Female Delinquency in Portugal: What Girls Have to Say About Their Offending Behaviors
Female Delinquency in Portugal: What
Girls Have to Say About Their OffendingBehaviors
Vera Duarte is an assistant professor at University Institute of Maia (ISMAI,
Portugal) and a researcher at Interdisciplinary Centre of Social Sciences (CICS.NOVA, University of Minho, Portugal) and at the Research Unit in Criminology and Behavioural Sciences (UICCC/ISMAI, Portugal), where she is the director. She has a Ph.D. in Sociology, and has been involved in teaching and research into the sociology of deviance and crime, juvenile and gender delinquency.
2 Maria João Leote de Carvalho, Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Maria João Leote de Carvalho is a researcher at the Interdisciplinary Centre
of Social Sciences from the Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas Universidade Nova de Lisboa (CICS.NOVA.FCSH/UNL). She has a Ph . D . in Sociology (FCSHUNL), and has been involved in research and teaching in the fields of sociology of deviance, crime and violence and children and youth studies. She is a consultant to the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation Programme “Children and Youth at Risk”, and is a member of the European Council for Juvenile Justice – Academic Section of the International Juvenile Justice Observatory (IJJO).
Sciences CICS.NOVA.UMinho, Av. Carlos Oliveira Campos Castêlo da Maia, 4475690 Avioso S. Pedro, Maia, Portugal
Sociais e Humanas Universidade Nova de Lisboa (CICS.NOVA.FCSH/UNL), Avenida de Berna, 26 C, 1069 061 Lisbon, Portugal
This paper presents a dialogue between two qualitative research Ph.D. projects concerning girls who are involved in delinquent practices in Portugal. Our aim is to extend the debate concerning different dimensions of female delinquency in childhood and youth. This paper is focused on the analysis of girls’ explanations and understandings of their offending behaviors obtained through interviews—a methodology common to both doctoral studies. Conducting research in two different contexts—the Portuguese juvenile justice system and social housing neighborhoods—the authors explore interview data from twentysix preadolescent girls, aged 7–18 years old, from various sites around the country, who have in common their disadvantaged socioeconomic origins and the type of the delinquent practices they committed. Regardless of age, these girls shared similar perspectives on their involvement in delinquency, which were explained by the familial and social experiences that facilitated their offending behaviors. The transmission of delinquent values took place essentially within the female family circle or via their female peers. Delinquency was not seen by the girls as a rejection of their femininity and gender roles, nor as a resource for performing masculinity—on the contrary, different femininities were identified and risk and experimentation underpinned the girls’ practices. Discussing the contexts in which the girls emerge as aggressors allows the social dynamics which still make many of them victims even more visible.
Female delinquency Offending behavior Gender Qualitative research
Understanding how girls explain and understand their offending behaviors is an important step toward reforming social and legal policies with the aim to have greater efficiency in terms of preventing delinquency. Delinquency is based on social processes and dynamics which allow relevant analysis, both scientific and social. As a result, it is important to distinguish the forms of production of delinquency from the contexts in which it manifests and to consider what the protagonists have to say about their participation in delinquent acts.
For decades, a unique history has been built concerning female delinquency—a history of social invisibility reproduced by the media and in political debates, as well as in statistics and scientific studies [6, 10, 42]. Researchers from different areas and countries recognize research on this subject has maintained, for a long time, a genderbased view —in other words, it was established with the male as the norm and the female as invisible [6, 7, 9, 16, 21, 38, 54].
The emergence of an international literature more sensitive to gender, mainly since the 1990s, has been fundamental in constructing new concepts of delinquent activity [2, 6, 12, 29, 38, 49, 53]. Firstly, focusing on women and then, after that, girls . Scholars began to take a critical stance toward theoretical approaches that reduced and neutralized the role of gender in explaining delinquency, influenced by the “New Girl Order” debate where competitive discourses prevailed: “girl power” versus “girls at risk” . This debate reshaped normative femininities, articulating active girlhood with a set of moral and social concerns about teenage pregnancy, drug taking or involvement in crime. . In recent years, feminist criminological perspectives have emphasized new directions for research on girls’ offending behaviors and scholars face new challenges in terms of crossing gendered theoretical approaches with criminological theories [11, 32, 52]. As girls have become more visible in the official justice data in Western societies [6, 12, 41], the debate continues about whether this trend reflects a real increase in female delinquency [3, 12, 49] or whether changes in society’s responses remain genderbased . Worldwide, the media tends to promote the idea there has been a change in the nature of the acts recorded and probably girls’ offenses have becoming more serious (e.g. there are more girls involved in theft and violent crimes) [17, 34]. Therefore, a better knowledge of the nature, causes and reasons associated with female delinquency is needed and girls should be given a voice on this issue.
