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Women and crime

Apr 24, 2017 | 0 comments

Apr 24, 2017 | Essays | 0 comments

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Women and crime



The involvement of women in the system of criminal justice has been large as victims of crime rather than as the perpetrators. As females make up almost half of the victims of violent crime, they also represent the smallest percentage of the offenders (Carr-Hill & Stern 2008). However, to understand in-depth the issues related to the system of criminal justice and women, it is of great importance to examine the experience and incidence of crime against women and women as the perpetrators. It is because if the fewer few of women committing crimes that are essential to monitoring closely their offending patterns of females. Otherwise, the difference in experiences of females in the system of criminal justice may be clouded by trends that show the biggest offenders as the male population. This information is important and necessary in assessing the responses by the social and justice systems to women who offend and in the creation of strategies for crime prevention that are gender-informed. The essay will critically discuss and analyze why society finds it easier to accept women as victims rather than the crime perpetrators in the UK.

Who commits a crime in the UK: Criminal statistics and societal assumptions in the UK

Many statistics from different studies indicate that men have a higher likelihood of committing crime compared to women. For instance, the study done in 2002 in the UK shows that 80% of the offenders known which translates to about 481,000 were men (Carr-Hill & Stern 2008). Because there exist several problems with the validity and reliability of statistics, self-report studies offer alternative information. These are always anonymous and people believe that they guarantee anonymity hence encourage respondents to be more honest than when involved in an interview. According to Heidensohn (1985), sociologists in the past tended to concentrate on only men committing a crime and ignoring the gender differences. However, this started changing in the 1970s when feminists scholars like smart carol studied crime and women and started asking questions like:

  • Why do females commit lesser crimes compared to males?
  • Why women have a higher likelihood of committing social norms than men?
  • Is there something distinctive about the experience of women as perpetrators and as victims of crime?
  • Are women given different treatment than men in the system of justice?

Criminal statistics in the UK in 2006 showed that women were more of a crime victim than perpetrators. Women committed lesser violent crimes compared to men like manslaughter, bodily harm, and murder. For instance, in the UK, most murder suspects are male (84.5%) and of manslaughter is 87.8% (Carr-Hill & Stern 2008). At the same time, 45.1 % of murder victims are women and manslaughter 32.3% (Carr-Hill & Stern 2008). These figures showed that the majority of victims and perpetrators of violent crimes are male.

According to Carlen (1990), women have the highest risk of becoming sexual violence victims like sexual harassment, rape, and female children’s sexual abuse. In a scenario where a woman is killed, the attacker most of the time is known to her. Furthermore Carr-Hill & Stern (2008) points out those male adults form 98.9 % of rape suspects who share a common cultural background as the victims. Moreover, 95.3% of the victims are often females (Carr-Hill & Stern 2008).

However, petty crimes such as shoplifting have the highest proportion of female offenders especially girls between ages 14-16 years (Thornton 2012). As much as women are mostly the victims, there still exists a small percentage of women who commit violent crimes like manslaughter and murder. For example, according to Carr-Hill & Stern (2008), 15.4% of the suspected murderers in 2006 were female in addition to 12.2% of the manslaughter suspects.

The number of women increases in crimes that are less severe but they do exert abuse and violence, abuse, and batter their partners and children (Il’iashenko 2004). The idea of women as crime perpetrators is controversial and invites numerous debates. On the other hand, there exists a societal assumption that generally, women are not often violent and that they are victims and not crime perpetrators. Moreover, Sawtell (2008) points out that that there is fear that statements and numbers get quoted mostly out of context and will be later be misused to justify and prove male violence and to marginalize latter the violence consequences. Nevertheless, it is significant to accept the reality that women also perpetrate crimes and even murder people.

