Gender and crime

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Gender is a key factor existing within a society which acts as a main influential social construct. Gender as a social construct is believed to have impacted many of the behaviours and attitudes of the human beings as well as the norms and systems of societies. Thus, it also impacts crime which is an impeccable aspect of every society. The connection between gender and criminality is paradoxical, persistent and deep. Gender plays a significant role not only as a predictor and determinant of crime but also in dealing with crimes within the national criminal justice systems. The fact that men and women differ in the crime patterns, types and rates as well as in the offending and victimisation experiences can be explained by the gendered nature of crime. The gendered nature of crime suggests that the nature and types of crime and the treatment of criminals is differentiated by the gender of the offender as well as that of the victim. 

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Due to the gender based approach of viewing crime on the basis of the type and frequency of male and female crime and the subsequent handling of the male and female offenders, the men and women in the societies tend to act in distinct ways as both the offenders and the victims of crime. The gendered approach taken up for viewing crimes and criminals and deciding on punishments and senesces to be served have often impacted the experiences of males and females as offenders and victims under the Criminal Justice System in different nations including that of the United Kingdom. The traditional as well as modern theories of criminology are identified and discussed in order to explain the gendered nature of crime and its influence on the society and also on both the offenders and victims of crimes. These theories also help in assessing how gender impacts the legal system of convicting and punishing criminals and in identifying and understanding the typical victimology as well as offending behaviours exhibited by men and women. 

Main body 

Critical analysis of the ability of criminology to account for the gendered nature of crime

The gendered approach of evaluating the nature of crime is a main way in which crimes are segregated and evaluated, respectively because gender is believed to be one of the key predictors of criminal behaviour (Kruttschnitt, Renzetti and Goodstein, 2001). It is a traditional notion that male human beings tend to commit more crime as compared to the female human beings within a society. Also, it is found that men in a society have higher involvement in much violent criminal and anti-social behaviour as compared to their female counterparts. As such, the traditional theories of criminology have remained focused on male crime for the purpose of understanding and generalising crime. However, the modern concepts of criminology have highlighted the fact that understanding female crime is of equal importance in this arena. For example, identifying why women tend to commit lesser crimes as compared to men can help to identify the underlying cause of crimes in a society and thus also provide greater insights as to how crimes can be better controlled. 

Both the current and historical data related to the patterns and rates of female verses male crimes have highlighted the fact that men display higher tendency to commit crimes than women (Appendices 1- 4). For example, The Steffensmeier and Allan gender theory of offending suggest that the influence of the biological and social gender differences in the physiological as well as psychological disposition of males and females is high found. Also, the motivation for crime built in both men and women is a result of the interplay and combination of several factors (Fig.1)

Figure 1: Gendered model of offending and gender differences in crime.

(Source: Steffensmeier and Allan, 2000)

The gender differences in the societies are high and the influences of such differences are found in the behavioural and actionable factors of the males and females. Additionally, such differences also have differentiated impacts on the factors of socialisation, criminal opportunities, criminal inclination and social control in relation to men and women. A wide number of theories have been presented in the domains of social science and criminology with the aim of providing social, economic, psychological and biological explanations as to why women commit lesser numbers of crimes as compared to men. 

The early views in the social science sphere regarding the aspect of female crime mirrored the prevailing views regarding human behaviour and relation between crime and gender. The deterministic forms of human behaviour theories were of prominence during the 1800s and 1900s. While in the sphere of criminology, the perspectives related to gender based crime, attribute crime to be an action which is more related to the social and biological factors and is beyond the normal control system of the human beings (Yarwood, 2013). It was propagated that the male human beings have physiological and psychological features which were supportive of crimes committed by them. In contrast, the females were believed to have physical and psychological features that made them less inclined towards committing crimes, especially serious and violent crimes. With time, the psychological and sociological explanations of the gender approach of crime emerged which emphasised on the view that the cultural and social factors played more crucial roles in accounting for the criminality of both males and females. In the initial periods of the 1900s, the crimes committed by females were so low that the aspect of female crimes was studied only in order to supplement the theories of male criminality. Henceforth, both the biological and sociological views on the gendered nature of criminality suggest that women are programmed in such a way that they have lesser tendency to commit crime. Due to this, the traditional theories and explanations of criminality were largely concentrated in the domain of male criminality (Demerath, Larsen and Schuessler, 2012). The theories suggest that the psychological factors and biological disposition play causal roles in criminality and also postulate that the women who commit crimes display mental and biological orientations which are typically masculine. The female criminals are found to exhibit an excess of male behaviours and characteristics and also they are biologically more resembling to both the normal and criminal males and distinct from the normal females. It was proposed in the same line that the female crimes are direct result of a phenomenon called ‘masculinity complex’ which is seen in most of the female criminals. The masculinity complex is a behaviour displayed by women who want to be physically and mentally as strong and powerful as men are perceived to be and thus focus on over identifying with masculinity which often lead to these women act in criminal ways. Thus, in overall, it is proposed that crimes are committed by women who have the psychological and biological orientation of a male. 

