Last Updated 28 Jul 2020

Women & Crime

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Women have been commonly stereotyped as loving, nurturing and compassionate people. Female offenses, over the past century, have been on the rise (Wormer, 2010). The battle for gender equality might play an important role in this phenomenon. Female offenders started to increase in numbers during the 1980s, as reported by the Uniformed Crime Report (UCR). However, the majority of offenses committed by females are not violent offenses (Wormer, 2010). As shown in the UCR, the percentage of females imprisoned for violent offenses have been declining over the past two decades (United States Department of Justice, 2010).

When looking at crimes committed by women, compared to those committed by men, they are obviously smaller in numbers. The questions being asked is why are these numbers increasing at alarming rates? What is causing females to commit to a life of crime? In this paper I will attempt to find the cause or causes as to why a larger percentage of females are committing crime. It is important to note that there is a major increase in the number of females arrested, most notably for non-violent crimes. According to the UCR, during 1980, about 13,000 women were imprisoned in the nation.

This number drastically increased to 80,000 by 1997. This clearly shows that the rate of female incarceration is rising faster than that of men. Over the past three decades, female incarceration has more than doubled. Statistics show that the rate of female imprisonment is significantly high being that 54 out of every 100,000 women, compared to 6 out of every 100,000 in 1930, when the first report came out (Simon, & Ahn-Redding, 2009). Amongst criminologists and social scientists, there are generally two perceptions as to why women commit crime.

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The first and most obviously known cause is that females generally maintain lower incarceration rates than males do. In every category, except embezzlement, prostitution and runaways, men tend to commit crimes at higher rates (Simon, & Ahn-Redding, 2009). The second observation is that the low rate of female crime has not been properly & thoroughly studied. Regarding the nation’s history, criminal research has basically ignored and overlooked the crimes that women commit and put a bigger emphasis on the male offender (Chesney-Lind, 1997).

However, because of this rise in female crime, criminologists have begun to study the female offender with a greater emphasis. For the most part, men and female offenders tend to commit more property crimes and substance abuse crimes (Blanchette, & Brown 2006). There are more minor crimes committed versus violent crimes like aggravated assault or murder (United States Department of Justice, 2010). In 2009, the most common crime committed by males was drug abuse violations, whereas females committed other types of offenses except traffic.

This category can include public disorder or any other state or law violation that is not specified in Part I or Part II offenses seen in the UCR (United States department of justice, 2010). The most noticeable difference between male and females in the reported arrests is the greater percentage of female offenders arrested for prostitution. In 2009, 56,640 people were arrested for prostitution and commercialized vice; 70% of those people were women (United States department of justice, 2010).

The increase in female crimes began to rise after the end of World War II but surprisingly, the increase has not been in “customary” female crimes such as child abuse or prostitution. Crimes like robbery, larceny-theft and driving under the influence are the crimes that have staggering percentage increases. In 2000, 6,663 women were arrested for robbery, whereas in 2009 9,384 were arrested; that’s a 46% increase in a matter of only 10 years (Simon, & Ahn-Redding, 2009). According to the UCR’s data over the years, I have gained better knowledge about increasing female crimes.

However, problems still arise as to why there are still such significantly higher numbers of imprisoned males than females. Social scientists have proposed many hypotheses regarding the disparity between female and male crimes. Traditionally, men are seen as being physically stronger than women. This, in turn, implies that they are more capable of committing violent crimes. In order to explain the gender gap that exists in the field of criminology, one must also take into consideration the emotional development and strength of a person. It seems as if gender and society’s norms have an impact on the low crime rates of women.

Femininity is, for the most part, consists of the way a woman behaves but also the way she sees herself and her relationships with others. A woman’s femininity is influenced not only by her body but also her mind and her interactions with society. A “normal” woman can be perceived as caring, nurturing, and being selfless when it comes to others. Women, who take on responsibilities of a family or the ability to not only establish, but also maintain relationships, are thought of in the highest regards. “Derivative identity constrains deviance on the part of a women involved with onventional males, but it also encourages the criminal involvements of those who become accomplices of husbands or boyfriends” (Blanchette, & Brown, 2006). Tendencies and qualities that are seen in criminals, basically contradict those tendencies and qualities that females possess. Crime is much more disgraced for women than it is for men. Women hold certain expectations regarding the way they look to the way the conduct themselves. For example, a woman would stay away from locations where she would fall victim to the hands of a perpetuator such as nightclubs and crime-ridden streets.

