Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy

Program

Sociology

Supervisor

Dr. Tracey Adams

2nd Supervisor

Dr. Lorraine Davies

Joint Supervisor

Abstract

This research explores different representations of youth crime in Canada from a feminist criminological and social constructionist perspective. Using a mixed-methods approach that draws upon historical scholarly works, official governmental crime and court statistics, and national Canadian newspapers, I investigate statistical and media representations of youth crime in Canada.

Official crime and court statistics were analyzed to identify trends in youth crime and how they vary by gender and legislative changes. I provide an historical overview of changing definitions of youth, crime and delinquency, and consider how these combined with changing norms regarding morality to shape youth crime legislation in Canada from the late 18th century to the current era.

I also determined if violence among female youth has been increasing between 1991/92 and 2011/12. Previous research has been divided. This analysis finds that youth crime is not increasing, and that boys’ crime continues to outpace girls’ crime. Neither girls’ violence, nor the severity of their crimes, are increasing, with the exception of criminal harassment and uttering threats. These increases possibly reflect changing attitudes towards bullying that have resulted in changes in charging and conviction patterns. These findings highlight how crime trends have shaped legislative outcomes, and how legislative change, in turn, shapes crime trends.

Next, I explore whether news reports on youth crime closely follow crime and court rates, or if they reflect a moral panic about youth crime, as the literature suggests. Unexpectedly, media accounts do correlate with violent crime trends, numerically, although the content of these articles often runs counter to these trends. Media accounts of boys’ and girls’ criminal activity is strongly shaped by gender, as well as by class, race, and age, and there is evidence of moral panics in news reporting. Moral panics pertaining to girls’ involvement in crime reflect societal tension regarding changing gender norms, reflecting a ‘feminist backlash.’

Media, crime statistics, and youth legislation can shape public opinion and influence the future treatment of youth in the criminal justice system in ways that are discriminatory. This research aims to counter ageist, sexist, racist, and classist beliefs about youth crime.