Gender and crime have a strong relationship when comes to offending, victimisation, and treatment within the criminal justice process. “Is crime MALE? Crime is overwhelmingly committed by men, against other men, policed by men, judged by men, imprisoned by men, studied by men”[1]. This raises the question as to where women come into it; females are less involved in offending than males are. “The proportion of women with a conviction is lower at all ages than that for males.” This essay will go on to explain differences in gender when it comes down to offending, victimisation and treatment within the criminal justice process.

“Do men and women offend for similar reasons? Male and females tend to give different reasons when explaining their offending. Drug addiction is a main part in all offending” There are quite a few theories concerning gender and crime particularly with the female side of things:

There is not a single feminist theory of crime. Feminism draws from other theories (especially conflict theory) to describe the way females are affected by the criminal justice system (both women’s experiences as offenders and victims). The reason that we refer to feminist perspectives (and not feminist theory) is that there are many different versions of feminism. [2]

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Feminist theories have just recently been developed in criminology but have challenged the views of traditional criminology. When it comes to committing crime females are seen as more vulnerable than men so most women would therefore get away with a caution:

Feminist criminology contains many branches. Liberal, radical, Marxist, and socialist feminism are widely recognized, although other “strands” exist such as postmodernism and ecofeminism. Most feminist criminology involves critiques about how women offenders have been ignored, distorted, or stereotyped within traditional criminology, but there is no shortage of separate theories and modifications of existing theories. Almost all women criminologists or criminologists of women who examine gender and crime have addressed the “gender ratio” problem (why women are less likely, and men more likely, to commit crime). Others study the generalizability problem (whether traditional male theories can modified to explain female offending). Most feminists are quick to point out where stereotypical thinking and theoretical dead ends exist, although the main problem complained about in most criminology is the simple fact that gender matters and should not be ignored.[3]

Gender is a big issue in crime; it matters in many ways, for example: more women are cautioned than men “In 2003, 43 percent of young men (those aged ten to 20) and 61 per cent of young women were cautioned for indictable offences (as a proportion of all those cautioned or found guilty).”[4] This could be down to the fact that fewer women than men are involved in crime. Men committing crimes is a stereotypical view held by many people. If a woman commits a crime, it is normally a minor offence such as shoplifting. “Women do commit all types of crime but are most often associated with shoplifting, drugs offences, theft & fraud. The reasons for offending are: having no money (54%), mixing with the wrong crowd (46%), to support the children (38%), drink/drugs (35%), family problems (33%), no job (33%) (Caddle & Crisp 1997)”[5] Women are more likely to admit to what they’ve done and learn from it, meaning they wouldn’t do it again. “Women are less likely than men to be remanded in custody during proceedings at magistrates’ courts or on committal to the Crown Court and, of remanded are less likely than men to receive a custodial sentence (41% as against 50%).

With regard to sentencing, a similar pattern holds. For indictable offences, females of all ages are more likely than males to be discharged or given a community sentence”[6]. This could be classified as chivalrous treatment; females are seen as vulnerable so some sort of leniency is given to them in terms of punishment. The feminine nature of women makes it easier for them to escape a harsh sentence. Another reason for a lenient sentence is the role played by women such as being married or having kids. On the other hand there are women who deviate from the stereotypical character of a woman. This is called double deviance. They are the opposite of feminine and defy society with their behaviour. For such a woman to commit a crime, it would be seen as deviant and aberrant.

Prisons were originally designed to meet the needs of men. Women’s needs of course differ from those of men’s:

Heidensohn (1996) argues that there were two likely explanations for the failure to do more than adapt male systems and techniques of confinement and punishment when seeking to address female prisoners: 1. Women were in many respects regarded as incorrigible. Once they had ‘fallen’ there was considered to be little hope of reformation. 2. They lacked ‘champions’ – or at least sufficient champions. Elizabeth Fry, Josephine Butler and others had an important impact, but the more general exclusion of women from public life at this period limited what could be achieved. So, what does the make- up of the female prison population look like? Ethnic minority groups make up approximately 29% of the female population compared with 22% of the male prison population. Over 75% of female prisoners are single (including those who are separated, widowed or divorced), just over 25% were living as lone parents prior to imprisonment (compared with 3% of adult males) and, though estimates vary, at least 66% of young female offenders are mothers (Niven and Olagundoye, 2002). A report from the Chief Inspector of Prisons in 1997 suggested that at least 20% of female prisoners have children and 39% of young female prisoners had been in the care of a local authority at some stage in their childhood, and nearly 50% reported having suffered some form of abuse (a third reported sexual abuse, the remainder, physical abuse) (HMIP, 1997).” The statistics show that some of the women who do commit an offence have some sort of background such as an abusive one which has had a negative effect on their life leading them to commit crimes. [7]

