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Dealing with the Fall-Out: Identifying and Addressing the Role that Relationship Strain Plays in the Lives of Girls in the Juvenile Justice System

This study borrowed tenets from feminist theories of delinquency and linked them to Agnew’s (1992) conception of how “strain” can result in girls’ delinquency when they experience negative or painful stimuli, or a loss of positive valued stimuli. This study affirmed the hypothesis in finding that the attempt to cope with strain in their relationships within the family, with a boyfriend, and with other girls were linked to delinquent behavior among girls. The study collected data from 27 focus groups composed of delinquent girls, incarcerated women who were involved with the criminal justice system as adolescents, and juvenile-justice professionals who worked with girls. These groups focused on what the participants believed about how girls engage in delinquent behavior. The analysis of the focus groups identified common themes among the groups. The analysis centered on responses related to “strain.” The study determined that the relationship strains related to female delinquency involved the loss of an important friend or loved one; the experience of being in a chaotic, seriously dysfunctional, and/or abusive family; being involved in unhealthy love relationships; being sexually abused in any relationship; or being the target of serious aggression in a relationship.