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Crime refers to those activities that are against the law and are subject to different forms of punishment. Due to prevalence of criminal or deviant behaviours, governments create law enforcement agencies charged with the task of ensuring that law and order is maintained across societies. Women tend to commit fewer crimes than men as well as committing different types of crime. However, in recent years, more and more women have engaged in criminal activities than was traditionally the case. While some are drawn into crime for survival, others are drawn into crime for personal gratification. Naturally, same factors drive men and women into crime although there might be some little variances.
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For instance, alcohol abuse, drugs, and activities such as clubbing are likely to cause men and women to commit crimes almost at equal proportions (Pierce, Hayhurst, Bird, Hickman, Seddon, Dunn, and Millar, 2015). However, there are those factors that are more gender-specific. Regardless of this, crime statistics worldwide indicate that men are more likely to engage in criminal behaviour than females (Cauffman, 2008). Because of this, sociologists and other professionals such as psychologists have over the years tried to understand why people commit crimes and why men are more likely to commit crimes.
Surprisingly, there are those crimes that are more likely to be committed by men such as armed robberies while others are more likely to be committed by women. This paper attempts to evaluate the sociological reasons for gender differences in crime patterns with respect to the United Kingdom. In doing this, various theories of crime and deviance will be utilized as well as having a look at crime statistics for various types of crime.
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Crime statistics vary from one country to another and from one community to another. Factors such as level of education, social status, employment, drug use, personality traits, and family background are some of the factors that can cause people to engage in criminal activities. Crimes can be limited to the family sphere or can be perpetrated even in the public sphere. In the United Kingdom, crime statistics have dropped considerably since their peak in the mid-1990s although these figures have been on an upward trend in the last decade. Both men and women are involved in deviant activities although the rate at which men do it is much higher than that of women. Additionally, women are most likely to be victims of criminal activities especially those involving violent and sexual assaults. These crimes are also primarily conducted by men. In the United Kingdom just like in many other jurisdictions crime is inherently difficult to estimate or measure by its entirety because different crimes tend to be unreported. In an attempt to understand differences in crime patterns between men and women, many theories offer a variety of reasons. Below is an analysis off some of these viewpoints.
Marxist Feminists/Feminist theory
Marxist feminists such as Heidensohn claim that the lower crime rates of women can be attributed to the patriarchal nature of most societies. Through this structure, men play a dominant role in the society and thus exercise greater control and advantage over women. This situation reduces a woman’s opportunities within the society including that of committing crimes. Both at home and at the work place, women’s roles, time, and movements are restricted and this indirectly minimises their chances of engaging in criminal activities. Heidensohn goes ahead and actually refers to this form of domesticity of women as a form of detention. Thus, if women live in ‘detention,’ then practically their avenues of committing crimes is significantly reduced (Heidensohn, 1996).
In cases where women try to fight back from the restrictive nature that men practice over them, men usually respond through acts of domestic violence, which forces the women to accept the subordinate status that they usually play in the home and in the workplace. In cases where women’s participation in deviant behaviour has increased, it has sometimes been deduced to be an offshoot of broken families
In addition to this, it is important to note that while women are left to take care of children at home, men usually have the opportunity to engage in unlawful acts. Women are also expected to have a ‘good’ reputation at home, in the workplace, and in other public spaces. When women are portrayed as the weaker sex, they are made to believe they belong to ‘separate spheres’ with their male counterparts although this is not necessarily true. Because of this, even when in public, women will seek the protection of their male counterparts meaning that at most times they will be under the careful look of the men. This also indirectly reduces their chances of independence, which they could use to engage in deviant or criminal acts (Piquero, Jennings, Diamond and Reingle, 2015).
The sex-role theory attempts to explain the differentials in crime patterns between men and women with respect to the differences in gender identities, roles, and socialization. The roles, values, and norms associated with women do not necessarily promote criminal intent. On the other hand, the roles, norms, and values associated with masculinity are more likely to drive men into criminal and violent activities (Simons, Burt, Barr, Lei, and Stewart, 2014). As Talcott Parsons had observed, women carry out the ‘expressive roles’ within the family. This means that they are charged with the task of caring for the emotional needs of their children and husbands. Because of this, young girls grow up internalizing this caring and empathetic attitude towards other members of the society. With such an attitude, an individual becomes less likely to harm other people and this prevents them from naturally finding themselves tied up in crime.
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Due to their child-caring roles, women tend to be more attached to relatives and the wider community than men are. These attachments lead to forms of bondages that subconsciously drive women away from crime, as they are afraid of causing harm to these ‘attachments.’ By undertaking more family-related duties within the family, women are less likely to participate in criminal behaviour, as they understand the pain that it involves.
On the contrary, traditionally boys are trained to be rough and tough. This viewpoint of masculinity gives rise to acts of violence from an early age. In order to be tough, boys will end up doing things that are morally unacceptable although not crimes per se. Unfortunately, as these boys grow up, these tendencies increase resulting in criminal behaviour as boys try to out-compete one another in an attempt to show how muscular, tough, or rough they are.
Strain theory was developed by Robert K. Merton in 1938 based on the works of Emile Durkheim. It is a sociological or criminology theory that postulates that the prevailing social structures within a certain community can put pressures on individuals to commit crime. Generally, society puts pressure on individuals to meet certain goals as they advance on in their lives (Agnew, 2007).
