American Judges Association


Date of this Version



Court Review, Volume 46, Issues 1-2, 52-56


Copyright © 2010 American Judges Association. Used by permission.


Ideally, contact with the juvenile justice system provides high-risk girls with an opportunity to receive intervention services, which will instigate their desistance from crime and promote competence in important adult developmental tasks, such as work, marriage, and parenting. Emerging research provides strong evidence that romantic relationships play an important and complex role in girls’ criminal trajectories, and interventions designed with a clear understanding of the associations between relationship outcomes, partner characteristics, and offending will be the most likely to reduce criminal activity and promote self-sufficiency in adulthood.

Indeed, involvement in delinquency and/or crime in adolescence is a consistent and robust predictor of negative outcomes —including victimization and violence—within girls’ future romantic relationships. This is not too surprising, given that most youth begin to form partnerships with only the training they have acquired through prior interpersonal relationships, and many girls who resort to crime possess long histories of conflict and aggression within the context of peer and family relationships. In turn, poor-quality partnerships are known to have negative and long-term effects on girls’ health, general functioning, and, of foremost importance to juvenile justice professionals, criminal trajectories.

Until recently, romantic partners’ effects on antisocial behavior received little attention, probably because the focus has largely been on male juvenile offenders, and male peers were assumed to have a stronger influence than romantic partners on boys’ antisocial behavior. However, relationships are very important to girls’ sense of self and well-being, and existing research has demonstrated a consistent pattern of findings, which illustrate that romantic relationships play an important role in whether girls will offend in adolescence and adulthood. This article provides a summary of empirical research on the associations between romantic relationship characteristics and involvement in antisocial behavior. In addition, we present findings from the Gender and Aggression Project—Virginia Site to illustrate the level of violence within romantic relationships among incarcerated girls, theoretically the most atrisk girls in the juvenile justice system.