Women and Crime Essay

Traditionally throughout the history criminology has been dominated by study of male both criminal behaviour and victimisation. Indeed, the majority of criminological theories and studies are mainly arguing about male deviance and criminality, mentioning nothing or very little about the role of gender in crime. That also means that female victimisation was minimised almost completely or ignored (Chesney-Lind et al. , 2004). Using legitimate statistics and some criminological theories, this essay will show extend of a gender gap in crime and try to explain reasons of this gap.

The reason why criminology mainly focused on male offenders is pretty obvious – majority of criminal offences is done by men and women tend to be much less involved in any type of crime. Many studies and statistics show that men have higher rates of crime and offending than women, with the gender gap being highest for serious violent crimes and lowest for minor property crime and drug use. In fact the only two major categories of crime to which women make substantial contribution is shoplifting and prostitution.

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Using data of a group of people born in 1953, the Home Office estimated that by the age of 46, 33 per cent of males had received at least one conviction compared with 9 per cent of women (Newburn, 2007). There is a similar pattern to younger age groups, 9 per cent of women born in 1958 had received a conviction by the age of 40, matched with 32 per cent of men (Newburn, 2007). According to Barclay and Tavares (1999) about 1 per cent of all females will have received a conviction by their mid-40s, compared to 7 per cent of men.

Using official statistics of Ministry of Justice (2006), compiled annually in England and Wales, we can outline other details. This data helped to realise the rise of female crime. Indeed during 1970s and 1980s there was an increased offending among women. One popular and persuasive argument explains that this trend is in some way linked with female emancipation (Newburn, 2007). Although their theories are heavily criticised, Simon (1975) and Adler (1975) suggest that the changes that took place in the labour market and within home had an impact not only on women’s legitimate doings, but also on their illegitimate actions.

They both found connection between women liberation movement and the female crime rate, suggesting that because women become more equal to man, crime rates will converge. Carol Smart (1976) argues that there is evidence that increases in female offending long pre-date anything that might be identified as liberation movement. Box and Hale (1983) suggested that female crime rate was made of property crime and probably was a result of economic marginalisation. Statistics also point out that boys and girls have different peak age of known offending.

Estimated criminal peak age for girls is approximately 14-15, and for boys slightly higher- 18, although according to Home Office data, the peak age of known male offenders in 1971 was 14 years old and grew afterwards. This figure indicates that youth is most criminal age for both genders and males takes much longer to ‘grow’ out of crime. It is important to remember that in criminology official statistics are not completely trust worthy, as they do not show us the full picture of crime, because they represent only the end product of series of decisions, like whether or not report or record a crime (Hale et al. 2009). Murgatroyd (2000) suggests that official statistics are not gender neutral and that leads to a tendency of gender dimension to be hidden through measurement and conceptual difficulties and that leads to gaps in information. These gaps may come from cultural norms and expectations regarding female and male behaviour and characteristics. This view leads to the idea that it is the perception of crime as a male activity that may affect overall picture of women and men as perpetrators of crime (Murgatroyd, 2000).

This perception can be a reason why female offending is going unreported to the authorities and if reported, not recorded, helping women to escape the process of criminalisation. So for a better picture of female crime self-reported studies can be used. According to these studies the gender gap in relation to offending is narrower (Hale et al. , 2009). Although these studies still tell us that the majority of crimes are committed by men, they also show that females contribute to crime more than official statistics suggest.

Another theory explaining low conviction rates among women looks upon criminal law itself and enforcement. Naffine (2003) argues that criminal law and its enforcement is about male morals of adequate manner and male patterns of behaviour. As an example, she points on the structure of laws on violence, which are considerably about men and what men do. McIntosh (1978) also suggests that a lot of laws were constructed bearing male behaviour in mind rather than female; and that might explain why there are more convicted men than women. She claimed that women are supervised in other context by non-criminalising and informal means.

In order to realise that one must understand the social construction of femininity and recognise informal disciplinary forces that act upon women at various levels (Heidensohn, 2002). A good example of these forces might be media, which represents the ‘appropriate’ behaviour and appearance for women or workplace and education, where women were historically suppressed by men and still struggle because of sexual discrimination. Heidensohn (2002) also argues that these set of ‘norms of femininity’ serve as form of social control, and might explain why in comparable situations women are less likely to commit a crime than their male counterparts.

Although women are involved in every type of crime, from homicide and terrorism to burglary and domestic abuse, it is to relation to property crime women feature most heavily (Hale et al. , 2009). Because of the vast number of women involved in this type of crime, many criminologist argue that the majority of women who committed crime, did it for instrumental purposes, for example provide their youngsters in situation where there are limited or no legitimate ways. This thesis was referred to by Walklate (2004) as the ‘feminisation of poverty’.

Research, which questioned 1,000 mothers in prison, can provide some evidence for this argument, because the most common reasons for committing crime were having no money (54%) and need to support children (38%). Victimisation surveys, such as the British Crime Survey, provide criminologists with valuable data on criminal victimisation and help us match the experiences of women and men. BCS (2007/2008) revealed that although chances of being a victim of a violent crime are very low, men are almost twice as like to experience one than women.

Survey also showed that younger people of both genders are more likely to be victims of violent crime, as the 16 to 24 age group is at most risk, then risk decreases with age. Criminologists also notice that the only in two categories of violent crime where women are at more risk than men is domestic violence and intimate violence. About 77% of all victims of domestic violence are women, while 78% of stranger violence victims are men. According to Home Office domestic violence is ‘any violence between current or former partners in an intimate relationship wherever and whenever it occurs.

The violence may include sexual, physical, emotional and financial abuse. ’ Newburn (2007) suggests that one-fifth of all violent crimes incidents are domestic violence and two-thirds of these incidents end up with physical injury of victim, 14% of which require medical attention. Similarly, women are more exposed to intimate violence. In all categories of this crime, women are clearly at more risk than men. The most common form of this crime is non-sexual partner abuse, with 28% of women reported such victimisation (Newburn, 2007).

According to lifetime measures from the age of 16, almost one quarter of women reported that they have been sexually assaulted and approximately same amount of females stated that they have been stalked. Although it is a lifetime measures, victimisation in this areas in single year still remains huge, for example according to the British Crime Survey (2004/2005) 6 per cent reported being non-sexually abused by partner, 9 per cent being stalked and 3 per cent have been sexually assaulted.

Unfortunately because the majority of violent crimes against women occur at home, it is consequently hidden from society. Although criminologists do not possess instruments to see the complete picture of crime, using official statistics, self-report studies and victimisation surveys they concluded that male population play major role both in crime and victimisation. This essay, using statistics, surveys showed gender gap related both to offending and victimisation. Though in some particular areas of crime, women are more victimised, majority of crime victims are also men. All these facts and theories lead to a conclusion that crime is generally a male ‘problem’.


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Wholpe (eds) Feminism and Materialism, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul Naffine, N. (2003) ‘The ‘’Man Question’’ of Crime, Criminology and Criminal Law’, Criminal Justice Matters, 53, 10-11 Newburn, T. (2009). Criminology. Cullompton: Willan. Simon, I. (1975) The Contemporary Woman and Crime, Washington, DC: National Institute of Mental Health Smart, C. (1976) Women, Crime and Criminology: A Feminist Critique, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul Walklate, S (2004) Gender, Crime and Criminal Justice (2nd edt) Cullompton: Willan