Women, Crime, and Justice: Balancing the Scales presents a comprehensive analysis of the role of women in the criminal justice system, providing important new insight to their position as offenders, victims, and practitioners.
* Draws on global feminist perspectives on female offending and victimization from around the world
* Covers topics including criminal law, case processing, domestic violence, gay/lesbian and transgendered prisoners, cyberbullying, offender re-entry, and sex trafficking
* Explores issues professional women face in the criminal justice workplace, such as police culture, judicial decision-making, working in corrections facilities, and more
* Includes international case examples throughout, using numerous topical examples and personal narratives to stimulate students' critical thinking and active engagement
Elaine Gunnison is an Associate Professor and Graduate Director in the Criminal Justice Department at Seattle University. She is the co-author of Offender Reentry: Beyond Crime and Punishment (2013), and she has published journal articles examining criminological theories as applied to female offenders, female victimization, and women in corrections.
Frances Bernat is Associate Dean in the College of Arts and Sciences at Texas A&M International University and Emeritus Professor at Arizona State University. She is the co-author of Criminal Procedure Law: Police Issues and the Supreme Court (2013) and Human Sex Trafficking (2011).
Lynne Goodstein is Professor of Sociology at the University of Connecticut. She is the co-author of The American Prison (1989) and Rethinking Gender, Crime and Justice: Feminist Readings (2006); and several book chapters and journal articles on higher education, sexual assault, women and crime, corrections, and criminal sentencing.
Foundations for understanding women and crime
Student learning outcomes
After reading this chapter, you should be able to:
- Explain why a text on women and crime issues is important.
- Describe the difference between the terms "sex" and "gender."
- Identify core dimensions affecting our understanding of women and crime.
- Summarize the feminist movement in the United States and globally incorporate the role of feminist theory and feminist criminology.
Each day, all elements of the criminal justice system (i.e., police, courts, corrections) are allied in a battle to reduce crime and obtain justice for victims. As citizens, we understand that there are both offenders and victims, and we also know that offenders and victims can be of any gender, race/ethnicity, or sexual orientation. However, the acceptance and acknowledgment of women as being both offenders and victims by society has not always been the case. One of the first infamous cases that put women in the limelight and captured the attention of the American public was the case of Lizzie Borden. In 1892, Borden's father and step-mother were killed in their home in Massachusetts with a hatchet. Due to the brutality and shocking circumstances surrounding the crime, it soon garnered national attention when Borden was arrested and charged with the murders (Unknown 1892). After all, it was certainly shocking that a woman could be the perpetrator of such a horrific crime. Following an intense trial and media circus, Borden was found not guilty of the murders in 1893 (Howard 1893). Despite her acquittal, she was still ostracized from society and speculation has continued for over 100 years regarding her innocence. While Borden's case highlighted the fact that women could indeed be criminals, criminologists of the time were neither interested nor inspired to begin examining women offenders and the crimes they committed.
The plight of women as victims of domestic abuse seemed to go unnoticed by the American public or researchers until the case of Francine Hughes. Hughes had experienced 13 years of domestic violence by her ex-husband and had finally reached her breaking point in the late 1970s (McNulty 1980). In 1977, Hughes gathered her children into her car and then went back into the house and set her ex-husband's bedroom on fire, which killed him in his sleep (McNulty 1980). While Hughes certainly was not the first woman to experience domestic abuse, her case garnered national attention and prompted a greater awareness of domestic violence - particularly when actress Farrah Fawcett portrayed Hughes in a television movie called The Burning Bed. Since Hughes' case, other victims of domestic violence have further fueled the awareness that domestic violence exists and it can occur to any woman regardless of her status. For instance, the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson by O.J. Simpson, her ex-husband, in 1994 created a media sensation at the time (Rimer 1994). Nicole had a history of experiencing domestic abuse at the hands of Simpson. More recently, South African Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius shot and killed his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, in 2013 (Alter 2014). While Pistorius claims the shooting was accidental, many believe Steenkamp was a victim of domestic abuse.
