Girl Trouble gives a glimpse of the underbelly of The City By the Bay. Set in San Francisco, this is not a story about the hippies of Haight Asbury, nor is it a tale of the modern liberal Mecca so many of us assume it to be. In fact, Girl Trouble could be set just about anywhere in the United States. The film follows three young women whose lives are entrenched in cycles of violence and who can barely keep their heads above water, let alone enjoy the splendors of the world around them. One attorney in the film explained it perfectly: "These girls live in a city where, from any point, the ocean is no more than seven miles away, yet they have never seen it."
Spanning four years, examining the ins and outs of the juvenile justice system, the audience follows Stephanie, a new mother battling domestic violence; Sheila, a drug user and dealer who comes from a family riddled with violence and addiction; and Shangra, who sells drugs to support her homeless mother. The girls are tied together by their mutual experience working at the Center for Young Women’s Development. The Center’s mission is to “empower and inspire young women who have been involved in the juvenile justice system and/or the underground street economy to create positive change in their lives and communities.” The three girls, to varying degrees and at very different stages, all eventually do make positive change in their lives. We see the continuum of that potential change amongst them with one essentially submitting to fate, one petrified but embracing recovery, and one starting her life anew.
Girl Trouble makes a clear case for the benefits of intervention in individual lives over prosecution, and highlights discrepancies within the system. According to the film, girls make up twenty-three percent of juveniles in the system nationwide, and less than five percent of the funding goes towards programming for young women, the fastest growing segment of the juvenile justice system. Stuck in the cycle of violence, girls can end up bouncing from group homes to survival crimes and back again. The film shows how people need a second chance to see that another path is possible and that jail does not provide girls with rehabilitative opportunities.