Previous to the emergence of feminist theories in the 1960’s and 70’s the criminal justice system and studies surrounding it were developed under the assumption that males were the predominate perpetrators and victims of crime- particularly in cases regarding interpersonal violence. Whilst this was and still is true, the number of women being involved in interpersonal crimes is increasing, causing a new wave of interest as to what circumstances a woman finds herself involved in a criminal situation; hence the emergence of feminist theory.
Whilst this theory does not aim to dismiss the majority (males) in this form of crime, it acts to elevate the minority (females) so as they can be recognised by the criminal justice system and have their cases dealt with in a gender appropriate manner. The present day criminal justice system is unable to appropriately assess and respond to women committing or being victims of interpersonal violence or to recognise that the reasons for their involvement often differs from that of males.
The importance of the feminist approach, in terms of interpersonal violence, is perhaps most easily recognised when looking at crimes such as intimate partner violence and sexual assault that have a high percentage of female victims. Furthermore, when assessing the needs of women going through the criminal justice system or those living in imprisonment and the difficulties they face the need for a gendered legal system is highlighted.
The feminist criminological theory aims to understand minorities in race, gender socioeconomic status and many more and their intersection with one another and their relation to crime. In relation to interpersonal violence and gender, females are greatly underrepresented in studies, particularly regarding those who commit offences. As mentioned above this places a pressure on the legal system that does not know how to properly respond to these women. Feminist theories aim to bridge the gap between males and females in the criminal justice system and provide gender appropriate crime responses for all.
Furthermore, breakthroughs discovered in feminist criminology regarding female crime and victimisation may assist in explaining male crime to some extent. Since feminist theory looks at all female crime and victimisation- including crimes involving malesreasons as to why males become victims of female assault and why they assault females are explored. This information is relevant to both feminist and other schools of criminological thought and shows that whilst women are the focus, the majority is still being considered.
The focus of this essay is to state the importance of feminist theories in equalling out the genders and eradicating gender bias in terms of interpersonal violence, to look at different ways in which feminist criminology can assist women and where it is most important and to show the interconnections between studies of females and males that show feminist theories still understand the importance of recognising the male domination of the criminal justice system. Some areas of interpersonal crime have very high levels of female victimisation.
For example around 75% of victims of intimate partner crime (Abs, 2012) and more than two thirds of victims of reported sexual violence are females (Abs, 2012). Prior to the introduction of feminist theory it was believed that sexual violence such as rape was something that occurred in public between a women and an unknown male. The male was believed to be an outsider who did not socialise in the community and had sexual urges he could not subdue.
This idea was used to explain why males were the primary offenders in sexual violence cases whilst also reducing responsibility for their actions (Chung, O’Leary and Hand, 2006, pp. -7). In fact, the term sexual violence was not introduced until the 1970s’ (Cook, David, & Grant, 2001), along with the feminist theory that rape and other sexually violent acts were not only limited to encounters with strangers (Cook et al. , 2001) but that the victims were not ‘asking for it’ with suggestive dress and that the acts themselves were more an act of domination and humiliation of the victim rather than sexual desire. Previous to feminist theory, intimate partner violence was seen as a private matter that was only the business of the people involved.
Over the past 40 years the image of intimate partner violence has shifted to one of a public crime, as serious an issue as those perpetrated by a stranger. The criminalisation of intimate partner crime is due to its identification as a force of the patriarchy- this theory was founded by feminists who worked to disprove alternate explanations (Houston, 2014). Feminist theory has worked to assist the thousands of women assaulted every year that now have legal rights against their attackers. The ways in which males and females participate in crimes differs greatly.
Whilst males are more likely to commit violent crimes females are more likely to be involved in theft or fraud. However, female crime is on the rise with an increase of 125 assaults committed per 100’000 to 186 assaults committed per 100’000 between 1997 and 2010 (Aic. gov. au, 2012). Furthermore, violent assault is the most common first offence for females under the age of 17 and its prevalence has grown by 68% since 1998 (abc news, 2015) and overall, the number of female offenders rose by 36% between 1999 and 2010 (Holmes, 2010, pp. 3).