In Portugal, little research has been done into female delinquency, whether in terms of describing the phenomenon by statistical analysis or via conducting other kinds of studies [9, 16, 18]. The process of ratifying the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990 supported the need for its implementation, which has led to a broader reform of the Portuguese Children and Youth Justice system in 1999. The Portuguese juvenile justice system differs from most other European countries, giving less importance to the offence than to the need for the offender to be educated on the fundamental community values that have been violated by the illicit act. It can be regarded as a third perspective falling in between a welfare model and a punitive or penal one. There has never been a juvenile criminal law in the country, and the juvenile justice system does not have a retributive purpose; it is focused on addressing the offending behavior in a manner appropriate to the young person’s development. For children below 12 years of age who have committed an offence qualified by the penal law as crime, can only be implemented protection measures. A person between 12 and 16 years old who commits a criminal offence can only be subject to educational measures, as defined by the Educational Guardianship Law (LTE). The age of criminal majority has been maintained at 16 years although the age of civil majority is 18 years.
The studies carried out in this country since the 1990s have been mostly descriptive [8, 15, 22]. More recently, researchers focused on delinquency among young women  and girls [9, 16, 17] as a result of females becoming visible in the official data .
This article falls within this context and presents an innovative approach by merging two qualitative studies. It was written by two sociologists as the result of sharing reflections and the conclusions of their doctorates. It is focused on the analysis of girls’ explanations and understandings of their offending behaviors, offering a glimpse into the reality of girls’ delinquency in Portugal. By giving a voice to the girls, the aim is also to give visibility to the research done in the more peripheral countries of Southern Europe. As much of the feminist criminological research on female delinquency comes from the United States, this article offers a valuable contribution to the extant literature on the subject.
In recent decades, gender issues have become more visible in the debate on delinquency and different approaches have been developed [10, 16, 29, 43, 48]. It is agreed that “narrow[ed] conceptualizations of gender, unjustified theoretical assumptions and a lack of rich qualitative data” (, 894) have limited the theoretical work on the relationship between gender and delinquency. For many years, criminologists neglected the topic of female delinquency, treating girls with indifference . Two main images have prevailed in traditional criminological theories: firstly, the female is “submerged” in explanations of male delinquency, as presented in mainstream theories which assume that girls become involved in delinquent practices for the same reasons as boys . Secondly, the female delinquent’s actions are argued to be due to social problems and issues concerning sexual morality . Within this mode of thinking, when a girl commits illicit acts, she is seen to be violating the social expectations of her feminine role, which is conventionally incompatible with delinquency.
These images have been welldocumented and also criticized by some feminist researchers over the past 30 years [2, 7, 10, 38, 42] who have questioned their reliability to explain girls’ delinquency. According to Steffensmeier and Allan (, 483), based on the concept of the “genderrelated conditions of life,” mainstream theories fail to consider how the gendering of social life influences variations in delinquency. ChesneyLind  and Piquero et al.  argue that girls’ delinquency presents some specifically gendered traits expressed in their logic of action, their awareness of exposure to risk factors, and the way in which they experience delinquency concerning daily genderbased behavior.
