Bernice Yeung

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Dear Clark County

Three days ago, Dawn Brink, who works at the local hospital in Clark County, Ohio, thumbed through the day's mail and noticed a white envelope with a series of strange stamps affixed to the top-right corner, and the word "Deutschland" written across the front in plain, clear hand.

Brink doesn't get much mail from abroad, and she tore into the letter excitedly.

"I apologize in advance if the purpose of this letter offends you," it began. "If someone from another country wrote a letter to me [and told me how to vote], I would say, 'It's none of your business.' But in this case and at this point in time, some action needs to be taken to get George Bush removed from office before even more damage is done to U.S. relations and the world."

After the first paragraph, Brink deduced that she had received the letter through "Operation Clark County," an ambitious if perhaps strategically flawed effort by the UK's left-leaning Guardian newspaper to influence the American election through a letter-writing campaign targeted at voters in the swing county of Clark County in the swing state of Ohio.

In an effort that reflects the international polarization George W. Bush has caused in his first term as president, the Guardian launched Operation Clark County a little over a week ago with the creation of an online "Democratic tool kit" to help concerned British readers feel like they can have their say in the November election. "Where others might see delusions of grandeur, we saw an opportunity for public service – and so, on the following pages, we have assembled a handy set of tools that non-Americans can use to have a real chance of influencing the outcome of the vote," the Guardian's Oliver Burkeman writes cheekily in an explanatory essay.

Editors at the newspaper, who say they dreamed up the idea at a local pub, also assembled an elaborate editorial package that includes more justification of the effort, background information about Clark County (entitled "Football and Mowers"), and sample appeals by three prominent Brits that most Ohioans have likely never heard of (for example, Richard Dawkins, a professor of the public understanding of science at Oxford University). The most crucial aspect of this toolkit, of course, was the web link that allows readers to sign up and receive via e-mail a name and address of a registered independent voter living in Clark County (it comes with a reminder that "charm will be far more effective than hectoring"). The Guardian also plied readers to participate with a contest: four people who are deemed to have written the most persuasive letters will win a trip to the United States to witness the spectacle of an American presidential election up close.

The Guardian reports that about 14,000 names and addresses of voters registered as independent – which the paper accessed through Clark County's elections department by paying a $25 fee – have been handed out to prospective letter-writers around the world. The system gives out an address only once, to make sure that voters don't get more than one letter. But according to some blogs, it's likely that far fewer than 14,000 letters were actually sent – some angry Americans of the Republican persuasion have taken to signing up for a name to prevent Clark County residents from receiving the letters.

Indeed, the Guardian has clearly miscalculated the amount of anger – and the vibrancy of the backlash – that Operation Clark County would engender among the independent-minded voters in Ohio and elsewhere.

"I didn't think it was right to send a letter like that and persuade people to vote for Kerry," asserts Beverly Coale, a retired public school cook whose 85-year-old mother received a letter from England. "I don't think anyone will be persuaded at all. We make up our own minds here. We're not going to listen to anyone who sends us a letter. We think for ourselves and decide who we want and who we'll vote for. We're too smart for that."

"I take this as a great insult," adds Terry Brown, an avid angler whose son received a letter. "If I hadn't made up my mind, this offended me so much that I probably would have voted for Bush because of this letter. It's an insult to my intelligence and to my being an American."

Meanwhile, Linda Rosicka, the director of the board of elections in Clark County has issued a press release that includes the phrase "We fought the American revolution for a reason."

In the intervening week since it began the project, the Guardian has been overwhelmed with mail and press inquiries from around the globe. Some of it has been positive and thankful, but a great number of them reveal sentiments similar to those expressed by Clark County's Terry Brown and Beverly Coale – and some people used graphic and creative language to do it. (For example: "KEEP YOUR FUCKIN' LIMEY HANDS OFF OUR ELECTION. HEY, SHITHEADS, REMEMBER THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR? REMEMBER THE WAR OF 1812? WE DIDN'T WANT YOU, OR YOUR POLITICS HERE, THAT'S WHY WE KICKED YOUR ASSES OUT. FOR THE 47% OF YOU WHO DON'T WANT PRESIDENT BUSH, I SAY THIS ... TOUGH SHIT!")