Some research attributes this increase in crime to a result of increase social control, policy and policing over young women (Steffensmeier, D. , Schwartz, J. , Zhong, H. and Ackerman, J. , 2005) whilst other believe that female participation in youth culture activities such as gangs and cyber- culture that promote women’s violence is to blame. Furthermore, a transition from sexualising to condemning women’s crime has taken place in the last 30 years (Carrington and Pereira 2009; Sharpe 2012) perhaps accounting for a rise in female arrests.
The levels to which each of these different factors- and others- combine and intersect to completely account for the rise in violent crimes committed by females are unknown. However, it is important to continue feminist research in this field to assure that the minority gender in this area stays as such. It can then be said that feminist criminology is not ignoring the needs of the population by not focusing their research on males but is preventing the problem of female crime from occurring to an unmanageable extent thus working for the greater good of the criminal justice system.
The feminist theory’s focus on female crime and victimisation is not only vital in preventing female crime and stopping the closing ‘gender gap’ (Heimer, 2015, pp. 427) in violent offenses it also works to build up the knowledge and understanding of why females commit and are victims of crimes and how to treat them effectively in the criminal justice system. Much of the criminal justice system was built around older theories such as those from Lombroso, Thomas and Pollak- particularly when it comes to crimes still heavily gendered such as interpersonal violence.
Relying on cultural stereotypes these theories aimed to explain female crime in an over-sexualised manner, which condemned women who strayed from the ‘pure, innocent housewife’ stereotype, rather than treating them objectively. Mainstream criminology has also been faulted in its negligence to research the effects of gender in the criminal justice system. There was little testing into whether the criminal justice system, treated defendants of different genders differently or if females were treated more leniently (Law. jrank. org, 2015). This created a system of intolerance for women who are treated and trialled the same as male counterparts.
It is therefore important to continue women’s studies in criminology to create an equality of genders and perhaps signal a change in policies so as women are fairly trialled for their crimes- particularly stereotypically masculine crimes such as interpersonal violence. The study of women’s crimes and victimisation in interpersonal violence cases may assist in explaining why men are victims or perpetrators of crime. Before the feminist agenda, the relationship between females and males in the criminal world were little explored, particularly violence or sexual violence ommitted against a man by a woman.
Further research into these areas have unveiled that they not only exist, in relation to female violence against males, but that they happen very frequently with Data from Home Office statistical bulletins and the British Crime Survey suggesting that up to 40% of intimate partner violence victims are made up of males (Campbell, 2015). Whilst 100% of the perpetrators would not be female, the majority of the population are in heterosexual relationships so these figures suggest a high level of female violence.
Furthermore, along with the recognition that female victims of assault and sexual violence are not ‘asking for it’ or ‘just adhering to stereotypical family structure’, the idea that males could be responsible for their actions against women was given more weight. It was newly acknowledged that males ‘sexual needs’ were controllable and that violent acts were caused by different factors (Cook, David and Grant, 2001). Furthermore, violent acts in the home were contributed to patriarchal sys tems functioning on control and fear.
With an insight into female crime a better understanding of male crime has emerged. The emergence of the feminist criminological theory has created a more comprehensive understanding of female victimisation and perpetration in interpersonal violence than what was seen before the 1970s’. These studies are vital in helping the women of sexual and intimate partner violence receive justice for crimes perpetrated against them along with facilitating new ways to respond to the growing number of women becoming involved in violent crimes.
Furthermore feminist theory is vital in preventing the crime gender gap from narrowing and for bringing the understanding of female crime and victimisation to the same levels as that of males. Feminist theory not only helps provide answers to why females commit and are victims of violent crimes, but also explains why males commit or are victims of violent crimes involving women. Therefore, feminist criminology not only assists the minority in a greatly under researched area, but also contributes to the understanding of the majority.