Sexual Violence and Social Control

Studies on gender and crime by Frances Heidensohn (1985, p182:2) concluded male and female offenders are treated differently, but not always to the detriment of women. Especially when they deviate from social norms, which Smart (1976) believed was particularly the case within rape trials. She argues such trials 'celebrate the notions of male sexual needs and female sexual capriciousness' (Harralambos et al, 1995, pp 436: 4). A study of 'domestic violence' conducted by Dobash and Dobash (1980) found the police were 'very unlikely to make an arrest when the offender has used violence against his wife'.

An argument pursued by Smart and Smart (1978) and by Hanmer and Saunders (1984) suggests rape and other forms of aggression against women, act as implicit forms of social control, which Bilton et al (1987, Pg 185:1) believes results in women learning to behave in ways that minimise the chances of sexual assault. The crucial point being, these protective techniques involve a greater degree of restriction on the freedom of women than on the freedom of men. The results of Task 1, suggests overall, women were more likely to receive less severe sentences, than men.

Even when previous convictions were considered. In relation to the complexity of sentencing, the study found many influential factors are gender related, such as, family circumstances, status and appearance. The study also concluded magistrates are less inclined to fine women, possibly because of the fear of 'marginalisation'. In relation to other sentences, where men may receive a custodial sentence, women were likely to receive either a discharge or community sentence more frequently.

These results may be a conjunction of several factors such as, different practices in different courts. Task 2, endeavoured to explore and discuss criminological ideas, aimed at understanding the disparities between male and female 'sentencing'. Finding the majority of mainstream theories failed to adequately research female delinquency and therefore explaining 'sentence disparities' proved inherently difficult. In relation to the 'chivalry factor', many studies concluded sentencing disparities disappeared when the severity of the offence was taken into account.

This supports the view women are treated harsher when they deviate from societal norms and female 'sex-role' expectations. There's support for the view, women who are single, divorced or who have children in care are more likely to receive a custodial sentence than women who have a stable home life. Especially in the case of violent offenders, which the first part of the study revealed, women are just as likely as men to receive custodial sentences.