Feminist criminologists have made the gendering of lives a priority area for study by putting gendered development and socialization at the core of discussion , exploring the gendered pathways to delinquency [17, 51, 52], and the sexist and paternalistic responses of the juvenile justice system [30, 52]. Their perspective has shown that girls’ development, needs, and pathways to delinquency differ in significant ways from their male counterparts, mainly because of the gendered conditions of their lives. Some contemporary feminist literature [1, 3, 11, 16, 17, 52] has tried to get round the victimization versus agency dichotomy by showing that girls are not only victims, but also social actors, building their own lives. Several authors reveal how girls make feminine traits into offences  and how risk and experimentation also underpin their actions, even when they challenge ideas of what is considered to be “appropriate” for girls. Based on the feminine social universe, research into girls’ delinquency has revealed important considerations concerning gender differences, as laid out in the work of Hubbard and Pratt , Belknap and Holsinger , ChesneyLind and Jones , and the Girls Study Group [37, 53, 54]. These authors show there is growing evidence that the fundamental theoretical correlates of crime— such as poor family relations, low parental supervision, low selfcontrol, delinquent peer influence, and economic disadvantage—are gender invariant, but that the reactions to these stressors may not be .
Scientific literature widely portrays delinquency as a result of social learning processes associated with windows of opportunity that facilitate the practice of delinquent acts [4, 13, 50]. Among these opportunities, special attention should be given to the prevalence of certain patterns of social networks in certain areas, especially illegal ones with links to criminal models and offenders. Girls’ socialization in contexts where violence and crime tend to happen regularly subjects them to greater exposure and contact with these social problems and places them within a framework of values that can facilitate the violation of social rules and nonconformity [6, 45]. Families and kinship networks, as primary socialization groups, have a special role and both can be prime determinants of delinquency [6, 11, 38].
Factors associated with families and parental exercise of informal social control and supervision, as well as the educational learning processes parents and relatives build with girls—in particular, those involving adherence to social and legal values—are strongly related to delinquency [24, 38, 50]. There are many possible relationships between families, informal social control and delinquency, but it is important to note that as families influence the development of their members through social control, they are also influenced by the context in which they live [9, 45].
Girls have idiosyncratic features linked to the social conditions affecting them, such as histories of sexual abuse in greater proportions than boys, and a tendency to fall prey to cognitive distortions (e.g. selfblame, negative selfimage) that tend to accentuate mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, suicidal tendencies, and selfinjury [31, 54]. They are also more affected by reproductive and sexual differences, which make them more vulnerable to prostitution, and early unwanted pregnancy and motherhood [4, 54]. In addition, they have more sociotropic cognitive behaviors that increase the need for social acceptance as expressed by the greater impact that family and school relationships, male and female friends and boyfriends, have in their lives. This impacts upon their use of violence, which tends to be more indirect and relational than among boys. These are conclusions that are relatively agreed upon among researchers [4, 11, 31, 37, 53, 54], although Kruttschnitt  highlights how some of these factors were thought to be uniquely important to female offenders, may not be [40, 54] because the relation between girls’ victimization and crime remains unclear. Moreover, it is important that these findings, mainly based on US studies, should not be generalized and applied to European females or to those in other geographies without special attention having been paid to their specific contexts [16, 18, 52]. Crosscontinental studies are still needed to gather evidence concerning the differences and similarities which girl offenders exhibit.
This article is the result of an exploratory crossanalysis of the two authors’ Ph.D. theses, both focused on delinquency in Portugal. It aims to extend the debate about the dimensions and expressions of female delinquency in childhood and youth, structured via analysis of the findings obtained by the use of a common methodology used in both studies: interviews with girls involved in delinquent practices. As these exploratory qualitative studies focused on two specific contexts at a particular time, the findings cannot be generalized and applied to other settings.
Duarte  conducted qualitative research between 2008 and 2009 to study the experiences and meanings of delinquency in the life of girls in conflict with the law and subject to educational measures in the Portuguese juvenile justice system, as defined by the Educational Guardianship Law. The research was conducted with girls placed under libertydepriving measures in custodial institutions (called Educational Centre), and with others subject to educational community measures, both supervised by the Directorate General for Social Reintegration (DGRS) (currently named the DirectorateGeneral for Reintegration and Prison Services), which is the auxiliary body of the judiciary administration responsible for the enforcement of juvenile justice measures. In total, twentyseven individual files were examined and nineteen interviews held. At the time of the research, there was only one mixed educational center in Portugal, with a female residential unit for twelve girls. Concerning local DGRS services, the researcher was authorized to have access to information and to conduct interviews only with girls in the Lisbon area. Based on the file analysis and interviews, sociological profiles were built that helped outline why these girls became involved in delinquency. The analysis of this research data proceeded at the interface of symbolic interactionist views, structured action theories, and feminist perspectives, theories that approach the debate from the female subject’s perspective, and take into account that subjective views are constrained by the social lenses that shape criminal and genderbased performances.
