File it under “great moments in Fox News chyrons”: On Wednesday, forensic psychologist Brian Russell appeared on the network to discuss the strange case of the two 12-year-old girls who stabbed their friend nearly to death and then blamed an internet meme called “Slender Man” for it. Russell was there to sound a note of caution, it seems, arguing that there is no need to have some kind of mass panic over paranormal horror stories on the internet, because the girls probably had individualized motivations and were just using their enthusiasm for Slender Man as an excuse. Here is what he said:
I think this is much more probably about immature [sic], hatred, jealousy, narcissism, and probably coupled with insufficient parenting—probably what we have here are a couple morally underdeveloped, hateful, jealous, little minds with insufficient supervision and parenting. It’s probably a more run-of-the-mill attempted murder really.
That makes sense. We don’t have enough information right now to know for sure what the girls’ motives were, but Russell seems to be trying to prevent unnecessary panic by speculating that the “reasons” are more likely to be personal issues than the terrible influence of the internet.
This is how the chyron-writer summed it up:
Needless to say, Russell never said that girls are “more likely” to have hateful minds or be prone to violence than boys, as this chyron implies. He was only addressing these two girls.
However, since someone at Fox News seems confused on this, here’s a clarification: Not only does the evidence show that girls are no more likely to be “mean girls” than boys are likely to be “mean boys,” but juvenile arrest records show that girls are far less likely to be violent. As Melissa Dahl at Science of Us explained, only 8 percent of juveniles convicted of murder are girls. Interestingly, the expert that Dahl interviewed, criminologist Kathleen M. Heide, said that girls are more likely to kill someone they know to resolve a personal conflict, whereas boys are more likely to kill strangers in the commission of another crime. This fits into what Russell was saying about this particular attempted murder and its likely motivations.
With violent crime overall, while the number of girls offending is rising in proportion to boys offending, it’s still a low percentage: Twenty-four percent of arrests of minors for aggravated assault in 2005 were girls, compared to 15 percent in 1985. And while there is some evidence that girls may be more likely to commit assault than in the past, as Princeton Brookings researchers warned in the 2008 summary of research findings, this can be “partly explained by the fact that while all violent crime has decreased, the decline for boys has been more dramatic.”
While the Wisconsin stabbing is certainly horrifying, it’s not a reason to panic about girls, the Slender Man, or juvenile crime generally. Juvenile arrests are down 48 percent in 2011 from a high in 1996. There’s no reason to think most people take the Slender Man any more seriously that they do Dracula, Cthulhu, or Freddy from Nightmare on Elm Street. And while Mean Girls is a popular movie, there’s no reason to believe girls are more likely to have “hateful little minds.”