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Criminology Gender and Crime
by
Sally S. Simpson

Introduction

In Western cultures, gender and crime, as a subject of intellectual curiosity, did not gain much attention until the late 1960s and the 1970s. Previously, female offenders were an object of curiosity, often understood and treated as an aberration to their sex. As a consequence of the women’s movement, female offenders and, in particular, female victims of male violence, moved front-and-center in the field of criminology. Feminists played a key role in this emergence, launching critical assessments of the field’s neglect, both in terms of empirical research and theoretical developments. These efforts produced a solid body of scholarship that led nonfeminist researchers to acknowledge that gender is a critical factor (some argue “the” critical variable) that distinguishes who participates in crime and who does not. Over time, scholarship shifted away from “women” as a category in favor of intersectional approaches (i.e., gender, race, class, ethnicity, and sexuality), a focus on gender differences, and postmodern theorizing (e.g., discourse analysis, rejection of structure, sexed bodies). Nonetheless, debates about how best to study gender (positivism versus other epistemological approaches), whether males and females have distinct pathways into crime (including violence and the potential link between early victimization and the risk of later criminality and victimization), and the impact of crime prevention policies such as mandatory arrest on female victims remain unresolved.

Introductory Works

The field of criminology and criminal justice, like that of other social science disciplines, has been dramatically affected by ideas and challenges brought about by the women’s movement. Scholars classify these influences in terms of “waves” linked to women’s suffrage (first wave), the social movements of the 1960s (second wave), and dissentions and discord within the movement itself (third wave). Distinct types of research are closely associated with these broad historical categories. Contemporary research, beginning in the second wave, emphasized women as research and theoretical subjects (Heidensohn 1968) out of which two distinct conceptualizations emerged (Daly and Maher 1998): real women (women offenders and victims as active agents in their own lives) and women of discourse (the ways in which women are constructed as discursive subjects—see Smart 1992). During the third wave, scholars adopted a more heterogeneous perspective by recognizing intersectional differences (Burgess-Proctor 2006) and “gendered” relations (Heimer and Kruttschnitt 2006).

  • Burgess-Proctor, Amanda. 2006. Intersections of race, class, gender, and crime: Future directions for feminist criminology. Feminist Criminology 1.1: 27–47.

    DOI: 10.1177/1557085105282899Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Reviews the emergence and importance of “multiracial” feminist criminology, especially with regard to theoretical, methodological, and praxis-related developments.

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  • Daly, Kathleen, and Lisa Maher, eds. 1998. Criminology at the crossroads: Feminist readings in crime and justice. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Multifaceted compilation of feminist work organized around emergent themes, including discourse analysis, victimization and criminalization, masculinities and violence, and gender, politics, and justice. A helpful introductory chapter by Daly and Maher navigates the history of feminist criminology.

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  • Heidensohn, Frances. 1968. The deviance of women: A critique and an enquiry. British Journal of Sociology 19.2: 160–175.

    DOI: 10.2307/588692Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In this classic article, Heidensohn assesses the absence of women from studies of deviance and challenges scholars to study female deviance “as an aspect of the female sex role and its relationship to the social structure.”

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  • Heimer, Karen, and Candace Kruttschnitt, eds. 2006. Gender and crime: Patterns of victimization and offending. New York: New York Univ. Press.

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    A collection of original empirical and conceptual papers that address some of the current gaps in the gender and crime/victimization literature. Compares feminist constructs with more traditional criminological approaches and integrates criminological knowledge about victimization more generally into violence against women specifically. Examines the role of agency in offending, the link between offending and victimization, and the debate surrounding quantitative versus qualitative approaches to knowledge. Also includes cross-national comparisons. Appropriate for graduate students and academics.

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  • Smart, Carol. 1992. The woman of legal discourse. Social and Legal Studies 1.1:29–44.

    DOI: 10.1177/096466399200100103Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores the ways in which law is gendered, how law is a gendering strategy, and the challenges faced by feminist socio-legal studies. Uses examples from Great Britain.

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General Overviews

There are a number of anthologies and edited volumes (Schram and Koons-Witt 2004, Merlo and Pollock 2006), textbooks (Belknap 2007), and review essays (Chesney-Lind 1986, Simpson and Herz 1999, Flavin 2001) that offer comprehensive overviews of gender, crime, and justice. The edited volumes offer multiple treatments, often from diverse perspectives, within broad categories such as offending, victimization, justice experiences, and women as criminal justice professionals. A more specialized focus in one area, such as prisons (Price and Sokoloff 2004), control of women’s bodies (Merlo and Pollock 2006), drugs (Merlo and Pollock 2006), or women’s programming (Schram and Koons-Witt 2004) can differentiate one text from another. Within these volumes, so-called classic pieces often are coupled with newer ways of thinking about a problem and emerging areas of research such as globalization, human trafficking, and immigration. Most general treatments focus on adults (or a mix of adults and juveniles), but Chesney-Lind and Shelden 2004 concentrates on girls, delinquency, and juveniles justice, while Cain 1989 provides an international perspective on delinquency and justice.