Carvalho  carried out Ph.D. research project in Sociology concerning childhood, violence and delinquency in Portugal. Rooted in social ecology approaches and in childhood studies which recognize children as social actors, this study aimed to achieve a better understanding of children’s socialization processes considering multiproblematic spaces, particularly concerning their involvement in delinquency. Between 2005 and 2009, a case study based on ethnographic research and childcentered methods was carried out in six public housing neighborhoods in the Lisbon Metropolitan Area, Portugal. The diverse techniques used provided added value as they were utilized in a complementary way. Through intensive and prolonged ethnography, the author gave particular importance to the observation of a complex social reality and to interaction with the social actors in the field. The six neighborhoods were chosen because they experienced relatively high levels of social deprivation, violence and crime, although they are located in one of the richest counties in the country, and the area was the first to eradicate slums in 2003 by promoting public housing policies, most notably since the 1980s.
Considering that these neighborhoods are not usually accessible to research, this was an important step in terms of gathering information about the socialization process and social dynamics involving children there. However, the specificity of the social group under study and its life conditions lead to the need to deepen the data collected by trying to learn from the children the logic and the meanings assigned by them to their daily social practices, especially their delinquent actions. This enabled a body of data to be developed that was characterized by the heterogeneity of its sources and this provided a crossover of perspectives that sustained further discussion. Given the extent of the study, this paper only presents some of the most important results relating to girls’ social practices, taking as a starting point the purpose of identifying and analyzing how resident girls, aged 6–12 years old perceive and represent their participation in delinquency. Based on the analysis of the interviews and field notes, the intention was to study the contours of girls’ socialization in the field through their own accounts of their lives and to examine their perspectives on offending behaviors.
Research Contexts and Participants
Based on the interviews conducted in these two studies, this article focuses on the analysis of a total of twentysix interviews with girls, aged from 7 to 18 years. In both research projects, the girls came from disadvantaged socio economic environments, mainly in urban areas, with backgrounds affected to a great extent by the breakup of the original family unit. They were of different ages and ethnic origins, but two common denominators were their social origins and the type of delinquency committed. Conducted in two different contexts, the Portuguese juvenile justice system  and social housing neighborhoods , the findings support a brief exploratory discussion of the different expressions and meanings of female delinquency in Portugal from the girls’ perspectives. In Study 1, nineteen girls were interviewedten placed in an Educational Centre and nine subject to educational community measuresaged 14–18 years
(M = 16.31). Most were of Portuguese nationality (n = 13), although six were of African origin from the former Portuguese colonies. At the time the field work began, most (n = 12) were attending the 5th or 6th grade. For all of them, middle school presented a major obstacle, and it is at this stage where truancy, failure, and indiscipline worsened. Offences against property (e.g. theft and robbery) and physical attack (e.g. aggression) were the most common among these girls. Prior to the intervention of the juvenile justice system, most (n = 11) had been subjected to protection measures applied by the local Children and Youth’s Protection Commissions or by the Family Courts.
In Study 2, eighteen girls were interviewed, aged 7–11 years, (M = 9.44), but only seven were assumed to be involved in delinquency. Of these, most were of African origin from the former Portuguese colonies (n = 6), mainly the Cape Verde Islands, and the other one was of gypsy origin. They were attending the two state primary schools (1st–4th grade), and were living in one of the selected six public housing neighborhoods. All were from low income households receiving financial support from social services.
According to Portuguese law, as the participants in both studies [9, 16] were under the age of eighteen, the researchers had to explain the project beforehand to the girls and to their parents or legal guardians who had to give permission. An ethical approach was adopted, which included requests for authorization based on informed consent.
Procedures and Data Analysis
Studying the girls’ lives was based on a theoretical framework that viewed them as social actors and this highlighted the need to listen to what they had to say about their own actions. This enabled us to understand the active part they played in social dynamics and social change [3, 14, 27, 29, 36, 41, 43, 47].
