The image of two young girls smiling while robbing a bank outside Atlanta was beamed across the global news spectrum last week. Dubbed the Barbie Bandits, the girls, both 19, made off with a "substantial" wad of cash from a Bank of America branch inside a Kroger supermarket. On Thursday they were arrested along with two men, including the bank teller, who police allege was in on the job.
Cahoots aside, the heist seems to illustrate not only what criminologists say is an increasing trend of recreational robberies—thefts perpetrated by amateurs looking for kicks as much as cash—but also the changing role of female bank robbers. Women still commit about 5 percent of bank robberies, but where they used to be the lookout or getaway driver, over the last five years "they've started doing it themselves," says FBI violent-crimes-unit chief Larry Sparks.
Through the ages, crimes like these have largely been the purview of men, says Rosemary Erickson, a forensic sociologist who's researched the motives of more than 1,000 bank robbers. So why the sudden female empowerment? "It may simply be a delayed effect of the equal-rights movement," she says. It seems that equality stretches into the prison system as well.