  • Belknap, Joanne. 2007. The invisible woman: Gender, crime, and justice. 3d ed. Belmont, CA: Thomson/Wadsworth.

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    An overview of the female offender, women as victims (including justice experiences), and women working in the criminal justice system. The third edition adds additional information about drugs and immigration. Textbook appropriate for undergraduate and graduate students.

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  • Cain, Maureen, ed. 1989. Growing up good: Policing the behaviour of girls in Europe. London: Sage.

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    Although somewhat out of date, this original group of conference papers offers a unique perspective on the nature of gendered delinquency and justice throughout Europe.

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  • Chesney-Lind, Meda. 1986. Women and crime: The female offender. Signs 12.1: 78–96.

    DOI: 10.1086/494298Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Review article offers succinct critiques of the “liberation” and chivalry hypotheses, plus a general statement of the field through 1986.

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  • Chesney-Lind, Meda, and Randall G. Shelden. 2004. Girls, delinquency, and juvenile justice. 3d ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning.

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    With its focus on female juvenile offenders, this textbook provides a comprehensive review and assessment of the literature. Emphasizes original research by the authors (gangs and girls in the juvenile justice system) and the strengths and weaknesses of programming for “girls in trouble.” Appropriate for undergraduate and graduate courses.

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  • Flavin, Jeanne. 2001. Feminism for the mainstream criminologist: An invitation. Journal of Criminal Justice 294: 271–285.

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    Issues a call for all criminological scholars to consider the benefits of a feminist approach to crime. Summarizes some of the main contributions and rebuts some of the misconceptions about feminist epistemology. Graduate students and scholars will find this overview helpful.

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  • Merlo, Alida V., and Jocelyn M. Pollock. 2006. Women, law, and social control. 2d ed. Boston, MA: Pearson.

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    An anthology textbook of original contributions on typical topics (e.g., offenders, victims, and criminal justice experiences) with some unique coverage included (e.g., images of women, current issues in the law, and the regulation and control of women’s bodies). Appropriate for undergraduates at all levels.

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  • Price, Barbara Raffel, and Natalie J. Sokoloff, eds. 2004. The criminal justice system and women: Offenders, prisoners, victims, and workers. 3d ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill.

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    A mix of original and reprinted articles, the volume follows a traditional structure but concentrates on themes of women in prison, globalization (international perspectives), and heterosexism and homophobia as related to gender, crime, and justice issues. Text is appropriate for undergraduate and graduate courses.

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  • Schram, Pamela J., and Barbara Koons-Witt, eds. 2004. Gendered (in)justice: Theory and practice in feminist criminology. Long Grove, IL: Waveland.

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    The authors of this textbook adopt an explicitly feminist approach to show how the field has grown and developed, but also to demonstrate how feminist criminology has influenced practice (i.e., laws, policy, and programs). Appropriate for advanced undergraduates and graduate courses.

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  • Simpson Sally S. and Denise C. Herz. 1999. Gender, crime, and criminal justice. In Handbook of the sociology of gender. Edited by Janet Saltzman Chafetz, 537–652. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum.

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    A review of extant literature and themes in the gender, crime, and justice area. Offers additional sources of empirical patterns of offending from a national survey of high school seniors and a discussion of sexualization, domesticity, and medicalization as it relates to crime and social control. Appropriate for advanced undergraduates and graduate students.

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Historical Context

There are a number of historical accounts of family violence (Gordon 1988), law and social control of female sexuality (Odem 1995, Schlossman and Wallach 1978), reformatories and prisons for women (Rafter 1985), and the symbiosis between science, social definitions of female crime, and interventions (Abelson 1990). A number of these sources emphasize how definitions of crime and the social control of women vary by class and race, both in the United States and in other countries (Walker 2003). Positivistic accounts (and data) by criminologists—such as Lombroso and Ferrero 1915 and Glueck and Glueck 1934—contribute to the historical record on female offenders.

  • Abelson, Elaine S. 1990. When ladies go a-thieving: Middle-class shoplifters in the Victorian department store. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Looks at how the development of the large department store affected the way middle class women spent their leisure time, including the enticement to steal the many newly available consumer goods. Abelson examines how their deviance was understood and medicalized (as kleptomania) compared with less privileged women, as well as the situational crime prevention strategies of the time.

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  • Glueck, Sheldon, and Eleanor Glueck. 1934. Five hundred delinquent women. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

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    Using data collected from women imprisoned in the Framingham (Massachusetts) Women’s Reformatory, the authors develop a multicausal model of delinquency. The work focuses on different types of delinquent women, including their family background, childhood and adolescent experiences, and adult relationships, as well as the impact of incarceration on the women’s lives.