Unfortunately, traditional societies put many pressures on men since they were supposed to be the heads of their homes. Because of this, every male child needed to make sure that he progresses in social class in order to have enough properties to raise their own families. In cases where individuals are unable to meet the minimum requirements according to community standards, such individuals are usually pressured into criminal activities. In such cases, individuals usually engage in acts that will cause them to earn more money or property in the easiest way possible. Because of this, such individuals may turn to acts such as selling drugs, armed robberies, prostitution and other activities (Lussier, 2017).
As the heads of families, main are much affected by strain than women and thus tend to engage in illegal activities of seeking wealth. This strain may result either from a structural perspective or from an individual perspective. Structural strain is attributable to social conditions that may make it hard for an individual to experience success. On the other hand, individual strain involves a person’s own awareness of social structures and his/her endeavours to seek self-fulfilling experiences according to societal needs.
At times, personal, work-related, or community stressors may also cause people to commit crimes. When people harbour negative emotions especially directed at their work places, social status, or lack of employment, such people may use crime as the avenue to release these negative emotions. As the person flushes out his feelings, he ends up committing criminal activities.
Social disorganization theory
The social disorganization theory is an ecological theory that links neighbourhood ecological characteristics to crime rates. A key aspect of this theory is that the placement of an individual has a greater influence on a person’s chances of engaging in criminal activities. According to proponents of this theory, the residential location of a person has similar potential to lead an individual into crime just as a person’s individual traits. For instance, the theory envisages that youths from economically disadvantaged communities are much more likely to engage in criminal activities in comparison to those from more affluent localities (LaGrange, and Silverman, 1999).
Using the same reasoning, it is possible to assume that in areas where social disorganization is widespread young men usually find it more difficult to cope due to the expectations placed upon them by the society. Once these young men find it difficult getting out of this web, most of them turn to criminal activities in an attempt to break out of the system (Blokland and Lussier, 2015).
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The social disorganization theory is closely linked to Cohen’s subculture theory. This theory links male crime statistics to the education system and other work-related structures that may prevent them from achieving their personal goals. According to the subculture theory, young working-class men who fail in school or from their job assignments sometimes blame these systems for their lack of progress. Due to the ensuing ‘status frustration’ that sets in, these young men experience a masculinity crisis and might turn to criminal activities that at times target successful women. Ideologically, such individuals see the prevailing systems as the problem and thus their acts of theft and vandalism are a form of retaliation to the society that they believe rejected them.
Another sociological perspective that tries to explain why crime statistics for women and men vary is the paternalistic perspective. According to this viewpoint, crime statistics are only a function of social construction and that crime statistics do not give a true picture of the distribution of criminality in our societies. Proponents of this viewpoint argue that females are underrepresented in crime statistics because of the social interaction process that exist between deviants and the powerful forces of social control (Walsh, and Vaske, 2015).
Women are less likely to be labelled as deviant or to be policed because of chivalry and sexism that exist within law enforcement agencies. Under normal circumstances, women are more likely to receive less severe punishments than their male counterparts are. In addition, traditionally women are viewed as being more childlike and fickle and thus not capable of committing serious crimes as men are. Due to such stereotyping women are much more likely to receive preferential treatment from a male dominated criminal justice system. While women are most likely to receive cautions for minor crimes, men are much more likely to be given tougher penalties for similar crimes.
From the analysis above it is clear that there are various reasons why individuals may engage in criminal activities. Additionally, it is clear that there exist gender-specific factors such as family background that may drive men and women to certain crimes than others. However, regardless of all this it is important to understand that there are critical factors as seen in the essay that prevent women from engaging in criminal activities in such big proportions as men do.
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- Agnew, R., 2007. Pressured into crime: An overview of general strain theory. Los Angeles, Calif: Roxbury Pub.
- Blokland, A.A. and Lussier, P., 2015. Sex offenders: A criminal career approach. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.
- Cauffman, E., 2008. Understanding the female offender. The future of children, 18(2), pp.119-142.
- Heidensohn, F., 1996. Understanding female criminality. In Women and Crime (pp. 110-124). Palgrave, London.
- LaGrange, T.C. and Silverman, R.A., 1999. Low self‐control and opportunity: Testing the general theory of crime as an explanation for gender differences in delinquency. Criminology, 37(1), pp.41-72.
- Lussier, P., 2017. Juvenile sex offending through a developmental life course criminology perspective: An agenda for policy and research. Sexual Abuse, 29(1), pp.51-80.
- Pierce, M., Hayhurst, K., Bird, S.M., Hickman, M., Seddon, T., Dunn, G. and Millar, T., 2015. Quantifying crime associated with drug use among a large cohort of sanctioned offenders in England and Wales. Drug & Alcohol Dependence, 155, pp.52-59.
- Piquero, A.R., Jennings, W.G., Diamond, B. and Reingle, J.M., 2015. A systematic review of age, sex, ethnicity, and race as predictors of violent recidivism. International journal of offender therapy and comparative criminology, 59(1), pp.5-26.
- Simons, R.L., Burt, C.H., Barr, A.B., Lei, M.K. and Stewart, E., 2014. Incorporating routine activities, activity spaces, and situational definitions into the social schematic theory of crime. Criminology, 52(4), pp.655-687.
- Walsh, A. and Vaske, J.C., 2015. Feminist criminology through a biosocial lens. Carolina Academic Press.