Interviews were used in both studies, together with participant observation. In Study 1, observation was the strategy used to broach the subject and served as a way of establishing practical agreements in relation to these girls. A flexible interview guide was used, organized according to topics. Interviews were audio recorded and were held in research settings in a room made available for that purpose. In Study 2, informal talks with children took place as part of ethnographic research and this became the preferred mode of access to later informal and conversational interviews, according to the girl’s age . The interviews were audio recorded and held in informal spaces, individually or in small groups, in local communities. In both of the two studies, the interviewer’s aim was to get information on social practices and networks, and to hear what the girls had to say about their lives.
Interviews were transcribed into written form, keeping the original language, as an expression of each girl’s experience. The next stage involved examining this information by coding materials and, lastly, the results were processed and conclusions drawn and interpreted . A comprehensive analytical approach, based essentially on the interviewer’s content analysis (category and theme based) was used. For ethical reasons, to protect participants and guarantee their privacy and anonymity, the names of the girls are replaced by alphanumeric codes in this paper. Although translated from Portuguese, the original language and expressions have been retained as far as possible.
The Gendered Social Learning of Delinquency
In both studies, the delinquency category which girls were most involved with was “offences against property,” mainly theft in shops, large commercial areas or in the street. This is a delinquency of acquisition, in which the girl wants to acquire consumer goods, mainly those associated with fashion and women’s lifestyles. This trend for gender selection in stealing goods  was notorious in Study 2: girls often acted with peers of a similar age, in pairs or in small groups, stealing clothes, accessories (earrings, chains, bracelets, assorted decorative accessories, and handbags) or school or other materials .
No, I didn’t choose, I only chose one thing. (…) I chose the coat, she (GirF27, 11 years old) gave me some Tshirts and trousers, and we went to put them on in the changing rooms. (Girl F36, 11 years old)
Then I took in a sweater, just one sweater. I put on two sweaters and a pair – of trousers. Girl (F27) told us to put on some shoes, but if they don’t fit, I’m not putting them on. (Girl F37, 8 years old) Me neither, it was a red coat with a brand name, like this, short. And she – (F27) chose a (brand name) trainer suit (girl F35, 9 years old).
And your sister (8 years old), did she get something too? –
– Yes, socks (…) she didn’t have them on her feet, but she put them in her
bag, and she had two pairs of trousers, one pair (brand name) and another pair, three sweaters, a top, a sweater, and her own sweater (Girl F36).
And how were they caught? –
– They said that she (F27) took something out of the trousers to let off the
alarm and put it in the rubbish bin. The police let her go into the toilet to take them off. Then I saw (F27) and (F35) with a policewoman. After, the police told us to take the clothes off. We took them off and the police said we had to go to the police station. (Girl F36). (, 394)
Theories centered on delinquency as a social learning process suggest girls who are related to delinquent individuals become more easily involved with delinquency themselves [9, 23, 24, 44]. The interviewers in the two research projects were told that girls usually committed more offences in a group and the willingness to follow other girls has already been shown by Giordano, Cernkovich, and Rudolph . The gendered character of peer influence emerges as an important variable when examining their explanations and understandings of their offending behaviors . Despite the literature suggesting that having male relatives and boyfriends/partners involved in crime has a significant influence on girls’ choices and life courses [5, 26, 40, 47], the explanations the girls offered do not lead to the conclusion that male individuals influenced them more than females. In Duarte’s study , a considerable number of girls (9 out of 19 interviewed) had boyfriends/exboyfriends who had gone to court for offenses, but only in three cases were male companions pointed out as the external influence on the girl’s offending behaviors (“I began to do bad things, (…) treating my parents badly, all because of him (boyfriend) (…) I ran away from home to be with him”–E15, 18 years old, , 198). On the contrary, what stands out is the contact with and powerful influence of peers, mainly other girls.
I was the youngest one. I always hung out with older girls. (E9, 15 years old ) I was with one group of girls and, instead of going to school, we used to go to other places to meet boys and go to parties. (…) I felt alone and I was looking for girl friends to join me (…). I participated in some robberies, assaults, especially when I was placed in the Children’s Home. I used to run away with the girls from there. (E8, 16 years old ) We were only girls. And we did a bit of everything (…) always. (E18, 16 years old ) The social learning of delinquency also occurs within the matriarchal family context under the direct influence of relatives of the same gender—mothers, aunts, girl cousins, grandmothers and sisters —and not, necessarily, from any male influence . In such cases, the gender schemas that female relatives provide for girls may significantly influence their social practices in terms of delinquency .
