- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 8, 2000

According to the FBI's Uniform Crime Report, the number of arrests of females 18 and under rose 118 percent between 1987 and 1996, from about 6,000 to more than 14,000. The violent offenses ranged from robbery and murder, to assault and rape. It seems girls are no longer "accessories" to male gangs or bit players on America's crime scenes.

In fact, they are fast forming their own violent gangs Latina gangs, black gangs, Asian gangs and white-supremacist gangs. They dub themselves with such monikers as Lady Disciples, establish their own Web sites, hold initiations and sport gang colors and elaborate tattoos. Some are organized and run by convicts already behind bars. Chicago, Los Angeles, the District of Columbia and Fairfax County are but a few of the growing list of communities struggling to reverse the female crime trend.

"While violent crime rates are decreasing nationally, female juvenile crime is on the increase," Insight magazine recently reported. "In 1989, eight males were arrested for every female. At the close of the last decade, that ratio was down to 5-to-1. The percentage of female gang involvement nationally is estimated at 10 to 15 percent; their ages range from 9 to 24." Moreover, while female criminals continue to commit such typical crimes as prostitution, the "big trend now is for girls to form their own gangs, and some are in competition with the male gangs," Sandra Hahn of the Washington County, Minn., Department of Court Services, told Insight.

For some jurisdictions, female gang activity is a long-standing problem. The center of Vietnamese gangs, for example, is a town of 80,000 called Westminster, Calif. About 40 miles west of Los Angeles, Westminster has the largest Vietnamese business district in the free world and at least seven all-female Southeast Asian gangs. The predecessors of those gangs were formed by girls straight from postwar refugee camps, but a second generation has become prominent and more violent. American-born, "they are seriously engaged in organized crime," a gang investigator said, "and some aspire to be an Asian John Gotti."

Part of the challenge in identifying female gangs rests in denial: Parents don't want to admit their "little girl" is involved in a gang; and police are less suspicious of girls. Police are, however, catching on. In the nation's capital, for example, police are pairing up with such self-help groups as the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise and the Alliance of Concerned Men, organizations that a few years ago mediated a truce between warring male gangs in Southeast. More recently, the organizations brokered a truce between two female gangs in Northwest, the Garfield neighborhood's "Shank 'Em Up Honeys," and Park Morton's "No Limit Honeys."

Recognizing the growing role of women in crime, organized or otherwise, is vital to stopping it. Lawmakers and law-enforcement officials America must not go soft because an assailant or murderer happens to be female. Justice should be blind to the sex of the culprit.

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