Indeed, the international media coverage and backlash has been so great that Guardian features editor Ian Katz was inspired to pen an article, published Thursday, that ponders the wisdom of launching Operation Clark County in the first place.

In the essay, Katz offers the reasoning behind the effort: "Surely a letter from a concerned Brit would be received more like a plea from an old friend." He also admits that he was prepared for a backlash, though he was surprised by its "eye-wateringly unpleasant" form. And he clearly underestimated the private nature of an American's relationship with the right to suffrage. "It's not as if we didn't consider the possibility that our project might have precisely the opposite effect to that intended," the article says. "The feature introducing the project included notes of caution from ... a University of Columbia professor. It's just that we didn't believe it."

But in the end, Katz concludes that the Guardian did, indeed, accomplish its goal. "We set out to get people talking and thinking about the impact of the U.S. election on citizens of other countries, and that is what we have done," he writes, even as he acknowledges that the effort flopped, at least a little bit: "Somewhere along the line, though, the good-humoured spirit of the enterprise got lost in translation."

Dawn Brink, the Clark County resident who received the letter from Germany, for one, didn't find the letter particularly offensive, though she didn't think it was very effective, either. "I'm open-minded and I'm willing to listen to other people's views. I've got two kids, so it takes a little more than this to get me extremely upset. I thought it was interesting to get a letter from a different country," she says.

But Brink, a regular churchgoer, has a deep ambivalence for the president that won't be resolved by a letter from a stranger. "I like [Bush's] morals and values on abortion and gays and lesbians, but some things about Bush, I'm not crazy about. We're in bad shape with the war and losing people, and nothing is changing over there. For me, it's a hard decision. I'm going to have to do some praying because I'm not sure."

She offers to read a few more memorable phrases from the letter:

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The Parent Trap

This summer, with the presidential election looming, my friend Ming escalated her efforts to convert her Republican parents to the Democratic camp. Ming, a New York-based English professor, decided to step up her campaign during a July visit to see her parents in Bellingham, Washington, during which she planned to engage them in persuasive rhetoric over the course of several days. She took great pains to prepare, and about a week before the trip, she began a series of conversations with her two younger brothers – a strategy summit via cell phone – to ensure that she would launch the most effective offensive possible.

On her second night in the Pacific Northwest, and according to plan, Ming took her parents to see "Fahrenheit 9/11." She hoped that the film would lead them to question the wisdom of President George W. Bush, but the outing did not have its intended affect. That evening, Ming's father, a semi-retired professor who has labored in a series of Chinese restaurants, opined that the movie was merely liberal propaganda. "Too many cheap shots at Bush," he said.

Undeterred, Ming has since encouraged her parents to watch more progressive documentaries, such as "Outfoxed," though ultimately, she's betting that she'll be victorious when she calls her mother a few days before the election and says, "If you love me, you won't vote for Bush" – it worked in 2000.

Ming is tireless in her efforts because she believes that there's a chance her parents will be swayed. As socially liberal Chinese immigrants who live in a college town surrounded by aging hippies and university professors, they are not stereotypical Republicans. After all, they support gay rights, dislike the idea of war, and as a result of their youngest son's stage productions, have a rare tolerance among immigrant parents for avant-garde theater. Their deep attachment to the Republican Party, in fact, seems more deeply rooted in historical nostalgia than actual policy; they began voting for GOP candidates when Richard Nixon visited China in 1972.

The generational political split within Ming's immigrant family is not merely an isolated incident. In communities that have traditionally aligned themselves with the Republican Party – the Chinese, Vietnamese, Cuban and Arab – some of the younger, born-here generation seem to have developed political ideas that diverge from their more conservative parents.