Another opposing theory postulated in the direction of the gender based nature of crime is that female crime is a distinctly feminine concept. This view opposes the age old view of masculinity equals crime and femininity equals victimisation. The studies conducted by some of the criminologists in the domain of juvenile and adult delinquents suggest that female crime is essentially a reflecting of the inability of some females to restrain their sexual urges and impulses (Morash and Chesney-Lind, 2004). These women typically come from disadvantaged family contexts and neighbourhoods and develop an anti-social behaviour due to their experiences. The Agnew’s gender strain theory is one such explanatory theory in this direction which postulates the view that both male and female criminals commit crimes as a result of excessive social and cultural strains faced by them over years and not only due to biological factors. 

Figure 2: Agnew’s gender strain theory

(Source: Pollock-Byrne, 1990)

The social factors such as broken homes, poverty, delinquent companions, crowded and deprived living conditions, social exploitation and adverse impacts of serving sentences in the reform schools are some of the key factors which drive many normal female towards crime (Ransom, 2004). Thus, for both men and women criminals, the likelihood of such criminal actions and behaviour can be linked to low perceptions of risks, access to criminal opportunities, chances to know about criminal techniques and motives, delinquent association, disturbed family background and weak social controls and bodings. 

Comparing and contrasting of the experiences of male/female offenders/victims within the criminal justice systems 

Women and men display much distinct behaviours when they commit crimes. The offenders and victims both tend to behave in different ways and are also treated unequally by the justice system. Gender acts as one of the most influential aspects in dealing with crimes and criminals within the criminal justice systems because of an inherent belief that crimes in a society are committed disproportionately by the male entities. Such a perception significantly influences the ways in which the societies and legal systems respond to the various types of crimes (McGee and Baker, 2003). Additionally, the idea that crimes are primarily committed by men also has major impact on the criminological thinking and on the devising and enforcement of the criminal justice policies. This impact varies from society to society and from time to time within one society because of the dynamic roles and expectations associated with each gender (Hinsliff and Hill, 2004). Female gender roles and expectations vary from the male gender roles. Also, the societal expectations from women are distinct from the expectations related to men. As a result of this, a crime committed by a woman can be judged more by the society leading to situations in which the conviction by the social environment plays a more dominant role than the decisions of the Criminal Justice System prevailing in the society. For example, in case a woman commits a generalised crime such as theft, murder, robbery etc. then the society can show some level of leniency which is generally not shown to the male offenders. But when a woman commits a crime that violates the female gender expectations such as killing her child, then the society would depict her as a more heinous criminal. Some of the stereotypical attitudes displayed by the police officers and investigating officials related to females and the crimes committed by them also impacts the ways the crimes committed by females are reported and dealt with under the criminal justice systems. In some CJS such as that in the United Kingdom, the women offenders are convicted and punished for minor crimes, and the theories of double devious, double jeopardy and the social concepts such as the ‘evil woman’ and ‘bad mother’  are often used for convicting women in the courts. Though the criminal laws are to be enforced equally to men and women, in the practical situations, sex and gender are found to have major significance as the defined legal heads in relation to crimes and treatment of the criminals. For example, the male homosexual behaviours are defined as criminal acts in many western countries while the lesbian acts are not categorised under criminal offences (Mauer, Potler and Wolf, 2010). Also, the respective laws pertaining to the treatment of male and female prostitution are different in many countries. For instance, before being amended in 1925, the English Common Law stated that a woman who is charged with any crime committed except treason and murder, when her husband was present can rely on the legal presumption that she committed the crime as an act of compulsion (Hopkins, Light and Lovbakke, 2011). Also, the general legal construct was built on the notion that women are the weaker sections of the society and thus, should be protected from criminal offences rather than being held responsible for such offenses. 

