Gender and Crime in America

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Crime is a major problem within the United States and trying to understand criminal characteristics is one method used to examine why criminals commit crimes. The more that is known about what type of people commit certain crimes allows law enforcement to examine and explore possible preventive measures that can be put in place to lower the amount of crime that takes place. If someone was to be told to visualize what a criminal looks look, most people would not visualize a woman. This is because men are usually thought to commit more crime than women on average, but in actuality women do statistically commit crime at a rate that shouldn’t be ignored, but what type of crimes that are committed and how sociological areas effect these statistics are important in understanding why women engage in criminal behavior.

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According to a 2010 study, there were roughly 110,000 women incarcerated in state and federal facilities. Males happened to occupy 1.5 million spaces in state and federal facilities. This alone shows that males either commit crimes more often that women, or that women are not charged or incarcerated as often as males. With the staggering difference in the totals, it almost guaranteed that men simply commit more crime than woman. This study also elaborated that the total female population in this study had a 2.2 percent increase in offenders over the last 10 years. This surpassed the males increase of 1.6 percent. This means that for some reason both gender populations are engaging in more crime, but women had a higher increase than that of the male population.

Males engage in crime at a much higher rate than females in just about every category of crime. The major difference is with prostitution, where females far outweigh the proportion of cases in comparison to males. In reference to juveniles, males are also responsible for the majority of delinquent crimes, but females share a decent majority of the deviant behavior. Female juveniles are responsible for over a fourth of all juvenile crime committed. The majority of female juvenile crimes were of person offenses, which could include assault, robbery, rape, and homicide. These person offenses made up 28 percent of all female juvenile crimes, which is equivalent to their public order offenses, which may include prostitution, paraphilia, and alcohol related offenses. 26 Percent were charged with property crimes, and 18 percent were for drug offenses.

Women and men both engage in a variety of crimes across the board. There are however crimes that seem to be more often carried out by men, and others that tend to be more often conducted by women. This may sound contradicting to the early statement that men engage in more crime in almost all categories, but what we are discussing here is gender proportional difference on crimes committed based on individual gender populations. Even though there are distinct gender trends of what types of crimes are committed, it should be clear that both females and males commit all categories of crimes. There just happens to be crimes that are more often than not carried out by one gender in comparison to another. Most sources will agree or state that men are more likely to commit violent crimes, and women are more likely to commit nonviolent crimes. This theory will be examined throughout this paper.

Infanticide is the crime of killing a child that is no more than a year old. This term is usually used in connection with someone that murdered their own child, but it is not limited to their own, and can also be someone else’s child. While this is a terrifying and violent crime, it is most often carried out by women, and not men. Feeley and Aviram (2010) explain that historically there are not very many cases that led to prosecution. They believe this to be for a couple reasons. “First, it was virtually impossible for a third party to distinguish a natural death in childbirth or shortly thereafter from infanticide, particularly at a time when the mortality rate at childbirth was high. Second, the evidentiary barriers are high: It is difficult to determine willful smothering from accidental or natural suffocation due to various factors (p. 158).” Basically it is believed that there have been many cases that go unpunished in a court of law due to the inability to prove without reasonable doubt that the child’s death was criminally carried out and not of natural or accidental reasons.

Theft is a common criminal act among both men and women, but what varies is how these acts are executed. Women are more likely to engage in what can be viewed as safer acts of theft. They usually engage in this type of behavior in private places such as houses. In contrast men are more likely to steal from public places, such as people on the street and businesses. In a high proportion of theft cases males and females will team up and women will act as accomplices for men. It is common for women to act as a distraction or be a look out while the men engage in the theft.

Sexual crimes or rape are carried out by both genders, but once again who they chose as a victim and in the manner they engage in the behavior varies. Men are more likely to use force on their victims, and women are the complete opposite. In a study discussed by Lewis and Stanley (2000) concluded that all the women in the study were guilty of engaging in sexual crimes with minors, or youth that are 17 years old or younger. Over half of all the victims from this study were sexually assaulted by their mothers. In all these cases the mother assaulted these defenseless children through oral and digital (finger) stimulation, which usually occurred in their home. For the victims that weren’t the offenders’ children, they were usually assaulted in a baby-sitter type situation in the offenders’ home. A fourth of the women offenders in this study were under the age of 18 (13 to 17 years old), and assaulted younger victims.

Understanding why women engage in criminal behavior in the first place is the first step in intervening and attempting to reduce the proportion of crime committed by female offenders. One study took a socio-familial approach to try and explain their criminal behavior. Luta et al. (2009) used a sample of 235 female detainees from that were detained in four separate Romanian prisons. They took many areas into consideration, such as family origin, prior abuse from parents, family income, number of siblings, anomic aspects, education levels, concubinage or being in a relationship where there is no marriage, offsprings, and marriage satisfaction.

