The role of gender in crime cannot be fully understood without knowing the basics and history of criminology. Criminology is the scientific study of the nonlegal aspects of crime including its causes, correction and prevention. The origins of criminology dates back to the late eighteenth century, when the Italian Cesare Bonesano Beccaria (1738-94) and Englishman Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) pointed out that laws and punishments should be equal to all and be proportionate to the crimes committed.
Criminology was earlier a part of a larger branch of sociology and it still continues to be, in certain aspects. It is an extensive interdisciplinary field dwelling on subjects like psychology, economics, anthropology, biology, statistics and law. Criminology covers various subjects including penology, or the study of prison systems; biocriminology which is the study of the biological basis of criminal behavior, feminist criminology which is the study of crime among women and criminalistics or crime detection.
Criminology has provided great insight into the establishing and managing of crime judicial system. The economic and social conditions, culture, tradition and physiological factors change with time, and this change has to be incorporated when dealing with crime. Women’s struggle for equality with men in all walks of life, has been around for about three to four decades, after centuries of domination by men. Some social criminologists however consider the body as being independent from the mind, for understanding crime engagement.
They consider the body as having no importance, from the view point of crime. There has been great controversy over the ability of current theories to address female deviance. The theories were mostly developed and tested for males. However, the conclusions and facts produced by these criminological studies have shaped the way in which the law enforcement and judiciary identify, judge and punish crimes. Criminologists have argued that these theories are related to men and should not be used to understand delinquent behavior of females.
It has been suggested by theoretical criminologists that there is qualitatively different fundamentals which give rise to male and female delinquency. There has also been a parallel argument for a more general, theoretical framework free from gender base. They considered gender based theories to affect the development of deviance theories. The relationship between crime and gender has been immense throughout the long period of offence observation. Men and women have differing offence rates and offence patterns, both as offenders and as victims.
The sex of offenders has always been recorded throughout the history of criminal record keeping. Although generally speaking, criminal law is the same for men and women, there are some exceptions and opportunities that can be favorably interpreted for women. While homosexual acts among men have been included under criminal law as crime, lesbian acts are not recognized as crimes. Male and female prostitution are differently seen from the legal point. Until 1925, women charged with crime committed in the presence of their husband were treated as acted on compulsion, under the English law.
For forming gender specific theories it is important to look at the factors that need to be considered while forming them. Delinquency in runaway females is attributed to childhood sexual victimization, but is not associated among males. A large number of delinquent females living on the streets have actually run away to take refuge from sexual abuse at home. The powerful effect of adolescent victimization and childhood abuse can be understood from the childhood experiences of adult women offenders.
Certain problems during childhood are responsible for a girl’s introduction to drug use, youth homelessness, survival sex, prostitution and other more severe crimes (Lind). The involvement of girls in deviant groups is limited and women gang members are generally under the strict control of their male equivalents. The feminist criminology can be rightly said to have matured in the 1990s, despite feminist ideas of revolt being in existence for decades. Here male domination or patriarchy is the main cause of crime, with feminists wanting more attention to their voice.
Criminologists are of the opinion that women are always less likely to commit crimes than their males and this gender gap is considered universal. Women’s role in crime has been largely associated with a big amount of indifference compared to men, in criminology. Women have been traditionally expected to perform their domestic family roles as obedient wives, daughters. They were mainly more perceived to be sexual objects in a male dominated society, with primary interests in homemaking and caring, till the end of the century.
Those who fell short of meeting these requirements, including involvement in activities associated with men, indulging in criminal activities were considered unstable and psychologically affected. This indifference in criminology can be mainly attributed to men’s identity as the dominant social player associated with force of character while women are associated with their weaknesses and passive role. These are emphasized in the approach of criminology to many of the crimes committed by women, and similar crimes by men. Women were viewed and labeled with reference to men (Young 1990).
Men and all that associated to men are the norm, it being deviant for women. Gender difference was one of the ways normal was segregated from the deviant. The study of women and crime may be attributed to the efforts of Elizabeth Fry who during the early nineteenth century advocated for separate prisons for women and rehabilitation for them. Hard female criminals were considered to have the equivalent criminal attributes of their male counterparts plus the worst qualities of a woman. Lombroso and Ferrero indicated that cunningness and deceitfulness were part of the women criminal profile, which was absent in males.
This suggested that women criminals had genetically more male characteristics than female characteristics and so were biologically abnormal. Women, who were considered criminals or socially deviant from typical standards of normal women, were considered affected and unwell, requiring treatment. Some criminal theorists like Thomas (1907), were of the opinion that criminality in women was mostly induced by the social conditions they are exposed to and also linked to pathology, than being induced genetically. The criminal character is brought into a woman by appropriate social exposure from young age and the resultant behavior development.
Emotional disorders are generally considered as cause for crime, which are mostly rooted in childhood experiences where the criminal attempts a suppressed wish or desire. Ecological criminology is the first sociological criminology, which sought to link crime with environment, suggesting a connection between crime and the disorganized eco-areas where people live. Few criminologists believe that certain offenders are born into environments like high poverty, discriminated minority groups that are likely to induce criminal behavior than most other environments.