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  • Gordon, Linda. 1988. Heroes of their own lives: The politics and history of family violence. New York: Penguin.

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    A description and analysis of the assorted forms of family violence (incest, battering, child neglect and abuse) from its “discovery” in the late 1800s through the 1960s.

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  • Lombroso, Caesar, and William Ferrero. 1915. The female offender. New York: D. Appleton.

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    An attempt to differentiate “born” criminals from other offenders using physiological and personality traits and characteristics such as poor judgment, sense of touch, myopia, and facial abnormalities. Compares characteristics of different types of offenders, such as prostitutes, thieves, and murderers.

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  • Odem, Mary E. 1995. Delinquent daughters: Protecting and policing female sexuality in the United States, 1885–1920. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

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    Looks at the role of reform movements (generally and through court records) that first “protected” females from sexual victimization but then “punished” female sexuality during the Progressive Era in the United States.

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  • Rafter, Nicole Hahn. 1985. Partial justice: Women in state prisons, 1800–1935. Boston: Northeastern Univ. Press.

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    Traces the development of the women’s reformatory movement, contrasts custodial facilities and reformatories for women, and demonstrates (using data from state prisons and reformatories) how class and race differences affected various aspects of social control.

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  • Rasche, Christine E. 1974. The female offender as an object of criminological research. Criminal Justice and Behavior 1.4: 301–320.

    DOI: 10.1177/009385487400100402Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Identifies and describes five historical stages of thinking about female offenders, from the 1700s through the 1960s. Particular approaches that emerged during these stages are summarized.

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  • Schlossman, Steven, and Stephanie Wallach. 1978. The Crime of precocious sexuality: Female juvenile delinquency in the Progressive Era. Harvard Educational Review 48.1: 65–93.

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    Reviews court and other historical records and concludes that delinquent girls were treated harshly as a means to control female sexuality. Assesses the role of racial prejudice, eugenics and other “purification” movements, and new theories of adolescence in producing gendered justice.

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  • Walker, Garthine. 2003. Crime, gender, and social order in early modern England. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    Examines how conceptions of both masculinity and femininity affected criminality and court outcomes (prosecutions, verdicts, and sentences) in early modern England. Adopts a unique perspective that challenges conventional wisdom about gender and crime, especially the lack of attention paid to the contexts of particular crimes and misdemeanors.

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Gender Differences in Crime

Contemporary interest in female offending is associated with the emergence of feminism and critical evaluations of women’s cultural and structural circumstances. A number of quantitative studies reveal that criminal participation by girls and women varies by race/ethnicity, age, and social class (Chilton and Datesman 1987, Tracy, et al. 1990, Zahn, et al. 2008). Female participation in violent crime, although substantially less than male participation, follows similar breakdowns by race and class (Simpson 1991). Ethnographic work (especially through observation and interviews) documents the ways in which race, ethnicity, and social class organize criminal activity, relationships and interactions, and the context in which crime occurs (Miller 1986, Maher 1997, Miller 2000). Longitudinal, retrospective, and cohort studies, conducted in the United States (Tracy, et al. 1990) and New Zealand (Moffitt, et al. 2001), show overlapping criminogenic processes for males and females. Although the developmental processes of physical aggression in childhood are similar for males and females, one multisite cross-national study (using data from the United States, New Zealand, and Canada) revealed “muddled” effects for homotypic and heterotypic continuity of behavior for girls (Broidy, et al. 2003). Boys, on the other hand, appear to have more consistent links between childhood problem behavior and offending outcomes in adolescence.

  • Broidy, Lisa M., Daniel S. Nagin, Richard E. Tremblay, John E. Bates, Bobby Brame, Kenneth A. Dodge, David Fergusson, John L. Horwood, Rolf Loeber, Robert Laird, Donald R. Lynam, Terrie E. Moffitt, Gregory S. Pettit, and Frank Vitaro. 2003. Developmental trajectories of childhood disruptive behaviors and adolescent delinquency: A six-site, cross-national study. Developmental Psychology 39.2: 222–245.

    DOI: 10.1037/0012-1649.39.2.222Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Using longitudinal data from six sites in three countries (the United States, New Zealand, and Canada), the authors use trajectory analysis to assess whether early childhood problem behavior is related to violence and other delinquent behaviors in adolescence. The analyses reveal some differences between nations and sites, but continuity (both homotypic and heterotypic) is generally stronger and more consistent for boys than for girls.

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  • Chilton, Roland, and Susan K. Datesman. 1987. Gender, race, and crime: An analysis of urban arrest trends, 1960–1980. Gender and Society 1.2: 152–171.

    DOI: 10.1177/0891243287001002003Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Demonstrates intersectional differences by gender and race using unpublished Uniform Crime Report larceny arrests and U.S. Census data for five cities. Changes in arrest rates over time (increases) are generally driven by young black women. Authors assess different explanations for the shifts but prefer an economic deterioration explanation.