We went to talk to the mother of (Girl F35, 9 years old) and she explained everything. She put on the clothes, picked up her clothes, put on the clothes in the [shop] and then she told us to do what she was doing. She told us to take something off (…) that (…) the alarm tag. Her mother taught us, do it like this with your teeth (…). We managed to get it off, one took it off and we put on the clothes (…). Her mother told us, and she told us to go because there are stolen clothes at home and some bought, but most were stolen and then the case went to the court once. (Girl F27, 11 years old) (, 394)
Gender assumes another expression, which is particularly visible in the case of robbery. When the profile of the victims of delinquency committed by the youngest girls in the Carvalho  study is examined, not only is it common for victims to be alone, but almost all of them are female. This could be regarded as a sign that these girls perceived female victims to be more isolated and more vulnerable and are able to incorporate this understanding into their own offending behavior. On this issue, according to Duarte , if to a certain extent the offence is not planned (“It was the scene at the time, it came to mind and we said: let’s go and attack those girls”—E6, 14 years old), the selection of victims seems to be more premeditated.
Girls tend to prefer horizontal violence against the same gender (“It’s more girls that are assaulted. Because they are a weaker target”—E10, 14 years old; “Usually they are always more of our age, our height and girls, or small kids”— E11, 17 years old ). Those who are aggressors can also become victims at the hands of older girls in what seems to be a social reproduction of gendered violence patterns among girls (“I like playing in my neighborhood, but what I don’t like are the older girls who come beating on us and steal”. (Girl F38, 10 years old) (, 396).
Femininities and Risks
Regardless of age, these girls look for the company of other girls to go out with, attend parties with, take a walk in the community with or experience risky activities with. Genderidentification remains the aggregating factor of peer influence , and sexsegregated groups are a common denominator in both research projects.
If the girl’s experimentation falls within what is normal for the age group in question, a whole series of other risks are still raised. There are issues related to the social context in which most of them live and act, and with which they tend to have negative associations, which seems to place them at greater risk of offending behavior (i.e. substance taking, risky sexual behavior, running away from home, offending practices, among others). On the other hand, these facts could lead to negative health consequences when this type of behavior is already visible . There are girls who use physical violence as a resource for their defense and social inclusion in the territory in which they live as a result of the “normalization” of violence they are often subjected in their contexts of origin (“Yeah! All the people go fighting here, there is always someone against me and (…) Bang! There she goes! I give her them a punch hard too!” (Girl F06, 8 years old) (, 396).
Female participation in delinquent and criminal groups is not a recent phenomenon—what seems to be new are some of the ways in which girls participate, how they build gender relationships and how they orchestrate various forms of femininity through their delinquent practices. When the girls in Duarte’s study  spoke about their offending behaviors, they showed they were not passive and that they tried to conquer the social ground that opened up for them, making forms of femininity and actually assimilating forms of masculinity too, as claimed by Miller , challenging the ideas of society about what is traditionally appropriate for girls. These practices are seen as “girl’s things” and “girl’s business” by those interviewed by Carvalho .
Do you know a group [of 4 young adult females] called the Gang of the [name of a famous Portuguese clothing brand]? They bring me clothes, but my mother [who is living abroad] tells me not to accept [them] because if I have a lack of clothing, it is because I damage it. She always brings a suitcase of clothes. (…) They are smart, they have a ‘silver suitcase’ [lined with aluminum foil and silver inside] to pass the alarms without being caught. One is my aunt and they do not give clothes to others in the neighborhood, they only give it to me; to the other girls, they sell at the same price. (…) People here buy a lot. (Girl F27, 11 years old) (, 430) In both studies, girls speak about other forms of femininity—“tomboy forms of femininity—because they want to be recognized for performing acts similar to those practiced by boys whose freedom they envy (, 267) or “rebel forms of femininity,” expressed in terms of more reactive identities, such as those involved in activities and cultures of experimentation and provocation. These forms of femininity combine conventional and atypical gender practices. In this form of selfempowerment, which could signify changes in traditional roles, it is not imperative that girls infringe or reject all traditional feminine roles . The girl’s offending behavior is, many times, associated with the need for freedom, autonomy, and an independence they demand for themselves. So, running away from home, experimenting with alcohol and drugs, and committing crime does not clash with the view that they have of their own femininity and gender roles. In addition, many of them continue to see familial responsibilities and domestic roles as female and justify the greater control parents tend to have over girls’ lives on the basis of gender.