James Gimpel, a University of Maryland professor who has studied voting behavior within immigrant communities, says he is not surprised. "My guess is that these second-generation types tend to be socialized by their environment," Gimpel says. "Young people tend to be more liberal than their parents, and the traditional theory is that ethnic solidarity [in voting] tends to wear thin as time goes on. There's a tendency for economic upward mobility to disrupt ethnic solidarity by the second or third generation."

Olivia Wang, a 28-year-old Chinese American attorney living in San Francisco, has certainly experienced this political split from her parents, who are Reagan devotees living in Henderson, Nevada. "For them, it's all about national security," explains Wang, who began identifying as a progressive in college. "They want a strong president and Bush is the guy because he talks like a cowboy. It's also complicated by the fact that they don't like Kerry because when my parents were living [in Massachusetts], Kerry, who was a local politician at the time, came to the Chinese community and made these promises that he didn't keep. They still feel burned 30 years later."

In a recent last-ditch effort to talk her parents out of voting for Bush, Wang – who says she will also ask her parents to cast a ballot for Kerry as a personal favor – sought the advice of friends via mass e-mail. "My dear old Chinese immigrant parents are staunch pro-Bush supporters in a swing state, and I need your help," the missive begins. "I have run out of ideas for how to talk to them about the upcoming election.... I have tried talking to them about gaps between 9/11, WMD, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc. I have tried to get them to question how Bush's tactics have made us less 'safe.' I have tried telling them how a vote for Bush will negatively affect my life and my work. To no avail."

But in balmy south Florida, some 2,800 miles from the dry heat and gated communities of west Nevada, Jeffrey Garcia, 32, has had more success. A second-generation Cuban American and a registered Democrat, Garcia has convinced his mother, who has become disgruntled by Bush's policies on Cuba, to throw her vote toward Kerry in November. Garcia, who lives in Miami, is iconic of a new generation of Cuban Americans that is breaking from the community's longstanding tradition of Republicanism.

"There is clearly a big difference between the first- and second-generation Cuban American," says Guillermo Grenier, a sociology professor at Florida International University in Miami. "It's still a dominant Republican community, but many more second-generation Cubans are Democrat."

This generational departure from the GOP is reflected in the March 2004 Cuba Poll by Florida International University (which Grenier worked on), which reports that only 42 percent of second-generation Cubans are registered Republicans, compared with a 74 to 80 percent rate among earlier generations.

"Cuban Americans joined the Republican Party during the Reagan Administration as a strategy to influence foreign policy on Cuba - Regan was the guy that would go against [communism]," Grenier says. "But second-generation Cubans are not in the same boat. Though they still have a strong sense of homeland, they don't see the Republican Party as the one that can best address the issue."

Grenier adds that it is likely that similar trends may take hold in the Vietnamese American community, which shares a similar history of forced migration as a result of communism in the home country. "It would not be unusual to see the second generation move away from the first generation in terms of political attitudes, particularly when those political attitudes are shaped by very specific historic moments and not general values," he says.

This seems to be the case for Aimee Phan, a 26-year-old Vietnamese American writer living in Las Vegas. "My dad is Republican because he is anti-communist," explains Phan, who has written a novel about Operation Babylift, which took place during the Vietnam War. "The older Vietnamese immigrants are anti-communist and they become Republicans because they think that it is a party that will be more vigilant against it."

But Phan says that it is her father, who lives in the conservative stronghold of Orange County, California, who is trying to sway her vote in this election, and not the other way around. "My vote counts a lot because I live in a swing state," Phan says. "That upsets my father. He says, 'If you love me, if you're a good child, you'd vote for Bush." (Phan says she adores her father, but she is not entertaining his request.)

But further to the east, in the heart of the Midwest, there are examples of shifting allegiances there, too – and particularly for the Arab Americans living in Michigan. Twenty-three-year-old Naleh Saleh, for one, says that all of her Arab American friends in Dearborn are pro-Kerry. But the first-generation immigrants – the majority of whom supported Bush in 2000 – have since come to agree with their children. "People of the older generation in past elections might have aligned themselves more conservatively, but Bush has pretty much pushed Arab Americans toward the other side," Saleh says. "A lot of Arab Americans tend to be small business owners and for economic reasons, they might have aligned themselves with the Republicans. But not any more, because of Bush's handling of foreign policy, and the way that he has eroded our civil rights."