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  • Maher, Lisa. 1997. Sexed work: Gender, race, and resistance in a Brooklyn drug market. Oxford, UK: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Studies the lives of more than two hundred drug users in three Brooklyn neighborhoods and their participation in the “informal” economy, including the drug market and prostitution. Describes the intersection of race and gender in how labor is organized in this environment.

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  • Miller, Eleanor M. 1986. Street women. Philadelphia: Temple Univ. Press.

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    One of the first detailed descriptions of young female involvement in deviant street networks, including how they get there, what they do, racial/ethnic differences, and the consequences of living the fast life on the streets.

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  • Miller, Jody. 2000. One of the guys: Girls, gangs, and gender. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Ethnographic overview and analysis of girls’ participation in gangs, with a focus on female experiences of gang life and processes compared with males. Gang experiences are contextualized by neighborhoods and gender relations.

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  • Moffitt, Terrie E., Avshalom Caspi, Michael Rutter, and Phil A. Silva. 2001. Sex differences in antisocial behaviour: Conduct disorder, delinquency, and violence in the Dunedin Longitudinal Study. Cambridge UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    The Dunedin Longitudinal Study (New Zealand) follows a complete birth cohort born between April 1972 and the end of March 1973, measuring the health, development, and behavior (including criminal activity) of the cohort. This volume assesses whether there are sex differences in the prevalence of antisocial behavior, physical violence and partner abuse, age of onset, co-occurrence of conduct disorder, and negative consequences (among other factors).

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  • Simpson, Sally S. 1991. Caste, class, and violent crime: Explaining difference in female offending. Criminology 29.1: 115–135.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-9125.1991.tb01061.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The unique patterns of female criminal violence are examined as vertical (power) and horizontal (affiliative) differences between blacks and whites, males and females, and social classes. Neo-Marxist, power-control, and socialist-feminist theories cannot fully account for these differences.

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  • Tracy, Paul E., Marvin E. Wolfgang, and Robert M. Figlio. 1990. Delinquency careers in two birth cohorts. New York: Plenum.

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    Unlike the first Philadelphia cohort study, the second (1958 cohort) included females. Within this cohort, gender differences in prevalence, incidence, chronicity, age at onset, recidivism, and offense escalation (among other factors) are examined and discussed.

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  • Zahn, Margaret A., Stephanie R. Hawkins, Janet Chiancone, and Ariel Whitworth. 2008. The Girls Study Group: Charting the way to delinquency prevention for girls. Washington, DC: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

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    In 2004, OJJDP convened the Girls Study Group. This group of interdisciplinary scholars participated in a comprehensive review of the literature on girls’ delinquency, analysis of secondary data, an assessment of programming and risk assessment/treatment-focused instruments for delinquent girls. This report is available online from OJJDP and from the Girls Study Group website.

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Gendered Crime Pathways

Feminist scholars suggest that males and females have both overlapping and distinct pathways into crime (Daly 1992, Heimer 1995, Simpson, et al. 2008). Research has highlighted that female experience of male violence is criminogenic—either directly, as women fight back against their abusers (Richie 1995), or indirectly, as girls are pushed out of violent homes into deviant street networks (see Gender Differences in Crime). Early victimization also appears to be associated with a higher risk of adult victimization for women (Siegel and Williams 2001) and other negative outcomes in adolescence and adulthood, but gender effects are complex and depend on the type of childhood experience (e.g., abuse, neglect, sexual assault), as pointed out in Widom 1995 and Widom and Maxfield 2001.

Gender and Desistance

Although there is less research on the subject of female criminal careers and desistance than on patterns of offending, some observers note gender differences in the motivations and processes for getting out of a criminal lifestyle (Baskin and Sommers 1997, Giordano, et al. 2002). Some observed differences may be tied to how desistance is measured (Uggan and Kruttschnitt 1998); the sociohistorical context, including country of origin (Bersani, et al. 2009); or one’s propensity to marry (King, et al. 2007).

  • Baskin, Deborah, and Ira Sommers. 1997. Casualties of community disorder: Women’s careers in violent crime. Boulder, CO: Westview.

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    Focuses on women’s violent offending and criminal careers (initiation, continuation, desistance) in the context of socioeconomic pressures (jobs, declining neighborhoods, illicit opportunities). Attention is paid to racial/ethnic differences.

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  • Bersani, Bianca E., John H. Laub, and Paul Nieuwbeerta. 2009. Marriage and desistance from crime in the Netherlands: Do gender and socio-historical context matter? Journal of Quantitative Criminology 25.1: 3–24.

    DOI: 10.1007/s10940-008-9056-4Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Uses data from the Netherlands (Criminal Career and Life Course Study) to examine gender and contextual effects of marriage on criminal offending, broken down by crime type. Authors find that marriage does reduce the odds of offending for both males and females, with the effects being the greatest in the most contemporary context.