Discussions and Theories explaining the societal perception of women and crime

Emphasizing the psychopathology of an individual has formed the foundation of the female crime dissuasion even though more recent research stressed its influence and social setting. According to Stark (2007), women do commit all forms of crime, but to a lesser magnitude compared to men especially on violent crime. Economic and social marginalization is an important factor in crime committed by women. Criminal convictions tend to be more stigmatizing toward women. Furthermore, women are treated in court as double deviant. Due to the small number of criminal offenders who are women, custodial, and noncustodial provisions for them are inadequate. This shows that everywhere in society, people do not expect or believe that women are crime perpetrators but rather victims. Flood & Pease (2009) further explains that although men have a likelihood of being victims of crime, women express more crime fear. One reason may be domestic crime prevalence committed by men towards women.

According to Carr-Hill & Stern (2008), women are not expected in society to be criminal and if it happens they are referred to as mad and not bad. This is because they went against the biological norms as weakness of compliance and passivity.

Heidensohn (1985) believed that various crimes committed by women and men are due to their physical differences. This approach and perception have been universally applied by many writers and used entirely in societies to explain why women do not commit a crime and why a small proportion does it. It begins from the perception and belief that women are different from men innately with a natural trait of nurturing and caring, both of which do not support crime.

Carlen (1990) observed that the commencement of feminism‘s second wave in the 1970s dramatically coincided with the upsurge in the criminal activity of women. While women demanded equal rights and opportunities in the legitimate fields, a similar number of women who were determined forced their way into the world of crime such as robbery, murder, and white-collar crime (Hirschi 1969).

  • Sex-role theory

The theory argues that girls and boys are differently socialized, therefore making boys more delinquent. There exist numerous versions of the theory. Thornton (2012) stated that there exist clear gender differences when it comes to socialization. To begin with, girls are supervised more and mostly controlled strictly. On the other hand, boys are cheered and encouraged to take more risks and to be aggressive and tough. Therefore, boys tend to incline the opportunity to commit crimes.

Il’iashenko (2004) believes that there are obvious and clear gender roles even in the nuclear family. Notably, the father performs duties that portray him as the provider and the leader, whilst the mother does the expressive role of providing the socialization of children and emotional support. Sawtell (2008) adds that these roles have a foundation from the children’s birth as mothers have to bear and nurse the children.

On the other hand, Stark (2007) observes that girls do have a readily available role model at home who is their mother, unlike boys who have minimal access to their role model at home who is their father as traditionally, he is out working most of his time. Therefore, boys will largely be socialized by their mother and this will lead to a rebellion of the behavior perceived as feminine as they pursue compulsively masculinity. Due to the emphasis on aggression and toughness, this encourages delinquency and antisocial behavior.

Flood & Pease (2009) points out that if boys lack a readily available role model, the socialization process can be difficult. Boys can have anxiety about their identities as young men and the remedy to this is street gangs and male peer groups. Moreover Carr-Hill & Stern (2008) believes that in all these social contexts, masculinity aspects can be rewarded and even be expressed. The idea of breaking rules and being tough can help in conforming to the masculinity idea. Therefore, it is believed men will commit crimes than women and women will be the victims in most cases.

2) The control theory

The theory’s perspectives on those who commit crime begin from the societal view that women and patriarchal can be understood only under the dominance of the male. Carlen (1990) said that the crimes of women can be referred to as “the crimes of the powerless” as the many women who are involved in crimes are often powerless in some sort of way. For instance, they may be living in poverty with no or little power to make a change to the situation. Similarly, as children when they were young, they may have been badly looked after or treated, perhaps abused at one time with their fathers. Therefore as adults, they have always lived under the male partner’s dominance who asserted their control may be in violence form.

After doing his research based on interviews on the female convicts, Carlen (1990) concluded that when disadvantages superseded advantages, women turn to crime. It appeared that as a rational choice, the convicted women interviewed turned to crime. Unemployment and low paid jobs had not made them realize the standard of living they dreamed of, and living a life of unhappiness during childhood and again in adulthood is unfulfilling. Therefore, unrewarded by the workplace and the family and with minimal power to a situation change, the rational alternative was a crime. Therefore, women will perpetrate crime when pressed to their limits to engage in it but it is least expected because of the societal perception (Carr-Hill & Stern 2008).