Indeed, a number of polls report that Muslim Arabs living in the U.S. heavily favor Kerry, resulting from what the community perceives as a spate of anti-Arab policies enacted in response to September 11th. Some believe that these laws, such as the Patriot Act, have not only politicized the second generation, but have also effectively pushed them toward the left.

"September 11th has definitely radicalized younger Arab Americans," says Rayan Elamine of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination League in San Francisco. "Many young people have discovered their identity for the first time, or realized that they have been made to feel different as a result of the backlash of 9/11. The second generation is more involved with politics and cultural events, and they tend to be more left of center."

Back in drizzly, tree-lined Bellingham, Ming's parents have not come to as tidy of an agreement with their daughter. But she is ever hopeful. During a recent phone conversation, Ming's father told her he would not tell her how he was planning to vote, which she believes hints at his growing doubts about Bush.

But as persistent as she has been, Ming says she doesn't truly expect to overhaul her parents' politics any time soon, even though they are a reason that she is so passionately progressive. "The second generation grew up seeing their parents having a hard time, working at jobs that don't pay well, watching them get discriminated against," Ming reflects. "And they don't complain. You see that, and you feel that it's up to you to speak up."

Reel Innocence

When hotshot reporter Bitsey Bloom -- who has a reputation for being "Mike Wallace on PMS" -- gains an exclusive interview with a high-profile death row inmate in the forthcoming fictional thriller, "The Life of David Gale," she's downright dismissive.

"It's not a story," she announces, "it's an interview." Her distaste for the assignment is apparent when an overly eager intern pipes up: "Maybe the guy's even innocent." "Yeah, right," Bloom responds.

The film follows Bloom's evolution from a skeptical journalist who has little regard for convicted criminals to someone who begins to question the accuracy and fairness of the death penalty system (which is clearly the journey that the filmmakers intend the audience to make).

david galeBloom (played by Kate Winslet) has been granted three interviews with convicted murderer and rapist David Gale (Kevin Spacey), formerly a charismatic and popular philosophy professor, mere days before his execution. Bloom is initially sure of Gale's guilt, but as she continues to learn more about the case, she becomes convinced of his innocence. In a race against the clock, Bloom tries to gather enough evidence to save Gale from his impending execution by fatal injection.

Though films like "Dead Man Walking" have provided complex portrayals of an issue that often inspires emotional responses from all sides, "The Life of David Gale" is one of the first major motion pictures to take an explicitly anti-death penalty perspective (though the filmmakers would likely backpedal from this assessment). But the film is not a political tirade; screenwriter Charles Randolph makes his argument via a suspenseful and entertaining plot, which asserts, in its own quiet way, that the death penalty is problematic because innocent men find themselves on death row.

Certainly, "David Gale" could not have come at a better time. It will be released at the end of February, a little less than two months after Gov. George Ryan commuted the sentences of Illinois death row inmates based on repeated examples of flaws within the criminal justice system. The film also comes amidst a remarkable growth in "innocence projects," or organizations dedicated to overturning wrongful convictions, across the country. According to these organizations, which now number in the 30s, more than 100 men have been released from death row as a result of their work since 1992. Marketing executives for "David Gale" could not have hoped for more.

And yet, despite the buzz, a majority of Americans still support capital punishment. Depending on the poll and the way the question was asked, between 65 to 71 percent of Americans favor the death penalty as of 2002.
Still, could it be possible that the specter of the debate has shifted so much that we can now find mainstream anti-death penalty movies (albeit masked as suspense thrillers) in suburban cineplexes?