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  • Giordano, Peggy C., Stephen A. Cernkovich, and Jennifer L. Rudolph. 2002. Gender, crime, and desistance: Toward a theory of cognitive transformation. American Journal of Sociology 107.4: 990–1064.

    DOI: 10.1086/343191Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Offer a cognitive theory of desistance (hooks for change) that details change mechanisms. Notes some overlap between males and females in the “repertoire of hooks,” the language used to describe it, and descriptions of the process. Also covers gendered differences, such as role of religion for women and correctional treatment for males. Available online.

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  • King, Ryan D., Michael Massoglia, and Ross MacMillan. 2007. The context of marriage and crime: Gender, the propensity to marry, and offending in early adulthood. Criminology 45.1: 33–66.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-9125.2007.00071.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Uses a “propensity score matching” approach with the National Youth Survey data to estimate the effect of marriage on crime by gender, controlling for one’s propensity to marry. Results suggest that marriage has a beneficial effect for males but not females. However, selection dynamics (the propensity to marry) affect the magnitude of the marriage effect.

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  • Uggen, Christopher, and Candace Kruttschnitt. 1998. Crime in the breaking: Gender differences in desistance. Law and Society Review 32.2: 339–366.

    DOI: 10.2307/827766Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Addressing crime desistance, the researchers differentiate between the behavior of the offender and the behavior of law. Using data from a large-scale employment program, the study finds few gender differences in reports of illegal income (behavior of the offender) but several important differences in arrests (behavior of the law).

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Gendered Crime Rates: Convergence or Divergence

Criminological research on the female offender began in earnest after Adler 1975 and Simon 1975 linked changes in female offending to the subjective and objective consequences of the women’s liberation movement. Quantitative studies took on the “gender-ratio” problem (Daly and Chesney-Lind 1988) and, in particular, whether liberation created a convergence in male-female crime rates (Austin 1982, Steffensmeier, et al. 2005). Additionally, questions were raised about how to measure convergence/divergence (O’Brien 1999)—a debate that is still simmering (Lauritsen, et al. 2009, Schwartz, et al. 2009).

  • Adler, Freda. 1975. Sisters in crime: The rise of the new female criminal. New York: McGraw-Hill.

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    Asserts that female offending, in general, will increase as a consequence of subjective changes in women’s perceptions of roles and opportunities. Introduces and discusses race differences in female offending as an important topic.

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  • Austin, Roy L. 1982. Women’s liberation and increases in minor, major, and occupational offenses. Criminology 20.3-4: 407–430.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-9125.1982.tb00469.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    One of the first empirical “tests” of the liberation thesis. Austin found correlational and temporal support for emancipation and accelerated increases in some types of female offending but not support for an increase in white-collar crimes (especially embezzlement). Effects were found to be stronger for robbery and auto theft (not larceny theft).

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  • Daly, Kathleen, and Meda Chesney-Lind. 1988. Feminism and criminology. Justice Quarterly 5.4: 497–538.

    DOI: 10.1080/07418828800089871Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Summarizes the gender and crime literature for those unfamiliar with feminist thinking. Discusses the gender-ratio problem (the disproportionate criminogenic activity of males relative to females) and the generalizability problem (theories developed out of male experiences applied to females).

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  • Lauritsen, Janet L., Karen Heimer, and James P. Lynch. 2009. Trends in the gender gap in violent offending: New evidence from the National Crime Victimization Survey. Criminology 47.2: 361–399.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-9125.2009.00149.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Uses National Crime Survey (1973–1992) and National Crime Victimization Survey (1993–2005) data to examine whether trends in violent offending by females parallels that of males and then compares results to Uniform Crime Report data. Concludes that the gender gap in nonlethal violent crime has declined over time, primarily because male offending rates have declined more rapidly than female rates.

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  • O’Brien, Robert M. 1999. Measuring the convergence/divergence of “serious crime” arrests for males and females: 1960–1995. Journal of Quantitative Criminology 15:97–114.

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    Suggests time-series techniques to assess changes in the gender gap, and demonstrates the approach with Uniform Crime Report Part I offense data. Concludes that trends for all offenses (except for homicide) are moving toward gender convergence, but that only some (robbery, burglary, and motor vehicle theft) are statistically significant.

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  • Schwartz, Jennifer, Darrell Steffensmeier, Hua Zhong, and Jeff Ackerman. 2009. Trends in the gender gap in violence: Reevaluating NCVS and other evidence. Criminology 47.2: 401–425.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-9125.2009.00152.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Provides a critical commentary on Lauritsen, et al. 2009, especially on the use of the NCVS to draw conclusions about changes in gender-gap violence trends.

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  • Simon, Rita J. 1975. Women and crime. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.

