Female criminals -- questioning popular perceptions

January 23, 2013

Is a female offender an anomaly? We tend to think of women as being less prone to violence than men. "She's a victim acting in self-defense" or "She's a deviant rebelling against standards of female behavior," we think. Either way, the evidence contradicts these popular perceptions of female violence, according to the new book Perceptions of Female Offenders - How Stereotypes and Social Norms Affect Criminal Justice Responses, published by Springer.

Over the past few decades, the increase of female offenders has generated concern and has brought attention to a topic that had been previously discounted by researchers. Our social norms dictate that women are not dangerous - that they do not commit crimes. The thought of a female offender conflicts with traditional gender roles, where women are "supposed to be" nurturing and passive. However, the rise in female crime is at odds with these assumptions.

The research on female offenders that does exist shows that men and women are perceived differently. As a result, there are discrepancies in the way in which they are treated when it comes to crime. The book highlights the fact that women who commit violent crime are both judged and treated by a criminal justice system which bases its decisions on the erroneous stereotypes of female offenders.

Editor Brenda Russell, from the Pennsylvania State University in the US, comments: "Since research on the impact of perceptions of female offenders and the process of the criminal justice system is fairly new, many important questions remain as to the interaction between stereotypes, societal norms, and our perceptions of female offenders. We therefore need to question our own perceptions about females in society and in the criminal justice system, and explore whether equality in the criminal justice system would actually benefit, or harm, society and/or female offenders."

Combining psychology, sociology and criminology research, Perceptions of Female Offenders sheds light on the gendered beliefs that taint both society's view of female perpetrators and their treatment by the criminal justice system. Further topics in the book include how the media depicts female offenders and how victim gender, age and sexuality affect our perceptions of sexual assaults committed by women. Also discussed are intimate partner violence and partner abuse - and the differences according to whether the perpetrators are men or women.

Russell, Brenda L. (Ed) Perceptions of Female Offenders. How Stereotypes and Social Norms Affect Criminal Justice Responses. Springer 2013. ISBN: 978-1-4614-5870-8 (Print) 978-1-4614-5871-5 (Online).


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