Violent incidents involving female students surge on campuses, in schools, authorities say
By Avis Thomas-Lester,
A female Frostburg State University student intervenes in an altercation at an off-campus party and gets slashed by a woman hosting the celebration, authorities say. Two Bowie State University suitemates spar over music, and one woman cuts the other’s throat. Female roommates at Howard University argue in the kitchen, and one throws a pot of hot water at the other.
Violent episodes between females are on the rise, authorities said, on playgrounds, in high school hallways and on college campuses across the country, where at least four women have been charged with killing female students since March. The violence is manifesting in an increased number of random assaults, group fights, flash-mob crimes and vicious one-on-one attacks, including the killings at Frostburg State on Nov. 6 and at Bowie State in September.
Although those cases have made headlines, the Howard scalding had not been publicly reported. It occurred Oct. 20, when pre-med major Kierstyn Jeffries, 20, of Detroit, allegedly threw a pot of hot water at Caije Murphy, 20, a pre-law student from Sellner, Fla., according to court documents. The two shared an on-campus apartment.
Jeffries was barred from campus and charged in D.C. Superior Court with assault with significant bodily harm. She was released on her own recognizance pending a hearing Wednesday, said a source with firsthand knowledge of the case. Murphy’s chest was seriously burned.
Murphy told police that she and Jeffries argued as Jeffries cooked dinner because Jeffries was using dishes that Murphy’s mother had bought for her. As the argument grew heated, the students “began to swing and hit and scratch each other,” a court statement says. Jeffries is accused of snatching a pan off the stove and flinging its scalding contents at Murphy, who was hospitalized at Washington Hospital Center. She has returned to classes.
Experts said college campuses are fertile ground for conflict. Young people tasting independence for the first time might be less willing to compromise in confrontations. Many students feel isolated until they find the right friends and social activities, leaving them without a support system to help resolve problems. Primary schools have also reported violent incidents involving girls.
“Every week, there is some sort of violent altercation between females and the arrest of young females for violent crimes,” said Prince William County Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert (D). “People are figuring out you can’t let them get away with it. Law enforcement has to treat females who are violent the same way they do males if they are going to [change] it.”
As a result of concerns about violence, Howard and other colleges and universities have established zero-tolerance policies. Students who live in residential facilities receive training in “conflict resolution, impulse control and anger management,” said Elaine Bourne Heath, Howard’s dean of special student services, which oversees residential life. Problems between roommates are addressed through mediation or swapping rooms, and students who behave violently are expelled.
Heath said that social media have created a forum for young people to bully each other in a way that incites violence.
Statistics from “Girls Study Group,” a 2008 U.S. Justice Department report, show that arrests of girls increased more than those for boys in most crime categories between 1991 and 2000. In 2005, juveniles accounted for 2.1 million of 14 million arrests. Girls made up one-third of juvenile arrests, including 18 percent of violent offenses. Arrests for simple assault among girls increased by 24 percent between 1996 and 2005, while arrests for boys for the same offense dropped. The increase in arrests of girls in the 25-year period that ended in 2005 is even more disturbing, given that lockups for boys decreased during that time, authorities said.
“Women now participate in traditionally male-dominated pursuits, such as sports and politics, and exhibit typically male personality characteristics like outspokenness, physical toughness and aggressiveness,” Horace Hall, an associate professor and researcher on adolescent development and identity formation at DePaul University, said in a June broadcast on the Inside Higher Ed Web site. He attributed the uptick in female violence to “changing views of femininity,” as well as low self-esteem, lax parenting, poor communication and conflict-resolution skills, and a desire to avenge slights.
“This has flipped the traditional and conventional gender and sexual scripts upside down,” Hall told the audience, “and forced society to rethink . . . perceptions around quote-unquote femaleness.”
Authorities said the violence may be stoked by a barrage of images of women attacking each other on reality shows and dramatic series. And the same tendency among boys, to be violent to engender respect, now affects girls.
“It’s the notion of the alpha dog — ‘I am in charge, I am in control, I am dominant,’ ” Hall said. “It’s a highly complex phenomenon in which girls and women are expressing their rage physically.”
At Frostburg State in Western Maryland, authorities think an argument Nov. 6 between Shanee L. Liggins, 23, of Waldorf and Kortneigh L. McCoy, 19, of Baltimore escalated into a fight between the two at the house where Liggins lives just off campus. The fight led to a homicide, police said.
According to a statement of probable cause, witnesses told police that just after 1 a.m., Liggins and a friend of McCoy’s got into an altercation. “Kortneigh broke up the scuffle in the kitchen” before others at the party asked her group to leave. As they stood outside, Liggins approached McCoy, witnesses said.
“A second later, Kortneigh fell to the ground,” Dylon Clahar, a witness, told police. McCoy was taken to Western Maryland Regional Medical Center, where doctors discovered she had been stabbed once in the temple and once in the neck. She died in surgery, the report said.
Liggins, who is accused in the death, is being held without bond, and a preliminary hearing is scheduled for Dec. 2 in Allegany County District Court, a court official said.
The murder trial of Bowie State freshman Alexis D. Simpson, 19, of District Heights is scheduled for March 26. She is accused of fatally stabbing Dominique T. Frazier, 19, of Northeast Washington in a fight that erupted after the two disagreed about music playing on an iPod as they prepared to go to a homecoming week event Sept. 15.
“These are women, in my opinion, who are very talented but lack conflict-resolution skills, coping skills,” said Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Angela D. Alsobrooks, referring to the recent college attacks. Her office is prosecuting Simpson.
“Our concern then becomes the nature of the crimes,” she said.
Such violence involving young women has become a national issue. Two weeks before the Bowie State slaying, Florida A&M women’s basketball shooting guard Shannon Washington, 20, was fatally stabbed in the neck and back, allegedly by her roommate and girlfriend, Starquineshia Palmer, 20, a mother of two. On March 3, Middle Tennessee State University was shocked by the slaying of Tina Stewart, 21, a basketball standout, who was stabbed in the apartment she shared with Shanterrica Madden. Court records show that Madden, 18, apparently confessed to killing her roommate in self-defense after an argument.
Web sites are rife with fights captured on cellphone cameras. Many of the videos show girls going at each other in ugly spectacles, watched by jeering crowds that do not intervene. Prosecutors have used the videos in cases against girls on charges of assault and other offenses.
Three years ago, authorities used a posted video of the beating of Lakeland, Fla., cheerleader Victoria Lindsay, then 16, to prosecute several of her classmates. The video shows a weeping Lindsay, who did not fight back, being struck dozens of times by schoolmates who alternated between punching and taunting her.
“Something has gone amiss,” said Isaac Fulwood Jr., chairman of the U.S. Commission on Parole. “We should be studying this behavior when it comes to girls. This is a relatively new phenomenon, but you see it everywhere today — young females cursing, fighting, behaving aggressively on the Metro, on the street. We need to figure out something, quick, to deal with this.”
Staff writer Jenna Johnson contributed to this report.