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    Simon used Uniform Crime Report data to assert that women’s participation in white-collar crime would increase as a consequence of “objective” changes in female labor-force participation.

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  • Steffensmeier, Darrell, Jennifer Schwartz, Hua Zhong, and Jeff Ackerman. 2005. An assessment of recent trends in girls’ violence using diverse longitudinal sources: Is the gender gap closing? Criminology 43.2: 355–405.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.0011-1348.2005.00011.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Uses four data sources (NCVS, UCR, Monitoring the Future, and National Youth Risk Behavior Survey) to assess the gender gap in violence among juveniles. The data suggest that girls are not becoming more violent and that the gender gap is not, for the most part, narrowing. Does not assess potential subgroup differences.

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Early Feminist Critiques of Criminological Theory

Klein 1973, Smart 1976, and Leonard 1982 all critique traditional criminological knowledge and theories for their respective failures to include women.

  • Klein, Dorie. 1973. The etiology of female crime: A review of the literature. Issues in Criminology 8:3–30.

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    Classic critique of criminological explanations for female offending, from Lombroso and Freud through Pollock. Argues that contemporary explanations suffer from some of the same sexist, classist, and racist assumptions.

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  • Leonard, Eileen B. 1982. Women, crime, and society: A critique of theoretical criminology. New York: Longman.

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    Summarizes the statistical picture of women’s fertility, employment, education, and income from the mid-1950s through 1980, and describes patterns of women’s offending during the 1970s. Criticizes anomie theory, subcultural theory, labeling, differential association, and Marxist analysis, and challenges the field to move beyond the conceptual imperialism of these perspectives.

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  • Smart, Carol. 1976. Women, crime, and criminology: A feminist critique. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

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    One of the first feminist critiques of the discipline of criminology, including the dominant theoretical approaches. Provided an intellectual roadmap for feminist criminologists to follow.

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Criminological Theory and Gender

Efforts to theorize about female offenders have followed one of three paths: (1) “fitting” female offenders into traditional criminological theories that historically emerged from studies of male offenders (also known as the “add gender and stir” approach), (2) utilizing non-criminological conceptualizations (mainly from sociology and women’s studies) to account for female offending (and victimization), and (3) developing new theories centered around females offenders or gender differences. The first approach is informed by quantitative studies (see Smith and Paternoster 1987) that assess whether patterns of female and male offending are similar to one another and hence explained by the same processes. Feminist frameworks, informed by broad theoretical traditions including liberalism, Marxism, socialist-feminism, radical feminism, and women-of-color feminism, provided a foundation to account for women’s victimization and the mechanisms though which women are socially constrained and controlled. Less amenable to analyses of female offending, particularly their participation in violence, the frameworks were used to put women at the center (rather than the periphery) of theorizing. Within criminology, the notion that gender differences in criminal participation should be the starting point of theory (Harris 1977, Kruttschnitt 1996) influenced the development of new perspectives, such as power-control (Hagan, et al. 1985, Blackwell and Reed 2003) and offending as a consequence of juvenile or adult victimization. A “doing gender” approach, with its recognition of class and race intersections, was initially applied to male criminality—including how hegemonic masculinity affected women’s victimization (Messerschmidt 1993). This approach was later utilized to explain male and female differences in criminal behavior (Simpson and Elis 1995) and atypical offending by women (Miller 1998). Other theories have followed a postmodernist trend, and some have returned to the corporeal body to better understand how sex differentiation (biological sex) has been neutralized and neutered (Daly 1997).

  • Blackwell, Brenda, and Mark D. Reed. 2003. Power-control as a between- and within-family model: Reconsidering the unit of analysis. Journal of Youth and Adolescence 32.5: 385–400.

    DOI: 10.1023/A:1024978116489Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Household-level data are used to construct measures that are more consistent with the conceptualization and predictions of power-control theory.

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  • Daly, Kathleen. 1997. Different ways of conceptualizing sex/gender in feminist theory and their implications for criminology. Theoretical Criminology 1.1: 25–51.

    DOI: 10.1177/1362480697001001003Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An excellent roadmap that identifies and explains new directions in feminist theory. Shows how these ideas can be applied in criminology.

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  • Hagan, John, Jon Simpson, and A.R. Gillis. 1985. The class structure of gender and delinquency: Toward a power-control theory of common delinquent behavior. American Journal of Sociology 90.6: 1151–1178.

    DOI: 10.1086/228206Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The power-control theory builds on gender difference in crime rates. It focuses on how family and workplace control structures produce and reproduce male and female differences in delinquency and adult offending. Authors use survey data from Canada to test the theory.

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  • Harris, Anthony R. 1977. Sex and theories of deviance: Toward a functional theory of deviant type-scripts. American Sociological Review 42.1: 3–16.

    DOI: 10.2307/2117728Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A “classic” piece that reviews mainstream sociological theories of deviance by showing their inability to account for the sex variable, Harris concludes that gender difference in deviance should be the starting point for all criminological theories.

