Women in Crime


By Cassie Greenwald

Women are not expected to be criminals and if they are, often they are described as ‘mad not bad.’ This is because of the view that women defied their natural biological principals to be passive and compliant. “The perception that women may be mad because they ‘dared to go against their natural biological givens such as ‘passivity’ and a ‘weakness of compliance’ ‘ appears to originate from the view that women who conform as pure, obedient daughters, wives and mothers benefit society and men” (Feminism and Crime, 2015). Research suggests that the reality is women commit crime at a different level to men.

Studies have found that most women offenders are mothers, who do not work outside of the home, had problems at school and left with few marketable employment qualifications. Many of these women are on state benefits and have experienced some form of abuse resulting in psychological distress leading to alcohol and drug abuse. Recent data shows that women are in prison for the following crimes: Drug related (37%), Violence (17%), Theft (13%), Robbery (11%), other not specified (9%), Burglary (8%), Fraud (4%), and Motoring (1%). “What is clear is that women are committing certain crimes at a different level to men. Female murderers are much rarer than male murderers and as the statistics above show, most women are in prison for drug-related crimes (37%) before there is a 20% drop to crimes related to violence (17%)” (Feminism and Crime, 2015). There are more women in prison now for drug-related offenses due to the War on Drugs, which has put many male drug dealers behind bars for minor offenses. This leaves their dependents, frequently women who have no prior history of drug trafficking, attempting to make a living by taking over their partner’s deals.

The ‘Masculinity Theory’ suggests that masculinity and crime are inherently linked. In addition to the War on Drugs, some research suggests that the increase in female offending in recent years leads to the conclusion that this must be a result of women’s increased masculinity. Studies used self-perception measures of masculinity and femininity to question groups of violent female offenders, non-violent female offenders, full time mothers, and female professionals. Results showed that the female offenders perceived themselves as having more masculine characteristics than non-offenders, and violent offenders perceived themselves as the most masculine. Ongoing research supporting this theory has failed to produce consistent results.

In the case of minors, the acts of delinquent girls are usually less chronic and less severe than those of boys. The minor offenses of female delinquent offenders may mask other serious problems. Running away from home and truancy are components of girls’ delinquency. This might suggest that they may be fleeing from, “serious problems and victimization, some involving illegal behavior by adults, which in turn makes them vulnerable to subsequent victimization and engaging in other behaviors that violate the law such as prostitution, survival sex, and drug use” (National Criminal Justice, 2015). Other research shows that sexual promiscuity amongst girls resulted in institutionalization and treatment for ‘abnormal’ behavior. The sexual permissiveness of boys is encouraged and thought to be ‘natural’. “These equity studies were ‘androcentric’ as ‘women and girls appeared to exist as ‘Other’. Men were used as the ‘yardsticks’ against which actions and treatment were measured” (Feminism and Crime, 2015).

Exposure to unhealthy, dysfunctional relationships can elevate women’s risk of their own involvement in crime and criminal justice, and ending up in the prison system. Incarcerating mothers has a devastating toll on family dynamics. “Sixty seven per cent of women incarcerated in state prisons are mothers of children under 18. Seventy percent of these women compared to 50% of men had custody of their dependent children prior to incarceration” (Women in Prison, 2015). There are also fewer prison facilities for women and as a result, incarcerated women are typically much further away from home than the average male prisoner. This has the potential to cause transportation problems for children and deprives women prisoners of contact with their children. 6% of pregnant women entering the prison system are immediately separated from their children after giving birth.

Before evaluating a female criminal, it is important to consider the vast differences in criminalization between men and women. Judgment of character should be suspended until the circumstances that led to incarceration have been fully investigated. Based on the research stated in this article, early intervention for girls should be put in place. Women commit different crimes than men, and it is important that their punishment is not measured by the standards of male unlawful activity.

Feminism and Crime. (n.d.). Retrieved April 21, 2015

National Criminal Justice Reference Service. (n.d.). Retrieved April 21, 2015.

WOMEN IN PRISON. (n.d.). Retrieved April 21, 2015.


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