I used to cook the dinner and gave it my grandmother around seven and then I returned to the street. (E3, 18 years old ) A girl (…) she stays at home, works, she’s a mother (…). (E8, 16 years old ) He’s a boy, it’s normal, they begin to go around in groups at this age, (…) but for a girl (…), that is just not right. (E8, 16 years old )
As suggested by Silva , girls tend to be mainly represented in terms of gendered pathways marked by cornered routes, which means they “have in common the weight of family responsibilities that require them to make cuts with youth worlds and school worlds. (…) They are recruited by families for activities related to care” (p. 155). This gender naturalized vision extends to their definition of a mother’s role and serves to address the experience of motherhood and how this could effect “change” in a delinquent pathway.
Mom is kissing, embracing, changing diapers (…) the father is more the authority, imposing order. (…) My experience of being a mother made me see the world through others’ eyes. If it wasn’t for my son, I would be, once again, in a drug addiction phase. (E14, 18 years old )
“Girl-Object” Versus “Girl Subject”: An Open
The emergence of the image that many of the delinquent girls are no more than collaborators and accessories to their male partners revives the debate on “girl object” versus “girlsubject” . The “girlobject” is the prevailing image in mainstream literature in which a girl is seen as someone who lacks autonomy, and is characterized by the use of her sexuality and by the fact that she can be manipulated, especially by male figures. The “girlsubject” is someone who becomes aware of her autonomy and independence, operates in groups of girls and decides when she will associate with boys [3, 38]. The debate on this issue should not be polarized as it runs the risk of failing to understand that pathways are built on choices and actions taken within a limited field of possibilities and set social, family, school, and cultural circumstances. Those interviewed in both studies relate their delinquent trajectories to a series of structural constraints in their lives and of possible transitions and the likelihood, or not, of following a stigmatized pathway when facing deviant reference models.
These are pathways affected by apparently consecutive choices that reflect not only the social and genderized constraints to their autonomy, but also their position as social actors who make choices. The polarized literature on this phenomenon makes it impossible to perceive how girls position themselves in terms of the demand and/or management of risky behavior , and what boundaries exist in terms of the influence of peers, boyfriends, and family.
Among those interviewed in Duarte’s study , not all break with the gender division of work within the group, but many break with the gender division of pleasure: they are not passive, they win when they want to, and choose their partners . Besides, the reasons for becoming involved in delinquency vary and, regardless of age, both younger  and older girls , (re)position themselves according to these incentives.
Some girls showed how the offence arose from an attempt to manage negative feelings, such as anxiety, as well as being coping mechanisms to deal with histories of abuse, physical and emotional maltreatment, abandonment and institutionalization. In some cases, their explanations concerning delinquency brought to the surface their past and present experiences regarding their victimization. The debate on female delinquency has to consider the changing roles and position attributed to women in society, without diminishing the social inequalities that are still a feature of the female condition.
I need to explode, I have to explode (…). What used to get my adrenaline going was to see other people on the ground crying, no matter how mad that sounds. What filled my head was: they did it to me, I have to do it to others, because if I don’t, no one will feel what I felt. But now I understand that no one will ever feel what I felt, because it wasn’t their parents hitting them (…) (E6, 14 years old) (, 195).
[If one had a son who stole], firstly, I would asked him if he lacks something, then I do would not beat him, I would speak to him, but, the next time, I would beat him, but not with the belt and whip, only with the slipper. (Girl F27, 11 years old) (, 427)
For others girls, seeking the “riskadventure” of experimentation and adrenaline may also be what drives them into delinquency, accordingly to their own words.