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  • Kruttschnitt, Candace. 1996. Contributions of quantitative methods to the study of gender and crime, or bootstrapping our way into the theoretical thicket. Journal of Quantitative Criminology 12.2: 135–161.

    DOI: 10.1007/BF02354413Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Reviews the empirical literature on gender differences in crime, victimization, and criminal justice processing. Argues that there is a large body of research findings, but not a commensurate body of theory, to account for what has been discovered.

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  • Messerschmidt, James. 1993. Masculinities and crime: Critique and reconceptualization of theory. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

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    In addition to standard critique of traditional explanations for crime, also criticizes some of the feminist work in this area. Offers a structured action of gendered crime as an alternative framework and shows how this approach can explain different types of male offending and the relationships among class, race, and masculinity.

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  • Miller, Jody. 1998. Up it up: Gender and the accomplishment of street robbery. Criminology 36.1: 37–65.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-9125.1998.tb01239.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Miller’s research, based on interviews with robbers, shows that male and female motivations for offending are similar, but that the way in which crimes are carried out is gendered. The female robbers, for the most part, make “practical” choices that reflect different attitudes, relationships, and physical realities.

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  • Simpson, Sally S., and Lori Elis. 1995. Doing gender: Sorting out the caste and crime conundrum. Criminology 33.1: 47–81.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-9125.1995.tb01171.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Uses quantitative data from the National Longitudinal Survey to assess frequency of participation in delinquent acts, with an eye toward intersectional differences (gender/race). Findings reveal that gender and race modify variable effects on property and violent delinquency. Uses a “doing gender” approach to interpret findings.

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  • Smith, Douglas, and Raymond Paternoster. 1987. The gender gap in theories of deviance: Issues and evidence. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 24.2: 140–172.

    DOI: 10.1177/0022427887024002004Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Empirically assesses whether gender-specific theories are necessary to explain initial and frequent use of marijuana among juveniles. The authors conclude that the processes are similar for males and females and that gender-neutral theories are sufficient.

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Victimization

The victimization of women is a dominant theme in feminist criminology and the study of crime more generally. Notable works on rape (Brownmiller 1975), spousal violence (Dobash and Dobash 1979), and multiple forms of victimization—such as incest, rape, battering, and sexual harassment (Stanko 1985)—were informed by critiques of patriarchy and class relations. Although interest in the topic increased subsequent to these efforts, a 1996 National Research Council publication, Understanding Violence against Women (National Research Council 1996), identified a number of gaps in the knowledge base because much extant research is either clinically based or drawn from national surveys. In the United States, for example, quantitative data on gender and victimization is drawn from several national surveys: The National Crime Victimization Survey, the National Violence against Women Survey (Tjaden and Thoemmes 1998), and the National Family Violence Survey (Straus and Gelles 1990).

  • Brownmiller, Susan. 1975. Against our will: Men, women, and rape. New York: Simon and Schuster.

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    Classic radical feminist assessment of rape, including the history, law, victims, and cases.

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  • Dobash, R. Emerson, and Russell Dobash. 1979. Violence against wives: A case against the patriarchy. New York: Free Press.

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    A U.S. study of spousal abuse revealed that women were more likely to be victims of assault than vice versa, that violence takes many forms, that male batterers often forced children to observe, and that daughters are more likely than sons to become victims of the battering husband. This volume links family patriarchy to violence.

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  • National Archives of Criminal Justice Data. National Crime Victimization Survey resource guide

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    The NCVS is a nationally representative household survey conducted in the United States that collects data on personal and household victimization. It was begun in 1973 and modified in 1992.

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    • National Research Council and the Panel on Research on Violence against Women. 1996. Understanding violence against women. Edited by Nancy A. Crowell and Ann W. Burgess. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

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      Reviews the literature on violence against women, identifies the gaps in this literature, and recommends a research agenda to fill these gaps, particularly in four areas: prevention, research methods, building a knowledge base, and developing a research infrastructure.

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    • Stanko, Elizabeth A. 1985. Intimate intrusions: Women’s experience of male violence. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

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      Uses original data, including interviews with police in the United Kingdom and the United States, to examine four types of victimizations (incest, rape, battering, and sexual harassment) from a radical feminist perspective.

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    • Straus, Murray A., and Richard J. Gelles. 1990. Physical violence in American families: Risk factors and adaptations to violence in 8,145 families. Piscataway, NJ: Transaction.

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      A compilation of research articles (previously published or modified from original versions) that utilize data from two national studies of family violence. Provides detailed description of survey methodology, research instruments (the original and modified conflict tactics scale), and key findings.

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    • Tjaden Patricia, and Nancy Thoemmes. 1998. Prevalence, incidence, and consequences of violence against women: Findings from the National Violence against Women Survey. Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice.