Owing to the low crime detection rates and under reporting of women offenders, masking of character in female criminality is not fully understood Pollack (1961) The justice system and the police offer greater leniency to women, which should be reconsidered if true and equal justice is to be offered. The crimes committed by most women incorporate less violence like shoplifting, which induce police and judges to be more humane and show leniency. Women take advantage of their gender, making it difficult for the implementation of equal justice.
The difference in the social position of men and women may be attributed to the dependency of women on men. The society has changed a lot from the days of Lombroso and Ferrero, but the present day criminal justice system is still based on past theories. Crimes committed by male or female cannot be analyzed based on any particular theory. A good explanation of the crime can only be got by incorporating various theories. Criminological theories, which are logical facts, which help us in understanding and analyzing crime and their causes.
These theories are formed using statistics, case histories, official records and sociological field methods on criminals and their activities. Criminological theories are mainly focused on crime and its causes. All theories, including those associated with women, have to some extent, a set of assumptions like human behavior under economic and social setups, elements of causation, etc. , based on which facts are interpreted and explained. The males and females generally have their gender specific roles in their families, which should be more classified as proportion of responsibilities rather than difference in responsibilities.
The authority of men on the public and private domain has been a major reason for patriarchy, whereas women were allowed to involve themselves only in the private domain, restricted to house and house related aspects (Goodstein). It is noteworthy to state that it is not possible for any single theory to fully and perfectly explain every crime or deviant act. It was in the nineteenth century, when criminology took a scientific approach by incorporating biological and medical findings in its study and biocriminology was born.
Italian Cesare Lombroso found that criminal behavior is associated with certain body characteristics like cranial, skeletal, and neurological malformations. However, subsequent criminologists have disputed this theory that biology is responsible for creating a class of criminals. Today biocriminology has established that heredity and body organ dysfunctions can induce an inclination towards crime. Modern researches indicate that chromosomal abnormalities, hormonal and brain chemical imbalances, diet, drugs and alcohol, are factors that contribute to criminal behavior.
The hormone ‘testosterone’ in men has been identified as the main cause of aggression and crime committed by most men. However, the influence of society and environment is crucial in understanding crime, irrespective of gender. In the journal ‘Research in Corrections’ (June 1988, Vol. 1, Issue 2), by Diana Fishbein and Susan Pease; Virkkunen (1986) found abnormal insulin and blood glucose responses to a glucose tolerance test among male offenders diagnosed as violent and impulsive.
Several case studies indicate that certain foods or food constituents induce neuropsychological disorders in the form of allergic or pharmacological reactions which may even lead to chemical imbalances in the brain, resulting in behavioral disorders. Rapp (1981) showed the relationship between food allergies and antisocial behavior on a eleven year old black boy Donald. His disruptive, hyperactive, hostile and rude behavior was found to persist due to his normal diet of milk, wheat, eggs, cocoa, sugar.
When all these were removed from his diet, he responded significantly that his parents were surprised. He became calmer and his activity levels became normal. Crimes committed by women can be generalized as being only a small percentage of all crimes committed, with the crimes being fewer, less serious and not likely to be repeated, compared to their male counterparts. As a result of this, women formed a very small percentage of prisoners under lockup. Women generally do not commit violent crimes, although violence by women occurs mostly within the family, as an ultimate reaction to male violence.
The opportunities that women have to commit crimes are similar to men but are limited by several factors. For instance, burglary and house breaking occur mainly at nights by solitary men. A woman moving around alone at the thick of the night not only attracts attention but also invites danger to herself, thus rendering these crimes as almost impossible by woman. As fewer women work compared to men, and that too generally in less powerful positions, they are closely monitored. This gives them very less opportunity to commit crimes.
Thus women are very less involved in crimes like white collar crime, fraud etc,. Shoplifting is one crime by women, which is closely linked to male crimes, where women and men have equal chances of committing the crime. However, these factors are fast changing in the bigger context of globalization and cannot be universally applied any further Domestic violence still remains a nearly private affair, which affects the daily lives of most women. Violence attributed to women generates a series of social hindrances to women who subsequently try to protect their children and themselves.
When individual efforts or efforts by the prevailing system fail to help women from such deadly situations, the women resort to deadly violence as a last option to save their lives and that of their children. If this deadly choice ends in the death of their abusive partner, they face a criminal justice system, which places their gender at a disadvantage. While the need to understand and interpret crime and conviction, based on gender is a mater of debate, one thing to be emphasized here is the treatment of women prisoners.
Since the biology and condition of women are different, they cannot always be on par with male prisoners. Pregnant prisoners need to be free of shackles, while exclusive arrangements need to be made for women prisoners with children. Lady police officers and corrections officers are also needed to tune in, to fit into the gendered criminal justice system, although their lives are very different from that of women offenders or victims. Women were allowed to take up positions of police patrol officers and corrections officers only in the 1970s (Goodstein).