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Statistically, it can be seen that male crimes are much more prominent and common than female crimes. It can also be identified that apart from frequency the type of crimes committed by male and female criminals are also distinctive in nature. Women offenders are mostly found to commit crimes such as domestic thefts, shoplifting, thefts through prostitution, perjury, treason, abortion, fraud etc. These crimes are typically underrepresented in the statistics of crime because of a variety of reasons such as pre conceived social notions, male chivalry in the social systems and justice systems, embarrassment and ego of the male victims, underreporting and ease of concealment. On the other hand, male offenders typically commit crimes which are much up in the ladder of seriousness and violence of criminality such as rape, murder, burglary, extortion, embezzlement, robbery, smuggling etc. This has resulted in the implementation of legal systems and policies which evidently lead to the women criminals being treated much more leniently than the male offenders and are also lesser likely to be arrested, jailed and convicted and also to be inflicted with severe punishments (Heidensohn, 2000). Although the general consensus is that every entity is equal in the eyes of law and that the legal systems should be same for all irrespective of gender, race, status, religion etc., yet in the practical scenarios, the social characteristics of the offenders such as race, class and gender can have moderate to high level of influence on the decisions made within the Criminal Justice Systems. 

The patterns of equality/ inequality within criminology and the functions of the criminal justice system

The existing patterns of gender equality and inequality are complex and highly differentiated in nature across societies and over time periods. These patterns substantially influence the way crimes are dealt with in a society and the functioning of the criminal justice systems. The traditional view of criminology suggests that gender inequality is a main driver of female crimes. This view further expands top the idea that the problems faced by women due to the unequal treatment of men and women often drive women to forcefully commit crimes when actually the inherent nature of woman is to deter from crimes. There are pre conceived notions that women are naturally incapable of committing as violent crimes as men and criminality can be identified to be a highly possible aspect of the nature of men while the biologically designed natures of women are recognised as antithetical to violence and crime. Perhaps one of the main reasons as to why women offenders are treated with less stringency within a legal system is that the judges and law enforcement officers are mostly males due to which their views about women are socially orthodox and they pre-conceive women to be emotionally and physically weaker and lesser violent that men (Moyer, 2002). Because women are recognised to be weaker and lesser risky for the society, even when they commit crimes, therefore, the legal procedures are often made less harsh for them. Many contemporary criminologists and sociologists nullify this theory stating that female crime is a result of psychological and sociological characteristics of some women and not that of social treatment. The gender equality hypothesis is one such proposition which opposes the fact that gender inequality and gender gaps are the reasons for female crimes. The gender equality hypothesis has emerged as a result of the wave of equality of men and women in the society. This hypothesis suggests that with the inequality between the two genders being removed from the society the rate of female crimes should further decrease. However in the actual case, the establishment of gender equality is not found to have any significant impact on male versus female crime patterns (Van Voorhis and Presser, 2001). This fact supports the modern view of female criminality which suggests that the causative factors which cause criminality among men and women are sometimes overlapping in nature and thus the legal system and policies should treat the male criminals and female criminals equally. 

Both the sentencing and conviction stages of the criminal procedures conducted in the CJS of most countries, including that of the UK are found to be impacted to a large extent by the genders of both the offenders and victims of a crime. The main reasons for this is that the patterns and trends of female criminality show that female criminals pose lower risk to the society because the females typically commit lesser number of crimes, the types of crimes commit are mostly lesser violent than male crimes and also these crimes have much low chances of repetition unless the female is a serial offender. The mass media has also played a strong role in establishing the ideology of masculinity – crime and feminine – victim which makes it much more difficult for the legal systems to actually act in an unbiased manner towards the male and female offenders as well as victims. The fact that criminal behaviour is a result of the complex interactions between a wide set of psychological, social, biological and situational factors make it clear that legal systems for dealing with crimes should not make any distinctions between  the treatment of victims as well as offenders on the basis of  gender (Baumer, Messner and Felson, 2000).  


Thus, it can be inferred from the above discussions and analyses that gender acts as a key determinant of the frequency and type of crimes. While the traditional theories of criminology and sociology hold the idea that the gendered nature of crime is based on biological factors, the modern day theories highlight the role of both biological and social factors in criminalist behaviours of both men and women. But in both cases, it is established that the gendered nature of crime is a valid concept and that the sex of the offender and the victim substantially influences the crime and treatment of criminals and victims in a case. The social factors such as gender disparity, inequality and discrimination are prevalent in the committing of offenses and in the treatment of criminals under all the criminal justice systems.  But in order to establish equality and non-basis of the legal treatment of both genders, the criminal justice systems should be designed in such a way that both men and women criminals are treated with same rules of conviction and punishment because of the necessary discrimination between offenders and victims or normal people in a society rather than a distinction created between males and females. 

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  1. Baumer, E. P, Messner, S. F. and Felson, R. B., 2000. The Role of Victim Character and Victim Conduct in the Disposition of Murder Cases, Justice Quarterly, 12, 1, 281-307.
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  10. Moyer, I. L., 2002. The changing role of women in the criminal justice system. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press.
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  15. Yarwood, D. J., 2013.  Men and Women and the Criminal Justice System September 2013. 
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