During a question-and-answer session at a recent San Francisco preview screening, director Alan Parker hinted that this kind of film was not the easiest sell to a major studio. "This got greenlit the moment Kevin Spacey said he wanted to do it," Parker said. "The rest of us worked for nothing before that, for a year. It's getting more and more difficult these days to do thoughtful films of a certain scale."

Parker also hinted that the key to getting major studio backing for films with political content is to create a multi-layered product with mass appeal. "This will find a wider audience because obviously, from a movie point of view, it's a thriller," he said. "From an actor's point of view, it's absolutely about drama and character. And for perhaps me as a filmmaker, it has a political heart to it." Still, Parker deliberately did not make "David Gale" just as a vehicle for his views. "It's not a political diatribe in any way," he says. "If you stand on a soapbox, no one's going to listen to you anyway."

Still, capital punishment advocates and abolitionists alike say that the debate around the death penalty has changed dramatically in the past 10 years, and while films like "David Gale" are certainly not the impetus for these shifts, they are a signal of a widened discussion. "The fact that movies are being made about the death penalty shows that this issue has percolated into the public consciousness," says Jane Bohman, executive director of the Illinois Coalition Against the Death Penalty.

If taking an anti-death penalty view seems somewhat radical for a Hollywood film, the assertion of innocence is becoming an accepted -- and even safe -- argument. For death penalty abolitionists, innocence has become the most popular and effective stance, forcing even the most tough-on-crime politicians with religious or moralistic mandates (Illinois' Gov. Ryan was initially a pro-death penalty Republican, after all) to seriously question the accuracy of the system.

"Innocence is the most important argument because the American public simply cannot stomach the idea of an innocent man being sentenced to die," says David Elliot of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. "The fact that people have walked off death row because of innocence is the most important development in our movement in a quarter of century." Indeed, "innocence projects," often housed in law or journalism schools across the country, have been largely responsible for throwing a spotlight on the notion that wrongfully convicted men can be sentenced to death. These projects have taken a lead from an organization founded by law professors Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld at New York's Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in the early 1990s.

Scheck and Neufeld's first victory came in 1992 with the release of David Vasquez, a "borderline mentally impaired" man from Virginia who was sentenced to 35 years for murder. He admitted to the crime, but a DNA test eventually led to his exoneration. He served five years of his sentence. With the highly publicized success of the New York innocence project's work, programs began cropping up all over the country to investigate cases of wrongful conviction. More than 30 have emerged in recent years in New Orleans, Texas, North Carolina, and two in California. The exoneration of several inmates by the Illinois group at Northwestern University has reportedly influenced Gov. Ryan's position on capital punishment.

"In the early 1990s, dedicated opponents of the death penalty basically changed the argument," notes Josh Marquis, an Oregon district attorney who has testified before the U.S. Senate in support of the death penalty. "They said, 'O.K. Maybe you're for the death penalty but surely, you're not for killing innocent people.' Which is a reasonable argument. This argument really started gaining traction in the mid-1990s in the U.S."

Death penalty supporters say literal innocence is actually very rare. "To say that innocence is one big problem is disingenuous at best, and flat-out false," says Marquis. "I don't believe [the death penalty] is a perfect system, and yes, mistakes are made. But has [wrongful conviction] become a serious enough epidemic to abolish it?"

According to research published in 2002 by Ron Huff, a criminology professor at U.C. Irvine, there are about 7,500 wrongfully convicted people in the U.S. for the eight most serious crimes. And while some death penalty advocates accept that innocence is a valid argument, they argue that it is often oversimplified and misrepresented in pop culture. "American pop culture has created a stereotype that most people on death row are innocent, and have been framed by evil, racist cops and prosecutors who delight on putting innocent people on death row," says Marquis, who has given speeches on the subject. "[The public] thinks that all defense lawyers are threadbare but plucky, and at the last moment, someone will rush in with a key piece of evidence to exonerate someone. "But the anti-death penalty people can not point to one single case of an innocent person being executed, not one."

This is precisely the point that abolitionists in "David Gale" grapple with; they finally decide that the most powerful way to make a statement is to prove that innocent people on death row actually do die. "Almost martyrs don't count," one abolitionist tells Gale.