“The British Crime Survey (BCS) provides considerable evidence on criminal victimisation” Men are more likely to be victims of crime than women. “According to the 2004/05 BCS, women ages 16-24 had a 6.3% chance of becoming a victim of violence in the previous year compared with the 14.6% chance faced by mean of the same age. Domestic violence was the only category of violence for which the risks for women (0.7%) were higher than for men (0.2%)….By contrast, 77% of victims of domestic violence were women whilst 78% of victims of stranger violence were men” [8] More women are victims of domestic violence than any other violence which shows that most of this victimisation happens at home. Women are also more at risk to ‘intimate violence’. They are also more likely to have experienced it than men. “Almost one quarter of women (23%) report having experienced sexual assault and a similar proportion report have been stalked. These very high levels are lifetime measures (since age 16).”[9]

Women who were victims of rape or a sexual assault often had themselves being judged by the police in such a way that the blame for the assault had partly to do with them:

Chambers and Millar (1987) detail a range of tactics used by prosecution lawyers to imply that women complainants were somehow to blame for their victimisation or to throw doubt on the credibility of the case. Indeed many sources suggest that, at least until this point, the police were often highly unsympathetic to women complainants: ‘Women were told not to get upset, not to get things out of proportion, not to go out alone, not to go out at night, to avoid “ dangerous areas”, not to put themselves at risk’ (Benn, 1985 quoted in Walklate 2044:15001)…. any woman failing to heed such advice is somehow at fault if she is attacked – that she has been negligent and has contributed to her own victimisation[10]

This sort of advice is restricting a woman’s freedom and independence. It also is implying that if a woman doesn’t adhere to these rules and then gets attacked then it is partly her own fault.

Male victimisation tends not to be reported. Men are more likely to be victims outside of the home but not much is known about this. “Some of this neglect is a product of one widely held belief about ‘manliness’: that men are reluctant or even unwilling to talk about or admit ‘weakness’”[11] Men are less likely to open up and admit any sort of crime which would affect their “manliness”.

Treatment within the criminal justice system is different for both men and women. Prisons have been mostly designed for men so are much harsher for women. “Prison is disproportionately harsher for women because prisons and the practises within them have for the most part been designed for me. Women and men are different so if both are treated equally it doesn’t necessarily mean that the outcome will be equal”[12] Men and women are different types of offenders. Women don’t have much involvement in violent crimes whereas men do. If a woman does not pose a risk to the public then she should be supported to prevent her from committing a crime again. Since there are not many women offenders as a result there are not many women prisons which would mean that women would have to depart further from their families which would make visiting much harder. This would also affect any children the woman might have as it means the child is also receiving some sort of punishment as it is away from its mother. It could be said that women should only go to prison for serious offences.

To conclude, offending occurs most in men as most women do not tend to commit crime. Women who do commit crimes are either committing a minor offence or are deviating from the traditional view of a woman. Women who have a past of violence or sexual assault could be classified as victims as well as offenders. The whole process in the criminal justice system is different for men and women. There is an issue with equality when it comes to the criminal justice system; men are treated more harshly than women are, through each stage of the criminal justice system for many reasons such as emotional needs and the character of a woman to that compared to a man.


Feminist criminology and integrated theory: Accessed 29th November 2011

Lecture Slides

Newburn, T (2007) Criminology Devon: Willan Publishing

Treadwell, J (2006) Criminology Sage Course Companion London: Sage Publications

[1] Lecture slides

[2] Treadwell, J (2006) ‘Gender and crime’ in Criminology Sage Course Companion London: Sage Publications

[3] Feminist criminology and integrated theory: Accessed 29th November 2011

[4] Newburn, T (2007) ‘Gender, crime and justice’ Criminology Devon: Willan Publishing


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