This too was achieved through several legislative changes and civil rights movements. While positions have been opened for women in the male dominated fields like policing and corrections, women are faced with challenges as to what are appropriate or not appropriate women activities, given their traditional attitude on such activities. In the fast changing economic scenario with more women barge into the white-collar workforce, they have increased opportunities, knowledge and resources to commit crime.
According to Don Rebovich, the research director for National White Collar Crime Center, women are confronted with dilemmas; once they reach high posts similar to that of their male counterparts. These women see an opportunity to defraud the company and many of them succumb to it. White-collar crime overlaps with corporate crime, which are crimes committed by a corporation, as the corporation is represented by individuals having an interest in it. The rise in women criminal activity in such profiles is not only due to increased opportunity but also due to pressure in meeting job targets as they go up the corporate ladder.
The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners reveal that fraud and abuse costs the American companies about $400 billion each year. Although women commit only a small fraction of the violent crimes, they are deeply associated with both, simple petty offences and sophisticated money dealing. Statistics reveal alarming figures of women involvement in crime. According to NWCCC 44% of all arrests made for fraud in 1999, were women, which was only 27% in 1970. Forgery arrests in the corresponding years had increased to 38% from 24%.
According to Brenda Smith, law professor at American University, the chances of women taking to nonviolent economic crimes is more compared to that of men. Women are more likely to be caught since they mostly have front line jobs, which are increasingly under surveillance. These crimes are better detected and brought out because of more vigorous sentencing. It should be noted here that about 75% of the economic crimes are committed by men. The social learning theory of criminology is organized around four major concepts namely differential association, differential reinforcement/punishment, definitions, and imitation.
The individuals are exposed to and learn the factors favorable and unfavorable to criminal and legal behavior, they then balance the social nonsocial rewards and punishments associated with the behavior and take to imitation. A difference in gender attitude is also seen in the pattern of socialization. Socialization among men tends men to become more aggressive and more likely to solve problems through violence. On the contrary, socialization among women tends women to be less aggressive and seek non-violent solutions to problems.
The male is projected as a breadwinner of the family by the media, while the female is projected as a caring person. Organized and professional crime is heavily based on gender. Here again women are more associated with their caring and domestic roles. Males see the crimes they commit as being too dangerous for women and may even not be willing to accept women as their bosses. Marsh (Sociology in Focus: Crime). Most crimes by women involve sexual delinquency like running away from home, which accounts for a big number of crimes by young females.
This perhaps explains why older females are not much involved in crimes like older males. Women are controlled differently in our society compared to the males, as female attitude is closely watched within her family and female sexuality is policed vigorously compared to males (Abbot and Wallace) When females are given more freedom, they are more likely to get engaged in criminal activities leading to higher levels of criminalization and arrests, which currently appears to be the trend.
Until now, deviance in women have been studied and formulated by considering biological, psychological, morality with home and family settings. Thus these studies are restricted to individual aspects and limited to attachments and conflicts. The focus of these studies is based on the widely accepted principle that deviance in women results from personal psychological conditions like inferiority complex or depression. (Giordano). Today, gender based studies and validated conclusions are important, given the high proportion of female offenders in both the juvenile system and the adult justice system.
However till date, the gender-based studies in criminology are far from adequate. These are needed to evaluate existing systems including law, conviction, rehabilitation and protection of women; and suggest whether reforms are needed. Once a theory is determined, its feasibility is tested as to its effectiveness. The theory would then be applied to the real world for evaluation. A theory is determined as incorrect if the tests fail to support it. It is not meaningful to test other aspects of the theory if it fails a particular test.
It would be based on these theories that the gender aspect be reviewed. Sadly, most theories of crime are generally never completely supported or refuted. Some empirical tests may fully support the theory; while some might offer partial support while the others might refute the theories. It is for this reason that theories are examined based on ‘weight of the evidence’. Unlike the evolution of theories concerning male criminals and crime, similar studies on women are difficult given the lack of credible groundwork.
Formation of theories for addressing gender systems need data quantifying gender equality, like economic and social factors (Jensen). It should be determined whether majority of the tests support the theory or whether certain aspects of the theory is supported more than others and whether high-quality research designs support the theory. Some theories operate at the micro level or at a individual basis while some theories can explain happenings at a macro level or groups. A theory can be identified as a macro theory or a micro theory by looking at what it predicts.
BIBILIOGRAPHY Lynne Goodstein; Women, Crime, and Criminal Justice – an Overview, 2000 Vickie Jensen; Why Women Kill: Homicide and Gender Equality; Lynne Reinner Publishers; 1979 Joe Giordano; Ethnicity and family Therapy; Guilford Press; 1996 Cesare Lombroso, Guglielmo Ferrero; Criminal woman, the Prostitute, and the Normal Woman; Duke University Press, 2004 Pamela Abbot and Claire Wallace; An introduction to Sociology: feminist Perspectives, Routledge (UK) 1990 Meda Chesney-Lind; The Female Offender-Girls, Women and Crime; Sage Publications; 1997