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Soc Sci Med. 2005 May;60(10):2191-204. Epub 2004 Dec 23.

What girls need: recommendations for preventing violence among urban girls in the US.

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  • 1Department of Society, Human Development and Health, Harvard School of Public Health, 677 Huntington Avenue, 6th Floor, Boston, MA 02115, USA.


The last decade saw increases in arrests of girls for violent behavior and a corresponding concern that girls' involvement in violence was increasing in the USA. However, there are few empirical studies of the dynamics of violence by girls, leaving providers of violence prevention programs and policy-makers without evidence on which to base gender-appropriate prevention strategies. To address this gap, qualitative interviews were conducted with a diverse sample of 61 urban girls aged 11-17. Findings were compared with quantitative interviews from the prospective cohort of 961 girls from whom these respondents were drawn, from the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods. Mixed-method techniques were employed. Qualitative data were analyzed for girls' recommendations for preventing involvement in violence. Data from the larger cohort were used to test these recommendations quantitatively. Due to study design, in the qualitative sample, 36 girls (64%) were involved in recent violence, most often with or against other girls. Pro-social behavior was common among both violent and nonviolent girls. In the overall cohort sample, 24.9% of girls reported violent perpetration and 97% reported pro-social activities. Eight themes regarding staying safe and preventing violence emerged from the qualitative interviews: girls stayed safe by staying home, avoiding dangerous people, staying busy with after-school activities, remaining calm when confronted, using escorts, and fighting back if attacked. Girls' protective influences included: empathic parental involvement, positive relationships with peers and older youth, and involvement in safe and constructive activities. These findings emphasize that safety in community, school, and family settings is critical for girls in avoiding violence and other risky behaviors. Violence prevention programs should focus on enhancing girls' relationships with mothers, older girls, and friends their age.

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