And it is precisely the premise of innocence -- the sheer injustice of killing a wrongfully convicted man -- that melts reporter Bitsey Bloom's skepticism in the film. Once she begins to observe factual and logical flaws in the case, she feels compelled to investigate -- not because she wants to help a convicted criminal, but in order to save an innocent man from death. As the days progress, Bloom, who initially greeted Gale with cold indifference, becomes emotionally involved in the case. Her character softens as her investigation continues (she even becomes friendly with the peon intern assigned to help her with the interviews). Indeed, as she begins to explore the humanity of the inmate behind the glass, Bloom, herself, becomes more human.

Bernice Yeung is a San Francisco-based journalist.

Bad Girls

The world watched with horror as South Carolina officials pulled a car with two little boys strapped inside out of a lake that fall of 1994.

The older son died with his hands pressed against the window, the news reported, perhaps trying to escape, perhaps screaming for his mother.

But what was more horrifying than the image was that it was Susan Smith, their mother, who buckled her babies in and pushed her car into the water.

Fast forward six years, after the murders of 13 teenagers by two boys at Columbine High School, after Jonesboro where in 1998 four girls and a teacher were killed and nine students and another teacher were wounded at an Arkansas middle school by male classmates.

But an incident this April signaled a growing trend: Boys aren't always pulling the trigger. Last month, three first-grade girls were suspended from a Lake Station, Ind. school for plotting to kill classmates.

Shocking? After all, even nursery rhymes teach that girls are made of "sugar and spice and everything nice." And conventional wisdom holds that boys -- gun-toting bad boys -- are the ones who commit disturbing, violent crimes.

But research demonstrates that the number of girls and young women who commit violent crimes is rising dramatically. Researchers split on what triggered that rise, or if that increase is even real. Experts connect the reported surge in violent girls to everything from strict arrest laws to the evening news to physical and sexual abuse in young women.

Decoding the Numbers

Though juvenile crime as an overall rate shows a downturn, crimes committed by young women are on the rise. In 1997, girls constituted 26 percent of the juvenile arrests made in the year, compared with 22 percent in 1986, according to the Justice Department report. Girls make up the fastest growing segment of the juvenile and criminal justice system: Between 1993 and 1997, the increases in arrests were greater for girls than boys in almost every category, the report said.

And the media reflected this trend. Traditionally, local television news rarely aired stories that showed female perpetrators. But now that seems to be changing.

In a survey by Colorado's Rocky Mountain Media Watch, 100 nighttime television news programs in 50 markets appeared to reflect the rising incidence of females committing crimes. According to the survey, in 1995, only 5 percent of those who were identified as perpetrators of murder, rape, or assault on the news were female.

But by 1998, that figure doubled to 10 percent, the study shows. So are news outlets choosing to feature more crimes by women or are they simply reflecting national trends?

Paul Klite, director of Rocky Mountain Media Watch, says the answer is unclear.

In fact, nothing is clear except the simple fact that the number of reported female crimes is on the rise, says Melissa Sickmund, a senior research associate at the National Center for Juvenile Justice in Pittsburgh, Penn. She says that rising numbers could simply reflect a change in how youth crime is reported.

"Keep in mind," she said, "that it might not be the behavior, but how the system reacts to the behavior." In the past, law enforcement officials may have turned a cheek from ladies in fist fights or judges may have dismissed cases to spare a woman a stain on her reputation, Sickmund said.

Tougher Laws

But that kind of leniency rarely happens anymore. Laws stemming largely from tough domestic violence legislation call for mandatory arrests in most cases. For example, with mandatory arrest laws, a woman or man who retaliates in a domestic dispute can be arrested alongside the aggressor. And this "get tough" legislation sparked even stricter laws, so that anyone who does anything even slightly aggressive, such as hair-pulling, can be arrested for assault.

These tougher arrest laws, Strickland says, could be an explanation for why the numbers appear to be rising.