They’re lives are also altered when they find themselves victims of physical violence, such as spousal abuse and rape. Women tend to be victimized in ways that men cannot, so their behavior tends to change because they have that fear of being a victim (Chesney-Lind, 1997). Over the years, criminologists have come up with many theories as to why people commit crime. Hirschi’s Social Control Theory and Agnew’s General Strain Theory have helped in this cause. Social Control Theory focuses primarily on internal controls. The theory implies that an individual may commit crime as a result of having little or no bonds with society.

This bond, as it is being referred to, is a structure that consists of four elements: attachment, commitment, involvement, and belief (Chesney-Lind, 1997). This theory maintains a belief that individual that have strong attachments to conventional people, are committed to school or work, are involved in conventional pursuits and do not rationalize or justify crime, are less likely to engage themselves in a life of crime. Hirschi’s theory does not specify itself within gender. When his initial theory testing was taking place, his sample consisted of both male and female adolescents.

However, Hirschi only took into consideration the criminal information collected that pertained to males (Alder, & Worrall, 2004). During the 1990s, criminologists Sampson and Laub developed a social control theory to help explain and understand childhood antisocial conduct, adolescent delinquency and criminal conduct during an individual’s early adulthood. The theory implies that early childhood experiences and individual traits explain stability in criminal behavior during childhood, adolescence and early adulthood. Experiences like these are called “turning points”.

These turning points can change the trajectories for better or worse. Turning points refer to how attached an individual becomes to another conventional person. The hypothesis within this theory is that these turning points are the primary cause for the alteration of the criminal trajectory (Alder, & Worrall, 2004). For example, an individual that possesses strong marital attachments and employment stability are more likely to refrain from any criminal activity than those who do not possess such qualities. Agnew’s General Strain theory derived from prior works from Robert Merton.

Strain theory states that individuals, primarily in the lower class of society, will refrain to crime when they are unable to rank higher in the social ladder or achieve any type of monetary success through legitimate means (Blanchette, & Brown, 2006). The failure to achieve status or wealth causes an individual to become strained and pressured. This strain and pressure then causes an individual to resort to gaining such status and wealth through illegitimate means or non-conformist behavior. General Strain Theory (GST) is based on the psychological aspect that deals with aggression, stress, and coping mechanisms.

GST implies that stressful events produce negative emotions for an individual which in turn results in criminal behavior (Alder, & Worrall, 2004). Agnew presumes that there are three sources of strain: inability to achieve positive fueled goals, the removal of a positive stimuli and the presentation of a negative one. It can be argued that GST can sufficiently explain the gender gap in crime. Both males and females experience different types of strain. However, statistics show that male strain tends to lead towards serious property and violent crime more than females.

Males and females have different emotional systems. They respond differently to strain; women tend to turn towards depression whereas men tend to become very angry and hostile (Blanchette, & Brown, 2006). Males have very different coping mechanisms than those of females. This theory, according to Agnew, can also be used to describe why women commit crime. He argues that strain can be conceptualized as oppression, in feminist views. These oppressed-ridden individuals will then turn to crime in order to relieve themselves of such stress.

Authors Alder and Worrall note how divorce rates and spousal abuse crate financial and emotional stress on a female. They also note that when society devalues a female’s capabilities, whether it is at home or in the workplace, it creates a new cause of strain we call injustice. Other forms of strain can include sexual harassment, death of a loved one, and discrimination (Blanchette, & Brown, 2006). Females, in general, commit fewer crimes than males because females they become greatly stigmatized by society. Society norms as well as the attachment to conventional people help them steer away from a life of crime.

A woman will find ways to reach a higher position in social class based upon her personal experiences and her ability to attain a husband, who holds a high position in society. Obviously, women are able to use their feminism to achieve their goals without resorting to illegitimate ways, such as prostitution and robbery. Strain theory can be used to explain the difference as to why women commit less crime than males do; females and males have different ways of coping with stress. The result for both individual differs. The role of the female in today’s society has become less compliant than before.

Women are now being dominated less by the male population and are able to take on a role as individuals. However, there is still an enormous amount of gender inequality surround society. Until this inequality diminishes, society and gender norms that remain will continue to take over the percentage of crimes committed by women. However, the substantial achievement on the female crime study and explanation must be acclaimed, as gender has been viewed in the way that it should be: as a crucial variable associated in the criminal study.

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