As evidenced by the recent gang-related homicide in a Norcross park where two 16-year-old girls are accused of pulling the triggers, many of the traditional ideas of what girls are made are fading faster into history than Betty Crocker's Easy-Bake Oven. And it's happening close to home.
Increasingly, girls are proving they can do the same things as boys -- play Little League baseball, kick field goals on the football team, compete in high school wrestling -- while a generation of women have grown up pursuing lifestyles and forging identities beyond homemaker and mom.
"Females' roles in American Society have changed," says Doug Bachtel, a sociologist and demographer at the University of Georgia. "A female's role in American society is no longer solely wife and mother. It's now politician, career military, CEO -- and gang member."
Hasia Sauceda of Duluth and Janeth Christina Olarte of Gainesville, both 16, are charged with shooting Robin Rainey, 17, and Mechelle Marie Torres, 18, on Oct. 30 at the Pinckneyville Park Soccer Complex in Norcross. Torres died of gunshot wounds to the head, but Torres survived and was able to dial 911. All four girls reportedly were involved with the gang known as Vatos Locos, Spanish for "crazy homeboys."
Three young male gang members, including Rainey's boyfriend, also are charged in the murder and two more young women were being sought at presstime in connection with the crime, according to police.
As this incident seems to confirm, law-enforcement experts say girls are moving from mere supporting and accomplice roles within gangs -- driving getaway cars, hiding weapons, committing burglaries and selling drugs -- to the front lines of violent activity. "They are just as violent and active as the guys," says officer C.C. Long with Gwinnett's Crime Prevention Unit.
Gini Sikes, a New York writer who hung out with street gangs across the country, describes the trend in her 1998 book 8-Ball Chicks: A Year in the Violent World of Girl Gangsters.
In beginning her research, she came across FBI statistics showing that women accounted for only 12 to 15 percent of all homicides, a rate that had not changed for three decades. Not very eye-catching. But a Los Angeles County deputy told her if she wanted to examine a female population that was experiencing an escalation in violence, she should look at teenage girls in gangs.
"One of the first girls I met revealed to me that she committed her first crimes dressed as boy," Sikes writes. "Girls, she told me, were just as violent and criminal as boys, they were just smarter about it and 'more sneaky.'"
Still, they're getting caught. From 1994-1998, arrests of juvenile females increased more than males percentage-wise in most offense categories, according to the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
It is well established that girls can boil your pet rabbit on the stove and are capable of dastardly acts of violence not generally associated with femininity. Still, in a world that has more career and lifestyle options than ever for young women, what allure does gang life hold for girls?
"Girls join gangs for the same reasons guys do," says Marco Silva, a former gang member who is an investigator with Gwinnett County Police's gang unit. "They want to belong to something, be a part of something because they lack respect from their homes."
It's a network, a security blanket, a surrogate family, a place to wield power and influence and feel a connection with something and, as odd as it sounds, it's a place to receive love. "We protect each other. We help each other when someone's in trouble," Monica, a 15-year-old San Francisco gangbanger, told CNN in August 1998. "We go help them."
"Help" often comes in the form of violence.
Reportedly, Rainey and Torres went willingly with Vatos Locos members to Pinckneyville Park Oct. 30 because they thought they were going to receive "a beat-in" -- a form of harsh corporal punishment for hanging out with rival gang members, but also a form of acceptance back into the fold. Gang leaders had another, more lethal, idea, police said.
Torres' slaying represents a new phenomenon in metro Atlanta -- girl on girl violence, with deadly results.
"Two girls shot two other girls. Why are we looking at this as different" from other gang violence? asks Silva. "It's still a kid shooting a kid."
Georgia State University sociologist Lesley Williams Reid doesn't buy the notion that young women suddenly are becoming more violent within gang structures. "A murder like this is extremely, extremely rare," she says.
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