In regards to family origin, most would assume that women offenders come from a broken home. Luta et al. (2009) found that most women offenders incarcerated were actually raised by both parents. 72 percent of the women offenders that participated in this study had both parents raise them. This denies the accusation made above. Roughly 26 percent of women offenders were raised by relatives or single parent homes, and less than two percent of the population were raised in an institution. This may come as a surprise considering there being a popular belief that child welfare institutions are not good for kids, but according to this study, females raised in these institution lead a more positive lifestyle in reference to criminal activity than those that were brought up by actual family members, but there may be an explanation for this.

Luta et al. (2009) expressed from their study that the majority of over 50 percent of the participants in this study were physically abused by their parents or caregivers, and nearly 10 percent reported frequent abuse. This proportion gives some light to the above conclusions where the majority of women incarcerated came from unbroken family. Even though they were raised by both parents, they happened to be abusive parents/caregivers. The remaining 40 percent of the women offender’s studied reported they were never abused by their parents/caregivers. This study found a strong correlation of physical abuse from parents/caregivers and sexual crimes. Nearly all the women offenders that were charged with sexual crimes were physically abused by their parents/caregivers in one way or another. Other areas that showed a correlation between parental abuse and crimes committed were theft and robbery, drug related crimes, prostitution, and homicide.

Surprisingly enough, the majority of these same women offender expressed positive emotions and feelings for the parents or caregivers. 86 percent of these women truly cared and loved their parental figures. Seven percent had indifferent feelings towards their parents, and the remaining seven percent listed “other” as their feelings towards their caregivers. Based on these finding, troubled feelings towards parental figures cannot accurately be concluded for any act of criminal behavior.

Income within the offenders’ families were positively influenced in some crimes, but negatively influenced in others. White collar crimes such as tax evasion, bribery, and fraud were correlated with steady incomes within the offender’s home. Adversely low or non-steady incomes were a common denominator for these offenders engaging in theft and robbery, homicide and manslaughter, and lastly prostitution.

This study also found that anomies or the disruption of social norms seems to influence criminal behavior. Luta et al. (2009) found an overwhelming proportion of 74 percent of the offender’s immediate family had members with criminal records, and another 69 percent had immediate family members that suffered from alcoholism and drug addictions. Chemical dependency in this study showed a direct correlation to drug related offenses in these women offenders, while criminal history in the family has been linked to these offenders charged with sexual crimes, fraud, and prostitution.

Many people believe that criminals must be uneducated if they chose to engage in deviant behavior, while this might be the case in some instances, it proves false in others. Luta et al. (2009) were able to make generalization on what crimes women are more likely to engage in based on education levels. Illiterate or low educated women offenders were found to be involved property crimes, while educated offenders in this population were found to be more involved in crimes related to finances, such as fraud, tax evasion, and other white collar crimes.

Many sources state that women engage in criminal behavior in many cases to simply provide for their family and children. It is not necessary because they want too, but as a necessity. Luta et al. (2009) found that nearly 74 percent of the women offenders in their study had one to over three children, while only 24 percent were not parents, or had no children. Some may say this is proof enough that women engage in crime simply to provide for their families. To go further into this study, 80 percent of these mothers were engaged in forgery, theft, and prostitution. This tends to lead us in believing these crimes may have been committed in order to financially provide for their children.

More than half of the women offenders in the Luta et al. (2009) study were found to be married, or in a serious relationship. The married population made up 28 percent, while the serious relationship accounted for 33 percent. Roughly 20 percent were either divorced or widowed, and only 19 percent were single at the time they committed the crime that resulted in their incarceration. The majority of those that were married expressed that they had a good and positive relationship with their partner or spouse. A significant tie was found in more than half of these women offenders that were single were involved in rape and prostitution, as well as embezzlement and tax evasion. Van el al. (2012) performed a study that somewhat contradicts the conclusion from the Luta et al. (2009) study by claiming women that get married experience a crime-reducing effect.

It is true that men do commit more crime than women far beyond comparison, but women commit enough crime that their contribution to the problem should not be ignored. This statistical comparison does not change when speaking about juvenile males, or juvenile females. Male juveniles still commit more criminal behavior than female juveniles. Research has shown that many sociological areas influence women to engage in certain criminal behavior.

Income, children, prior abuse from parents or caregivers, and a family with a history of criminal behavior has a direct link and correlation to women that engage in criminal behavior. These sociological factors show that family and the environment these women live in can have a major negative impact on their future. Many seem to engage in criminal behavior for the simple reason that they are trying to provide for the children and family, even if it’s risking their freedom. Many women reported that that being incarcerated and watching their children be taken away was the hardest area they have to find a way to cope with, especially since many of these women were doing the illegal activities for their kids.

With this knowledge sociologist, psychologist, and the justice system can hopefully find way to limit the amount of crime that happens within the female population. More awareness or availability of social welfare programs for women that are struggling might be an area that social service personnel can improve on in order to help women that may be struggling. More programs available to struggling mothers might not be a complete solution, but it may save one mother from being taken away from her children, because all she was trying to do is provide for her family.

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