a girl. Society is more willing to except this type of behavior from a male child than from that of a girl child. Many children will adhere to culturally accepted norms and the influences of their socialization to family and society.
In addition to adapting to accepted forms of behavior, female children are believed to be affected by family disruption to a greater extent than male children. It has been determined that female children experience more physical and sexual abuse than male children. The levels of physical and sexual abuse experience by female delinquent children have blurred the line between victim and offender. This is because it has been found that most female offenders have been the victims of abuse earlier in their lives.
The juvenile criminal system has focused heavily on coping with male juveniles while largely ignoring female offenders. Earlier theorists concluded female offenders were too uncommon to account for in their research and in the development in treatment. Modern thought has acknowledged that female offenders are a growing proportion of juvenile crimes and focus has adjusted to account for this. Female offenders are no longer explained away by a simple comparison to male offenders but are explained in their own context.