3)   Control and conformity

According to Heidenson (1985), the notable thing about the behavior of women is that they tend to conform to social norms. Alluding to the control theory, women will lose more compared to men if they stay away from the social norms. Similarly, taking an examination from a feminist point of view, she elaborates that in a male-dominated society; men controlling women discourage any attempt to deviate from the societal norms.

Carlen (1990) further observers that this is evidenced in many homes and families where women still bear the responsibilities of doing domestic work and raising the children. The women’s commitment to all these means they are conforming and committing to the traditional role of mother-housewife and socializing their children in the society’s values and norms terms. In brief, women have been influenced and socialized by society to conform. Girls are supervised more strictly and given minimal freedom, in addition to expectations of doing household chores. Furthermore, these control and expectations are carried to adult life where women are either controlled by their male partners or child socialization (Hirschi 1969).

According to Heidenson (1985), any woman who challenges these traditional roles are often conformed by the men’s physical and financial power. For instance, wife battering is a patriarchal authority assertion. Domestic responsibilities, women’s socialization, and the control imposed by men often discourage social norms deviance. As a result; they have fewer opportunities, minimal time, and less inclination to commit a crime.

From the home environment, Thornton (2012) explains that the freedom of a woman to deviate from the social values and norms is limited also in various ways. For instance, some women fear going out at night or when there is darkness for fear of being raped by men or getting attacked. Furthermore, women’s deviation from the social norms of respectability is less likely for fear of being called promiscuous.

Both outside and inside homes there exists pressure reinforced by the male power on the women to conform. Therefore, From the societal norms and values which women adhere to, it is less likely to be believed in the society that women are the perpetrators in the crime but rather victims (Il’iashenko 2004).

4)      Bond attachment theory

This theory was proposed by Hirschi (1969) and it claimed that the more an individual gets attached to certain societal aspects such as attachment or get involved in criminal or deviant activities, commitment, and values, the less likely a person will risk committing a crime. Therefore Sawtell (2008) explains that a woman with children has a lot at stake if she commits a crime because if in any case she is caught and imprisoned, probably her children will be affected negatively by the loss and missing of their mother. Therefore, due to the attached bond between the mother and her children, probably may explain the societal perception that a woman may not get involved in a crime.


In conclusion, for many years women and crime have not been associated together. This is because of the roles society places on women. However, many studies and statistical researches are done in UK prisons and by the police associate women with criminal activities although in less percentage compared to men. Moreover, society tends to percept the woman as always the victim of a crime and not the perpetrator. Many theories have tried to explain these perceptions.



Carr-Hill, R. A., & Stern, N. H. (2008), Crime, the police and criminal statistics: an analysis of official statistics for England and Wales using econometric methods, London,        Academic Press.

Heidensohn, F. (1985), Women and crime, New York, New York University Press,

Carlen, P. (1990), Women, Crime, Feminism, and Realism. Social Justice. 17, 106-123.

Hirschi, T. (1969), Causes of delinquency, Berkeley, University of California Press.

Thornton, A. J. V. (2012), Investigating sex differences in, and predictors of, violent and nonviolent offending behavior. Thesis (Ph.D.)–University of Central Lancashire, 2012.        Retrieved on 20th June 2013 from <http://clok.uclan.ac.uk/5310/.>

A.N. Il’iashenko. (2004), Violent Crime in the Home. Russian Education &Amp; Society. 46, 57- 70.

Sawtell, C. S. (2008), The victim-perpetrator relationship in the crime of rape victims’ mental      well-being, Thesis (Ph. D.)–Florida State University, 2008, Retrieved on 20th June 2013          from  https://diginole.lib.fsu.edu/islandora/object/fsu%3A254018

Stark, E. (2007), Coercive control: the entrapment of women in personal life, Oxford, Oxford      University Press.

Flood, M., & Pease, B. (2009), Factors Influencing Attitudes to Violence Against Women,           Trauma, Violence & Abuse: A Review-Journal. 10, 125-142.

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