The aforementioned cases highlight the fact that women are an integral part of the criminal justice system as offenders or victims. Yet, these cases are reminders that the media picks and chooses which cases to highlight and report on, creating an incomplete portrait of the modern-day female offender and victim. This text provides a detailed investigation into the role of women in the criminal justice system as offenders, victims, and working professionals. Specifically, in this chapter, we explore the reasons why a text and courses on the subject matter are so critical. Next, we define concepts to enable a better understanding of women and crime issues. Finally, we describe the importance of gender in criminology and criminal justice.
Reasons for the focus on women and crime
While you may be able to quickly recount examples of women as offenders, victims, and working professionals in the criminal justice system, you might be surprised to learn that most of what we know about women in these realms has emerged from researchers only in the past several decades. Wait, how can that be? To fully grasp why our knowledge of women in these areas is rather sparse, we first have to examine why our understanding of women as offenders, victims, and professionals has been historically limited. Within the field of criminology, the study of the causes of crime and criminal behavior, women were largely overlooked. Throughout the 1800s and most of the 1900s, criminologists were primarily interested in understanding why men committed crime (Chesney-Lind 1989; Heidensohn 1985). This was due, in part, to the fact that men were exhibiting more criminal behavior and committing more serious crimes. Thus, it was argued by many that understanding male offending was the logical place to start in order to understand offending and subsequently reduce crime. Unfortunately, this line of thinking resulted in the examination of female offending being brushed aside. Also, it should be noted that many of the early criminologists were male. Thus, their gender may have played a role in their approach to examine male criminal behavior first. Whatever the true underpinnings of the historical failure to try to understand female offending, the result of this initial oversight has carried over into other areas of research regarding women. For instance, historically, women were left out of the discussion and analysis of crime in many criminology and criminal justice texts as offenders, victims, or even as workers within the criminal justice system. Although textbooks in the field have evolved over time to integrate gender into topics of discussion, many researchers argue that the inclusion of such discussions is still limited. For example, in some cases, the inclusion of women in a topic on criminal justice may be biased. One of the authors of this book can recall using an Introduction to Criminal Justice text within the past decade that featured a section within one chapter entitled "Do women make good police officers?" Besides the obvious problem of the aforementioned section title, the book failed to include another section asking the same question regarding male police officers. Given the oversight of women in the many criminology or criminal justice texts or biased presentations of women presented in these texts, this book is devoted to a detailed examination of women as offenders, victims, and professionals.
Along with books specific to women and crime, courses on women and crime are critical. Reflect on your career goals. Do they include working at all with offenders or victims? If so, it is critical that you understand the population that you likely will be working with. By acquiring knowledge of women and crime issues, it will greatly improve your preparation for professions in law and in the criminal justice system. Besides the acquisition of knowledge of various problems and how they impact women and men, you will be able to articulate the steps that you and others may need to take in order to ameliorate or eliminate these problems through the use of policy implications. Policy implications refer to policies that can be implemented to combat a social problem. In the future, you may find yourself working in the criminal justice profession and will need to suggest policies to help the population you may be working with. Today, it is not enough to recognize that a problem exists in the criminal justice system, and think that the problem is unfortunate or that you are powerless to make a difference. Rather, there are many ways in which you can get involved in some form of activism on the topic, whether it is through knowledge dissemination to the public or more formal types of activism such as establishing a grassroots campaign to change a law or institute a policy.
CASE STUDY: Chibok kidnappings
In mid-April 2014, over 200 female students were kidnapped from their school in the town of Chibok in Nigeria (McCoy 2014). The kidnappers broke into their school with brute force and shot at guards. The female students that were captured were loaded into trucks to either be later killed, or required to work as domestic servants or sex slaves. Some female students were able to escape but many students are still missing. The Islamic terrorist group that claimed responsibility for this atrocity is known as Boko Haram. Apparently, the rationale for their actions was their quest to stop Westernization, which includes the education of women (McCoy 2014). These kidnappings have gained international attention, with the slogan "#BringBackOurGirls" being placed all over the Internet, including social media sites, and mentioned by celebrities and political officials (Dixon 2014). Additionally, the kidnappings have captured the attention of US government officials, who are now planning to send in troops to assist in the search of the missing girls (Londoño 2014).
Concepts of importance
To obtain a better grasp on women and crime issues presented in this book, it is important to understand the critical concepts - not only their definitions but also how these concepts are interwoven throughout the text. In the 1970s and 1980s, feminist scholars began to articulate the difference between the concepts sex and...