The fact that girls commit violent acts is not new, says Alexander Koppleman, a spokesman from Girls Incorporated, a national advocacy group. He called the statistical rise "illusory."

"There always has been a fair amount of violent behavior found in the female population," he said.

The real change may simply be that the media, as Klite's survey suggests, is reporting more about women who commit crimes, says Jan Stanton, director of development at Girls Incorporated. Plus, she says, police and social service workers are now more apt to investigate a woman as a perpetrator of a crime.

"Girls are exposed to the same amount of violence as boys and are responding the same ways as boys," she added. "It's only now that people are thinking logically and suspecting women can commit crimes." In the past, no one wanted to acknowledge that a woman had the ability to commit crimes, she said.

Copy-Cat Crime?

Another theory is that violent girls are actually taking the lead from boys.

Sickmund says, "There is no reason to believe that girls are doing stuff because they see boys are doing stuff and got some attention from it."

But, according to Mediascope, a nonprofit research and policy organization in Studio City, Calif., evidence suggests otherwise. According to their research, juveniles do commit crimes by mimicking violence they see around them.

The group cites a list of "copy-cat crime" sparked by violence viewed in the media: Last May, a 7-year-old Texas boy killed his 3-year-old brother after imitating a professional wrestling move he saw on television. In June 1997, Timothy McVeigh told investigators he was inspired to blow up the Oklahoma City federal building after watching Red Dawn.

Some of last year's wave of bomb threats that flooded the country's schools after the Columbine incident also may have been copycat crimes, the group's research shows.

And Stephanie Carbone, a research manager at Mediascope, says girls are just as likely to engage in copy-cat behavior as boys. "The likelihood of some kind of effect happening depends on the portrayal of violence in the media," she says, "for boys or girls."

Mediascope representatives are quick to point out that most violent acts are committed only by those with a predisposition to heinous behavior. But the group's research also indicates that violence seen in the media leaves three imprints on the public: desensitization to violence, fear of being victimized, and imitation of aggressive behavior.

Klite maintains that news images and stories move people -- boys and girls -- and that the press could stop projecting violent images, if it chose.

"The country has a fascination with things that bleed," he says. "And [news organizations] feed on that frenzy to make a profit."

He doesn't suggest that reporters stop printing or airing stories about vicious crimes, he adds, only that they take more consideration into selecting them.

"[Violence] is a public health issue," Klite says. "And the newsmakers must be more responsible in their reporting."

Violence as Public Health

Stanton agrees that violence is a public health issue. Research compiled by Girls Incorporated points to many factors that lead women to commit crimes: difficulty in school, substance abuse, sexual or physical abuse, and a history of being a victim of violence.

One study by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency showed that 68 percent of incarcerated women from three states shared a single, common thread in their history: All had been victims of violence.

In a four-year study of 1,000 seventh- and eighth-graders, researchers for the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency found that those who had witnessed violence at home were far more likely to commit violent acts than those girls who did not.

That cycle, Stanton says, must be broken. First, society must acknowledge not only that women are victims of crime, but can commit crime as well. Second, young girls must be taught that they have a voice -- they can say no to someone who has hurt them. They need to tell a figure of authority that they have been hurt, she said. Girls also must be taught empowering skills, from math to sports to communication. Finally, whole families must seek help, she added.

Furthermore, there are only a few programs nationwide that offer services targeting female juvenile offenders, according to a Justice Department report. The California legislature passed a bill to create the first statewide juvenile female offender intervention program in 1998, though it went unsigned by then governor, Republican Pete Wilson. The bill can still be re-introduced, and if passed, could serve as a model nationwide.

"The juvenile justice system has never looked at young women in a holistic way," says 23-year-old Lateefah Simon of the Center for Young Women's Development. "When people think of juvenile hall, they think of bad boys. But we're talking about a girl struggling, and there are not many resources for her."

This article originally appeared on Shewire. Bernice Yeung contributed to this story. Erika Hobbs is a reporter in the Philadelphia region.

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