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      Summarizes key findings from the National Violence against Women Survey (including both female and male respondents). The survey examined the prevalence and incidence of physical assault experienced as children by adult caretakers, assaults experienced as adults, and forcible rape and stalking for both male and female respondents.

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    Debates and Controversies

    Controversies have emerged in three important areas of discussion and study: the symmetry of intimate partner violence (Straus and Gelles 1986, Dobash 1992, Johnson and Ferrero 2000, Muftic, et al. 2007); the relative benefits and consequences of mandatory arrest policies (Miller 1989, Sherman 1992, Hickman and Simpson 2003); and the true nature of the relationship between gender and violence. Many feminists focus on violence as predominantly a male-on-female crime. Others, however, examine the female use of violence as an important, albeit gendered, phenomenon that has implications for nontraditional interventions, such as restorative justice processes in Australia (Daly 2008). Finally, some researchers have challenged feminist approaches, suggesting that the causes of violence are gender-neutral (Felson 2002). To some extent, these debates and controversies are centered on the question of whether women are as violent as men.

    • Daly, Kathleen. 2008. Girls, peer violence, and restorative justice. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology 41.1: 109–137.

      DOI: 10.1375/acri.41.1.109Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      Focuses on restorative justice processes in South Australia, comparing conference outcomes (e.g., remorse, victim satisfaction, and revictimization) for male and female juvenile delinquents. Emphasizes the critical importance of taking into account offender-victim orientations in the context of offense types before assessing restorative justice practices.

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    • Dobash, Russell P., Emerson Dobash, Margo Wilson, and Martin Daly. 1992. The myth of sexual symmetry in marital violence. Social Problems 39.1: 71–91.

      DOI: 10.1525/sp.1992.39.1.03x0064lSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      Challenges the symmetry argument with a detailed critique of the Conflict Tactics Scales. Available online.

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    • Felson, Richard B. 2002. Violence and gender reexamined. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

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      Uses results from a number of empirical studies to challenge feminist arguments that the causes of violence directed against women are different and distinct from other forms of violence. Felson argues that there is little systematic evidence that violence against women is caused by sexism or a hatred of women.

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    • Hickman, Laura J., and Sally S. Simpson. 2003. Fair treatment of preferred outcome? The impact of police behavior on victim reports of domestic violence incidents. Law and Society Review 37.3: 607–633.

      DOI: 10.1111/1540-5893.3703005Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      Uses data from the Spouse Assault Replication Program (SARP) to focus on how the victim (instead of the offender) responds to different police interventions. Is she more likely to report future victimizations if procedural or distributive justice approaches are employed? Results suggest that victim reporting (reutilization of police) is conditioned by the victim receiving her preferred outcome in the first instance of victimization.

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    • Johnson, Michael P., and Kathleen J. Ferraro. 2000. Research on domestic violence in the 1990s: Making distinctions. Journal of Marriage and the Family 62.4: 948–963.

      DOI: 10.1111/j.1741-3737.2000.00948.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      Describes four classifications (or typologies) of intimate partner violence to account for the empirically inconsistent portraits of intimate partner violence produced by the NCVS and the National Family Violence Surveys, which utilize the Conflict Tactics Scales.

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    • Miller, Susan 1989. Unintended side effects of pro-arrest policies and their race and class implications for battered women: A cautionary note. Criminal Justice Policy Review 3.3: 299–317.

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      A feminist critique that focuses on the negative (and unintended) consequences of mandatory arrest policies. In particular, poor people and people of color are more likely to be subjected to formal social control. Suggests better strategies for police action.

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    • Muftic, Lisa R., Leana Allen Bouffard, and Jeffrey A. Bouffard. 2007. An exploratory analysis of victim precipitation among men and women arrested for intimate partner violence. Feminist Criminology 2.4: 327–346.

      DOI: 10.1177/1557085107306429Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      What role is played by victim precipitation (behavior by the victim that initiates the behavior of the victimizer) in the arrest of males and females involved in intimate partner violence, and to what extent does it influence police decisions to arrest (especially dual arrests)? This study uses data from North Dakota to answer these questions.

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    • Sherman, Lawrence W., Janell D. Schmidt, and Dennis P. Rogan. 1992. Policing Domestic Violence: Experiments and dilemmas. New York: Free Press.

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      Overview of the domestic violence experiments with an assessment of findings from each site. Identifies a number of challenges for researchers (different communities, different populations, timing, and chronic cases) for successful policing strategies and policy.

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    • Straus, Murray A., and Richard J. Gelles. 1986. Societal change and change in family violence from 1975 to 1985 as revealed by two national surveys. Journal of Marriage and the Family 48.3: 465–479.

      DOI: 10.2307/352033Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      Compares and contrasts findings from two national surveys to assess stability and change in family violence. Results stress that intimate partner violence is symmetrical.

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    LAST MODIFIED: 12/14/2009

    DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780195396607-0052

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