My aim is to make life shorter, live each day as if it were the last. (…) Everything in life is a risk (…) see where you’re going, see how far you can go, what your limit is! I’m like that, I like to know how far I can go. In this life, either you die, go to prison or escape! (…) Life without risk is nothing (…), it means nothing.
(E17, 17 years old—, 196) This term “riskadventure” emphasizes an important shift in terms of what risk represents in contemporary societies. According to Batchelor , violence can be “fun” and, in this sense, the demand for it in its many facets can also be seen through the prism of riskdesired, and the fascination with adrenaline and pleasure. If the demand for “riskadventure” leads some girls to start and maintain offending behaviors, there are others where this motivation comes not at the beginning, when the action was triggered, but in the maintenance of these behaviors.
No less important are the “traditional” arguments related to external influence and factors such as drugs or placement in the care system, which precipitate them into delinquency (“Everything I did was because I was completely addicted”—E2 16 years old, , 197).
But there are cases, especially among the older girls in Duarte’s study , in which delinquent behavior was the exception–an exception because they have not committed previous offences or the offence was sporadic or accidental or even because the life of these girls was not organized around delinquency. However, it still happened.
The combination of gendered theoretical approaches with criminological theories has promoted an important advance in the understanding of the complex ways gender intersects with delinquency. As Zahn  highlights, there is a stimulating research scenario in which contemporary feminist perspectives and control and social learning theories can bring new understanding of girls’ delinquency and their lives.
Girls’ agency to analyze and explain their offending behaviors has been clearly expressed in the present studies and their willingness to be heard was strongly expressed. Regardless of age, the girls in both research projects shared similar views about their experiences of delinquency. The genderized process of social learning in delinquency seems to be an important variable as familial and social experiences tend to facilitate their entry into delinquency. The transmission of delinquent values takes place essentially within the female family circle or via the female peers, rather than be from the influence of male individuals.
The girls participating in these two studies assumed different femininities and risks and experimentation emerged as the structures underpinning many of the delinquent acts they described. Delinquency was not seen by these girls as an act of rejection of their femininity and gender roles, neither was it a resource for performing masculinity—on the contrary, the offending behavior was a resource for “doing gender” [5, 32]. The significant social changes and the evolution of gender roles in recent decades in Western societies are wellknown. The situation is no different in Portugal. Although the girls portrayed in this research remain active and seek to conquer the space opened up for them, they do not forsake their traditional gender conditions and tend to reproduce social constraints.
Although the protagonism of the girls identified in these studies draws attention to their participation in delinquency, it should be not devalue the worth of their own words in expressing how social gender inequalities affect the female condition in Portuguese society, even today. Providing space for contexts in which girls emerge as aggressors makes the social dynamics of which many of them are still victims even more visible.
Violence and the use of physical force are regarded as legitimate resources by these girls, having been normalized and learned at an early age and incorporated into their practices. This leads to the question of knowing to what extent social change is already affecting younger age groups. It is important to understand how many of the younger girls in Carvalho’s study  will not go on, or have not gone on, to develop pathways similar to the girls in Duarte’s research .
No less important is the need to rethink the classification of female delinquency, so that these cease to be vague concepts influenced by the definitions used for male delinquency. Questioning gains in importance when learning about the lifestyles of girls in childhood and youth, and about new femininities. More than just tracing a profile of female delinquency, attention must be drawn to the many expressions and dimensions of this phenomenon. The diversity of pathways has potential for overcoming of the victimization versus agency dichotomy. We have seen how girls can be victims—when we cross the number of social contexts with which they have negative bonds—and, simultaneously, we have seen how they can be agents when we analyze how they construct, (re) create and negotiate the spaces of their agency.
Acknowledgements The authors gratefully acknowledge the girls who participated in the studies.
Funding The two studies referred to in this article were funded by the FCT
Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia, Portugal (Study 1: Ph.D. Grant Number SFRH/BD/35752/2007; Study 2: Ph.D. Grant Number SFRH/BD/43563/2008).
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of interest Author of Study 1 declares that she has no conflict of interest. Author of Study 2 declares that she has no conflict of interest.
Ethical Approval All procedures performed in studies involving human
participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.
Informed Consent Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.
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