This paper seeks to present an incisive discourse on the made contributions made by feminist perspectives in the field of criminology. It will illustrate how these perspectives have enhanced our understanding on women as both perpetrators and victims of crime. Moreover, this paper will examine why prostitution poses a problem for feminism. In addition, this paper will examine to what extent, if any should violence between related people be regarded as “family violence” or “domestic violence”.
Contributions by Feminist Perspective in Criminology
The late 1960 into the early 1970 witnessed the emergence of feminist criminology. The emergence of feminist criminology can be attributed to the second wave of feminism movement that helped to project issues affecting women in regards to crime in the public domain. The issue of women and crime was mainly discussed and viewed from the male perspective. Feminist perspectives in criminology have had great impact on the general understanding on women as both perpetrators and victims of crime. The relationship between feminism and criminology is embedded with rich exploration of methods, discipline, epistemology and policy. Scholars in the field of criminology have over the course of years put to question some of the gender -blind assumption in criminology in order create space for the voices and experiences of women. There are various arguments put across by women in the field of criminology that offer a holistic point of view in regards to women as victims or perpetrators of crime.
Over the years, feminist perspectives in criminology have challenged the existing theories, concepts, assumptions and methods. For instance, Carol Smart 1976, a critique of British criminology observed that women account for a very small percentage of offenders and as a result focus has been given on the issue of women and crime. Moreover, the issue of women and crime had been viewed in terms of the stereotypes associated with their psychological and biological nature. Smart argues that women are discriminated against on the grounds of sex, thus there are sexism influences that determine sentencing, incarceration of women and punishment. She blames the judges, police and personnel in the criminal justice systems for the stereotype believe that a woman could be mad if they go against their biological nature of passivity or compliance and commit certain crimes (Pickering & Alder 2000).
In reference to the sentiments of Spelman (1988), feminist theories on crime have overlooked the issue of difference. She argues that feminists have concentrated on the figure of a privileged woman thus the stereotypical outlook on female offenders. On the other hand, Freda Adler (1975) associates the 1970 second wave of feminism to the dramatic upsurge of women in criminal activities. Adler argues that while women fought for equal opportunity as their male counterparts, the determined women forced their way into the scene major crimes such as robbery, murder and white collar crimes. Adler further establishes that as women are climbing the cooperate business ladder this changing nature invokes their wide involvement in criminal activities (Alder 1995).
In 1979 Cerkovich and Giordano conducted studies that involved women between 17 to 29 years. The findings of this studies established that the more liberated the participant’s response to questions the less delinquent they were. For instance, they discovered that the women who responded that women should be involved in the work force rather that stay at home carrying out domestic chore were least delinquent. A study on women prisoners further revealed that a large percentage of these women came from uneducated and impoverished backgrounds. When asked for the motives behind their offending these women did not appear to be liberated. Therefore contrary to Adler’s theory on emancipation conformity also poses an opportunity to offend.
Farrington (1983) discovered that women were subjected to less severe punishments as compared to their male counterparts. It was also discovered that women tend to commit less serious crimes using less violence. Furthermore, feminists in the field of criminology use defenses such as post natal depression as a reason behind their offending. Biological reasons have been cited in most cases of female criminality consequently, the society has neglected the economical and social reasons behind female offending (Gelsthorpe & Morris 1990).
On the other hand, over the years women have been typical victims of crime. Feminist writers in the field of criminology have been quick to point out that due to their feeble psychological and biological nature of women are more likely to be victims of crime as compared to their male counterparts. Women are more likely to succumb to crimes such as assaults and domestic violence among many other crimes. Feminist in the field of criminology argue that criminal justice systems have neglected the victimization of women .They are quick to point out that three out of four women are going to be victims of crime during their lives. Feminists further argue that these figures have been ignored thus yielding to female exploitation. Past generations of women suffered in silence however, over time women have gained momentum and as a result crimes against women are increasingly been reported (Alder 1995).
Feminism and prostitution
There exist different feminist opinions on prostitution that are either supportive or critical. Feminist perspectives against prostitution hold that prostitution is a kind of exploitation on women over male dominance that eventually results to patriarchal social order. These feminists claim that prostitution negatively impacts on the prostitutes and the society in general. Prostitution reinforces a stereotypical outlook on women as sexual objects who can be used and abused by men. Feminists in the likes of Kathleen Barry, Julie Bindel and Catherine Mackinnon among many other feminists are strongly opposed to prostitution. They claim that this practice is a form of violence against women that should not be tolerated in the society (Phoenix 2001).
These feminists assert that prostitution is in most cases not a calculated or conscious choice. Rather most women engage in prostitution either because they are forced by circumstances or are victims of human trafficking. In a cases whereby prostitution is a independent choice, the motive behind could either be due to lack of work opportunities or abject poverty. In other instances, underlying social issues such as past trauma of sexual abuse, drug addition among many other unfortunate social circumstances. In reference to sentiments from feminist in the 1970’s women from disadvantaged ethnic minority backgrounds characterized by low level education and impoverishment are in most cases over represented in prostitution practices. Catherine Mackinnon illustrates that money is in most cases the driven force behind prostitution.
Feminists against prostitution explain that prostitution has serious negative long-term impacts for the prostitutes. These negative impacts include, drug abuse, severe depression, stress, poor self esteem, alcoholism and suicidal feelings. Given the fact that prostitution involves a woman having sex with a person that they are not attracted to the woman is as a result exposed to sexual, physical and psychological violence. Prostitution can be seen as a factor that promotes male dominance over women. The act of prostitution is in most cases not mutual thus it puts the woman in a subordinate position reducing her to a mere sexual object that brings pleasure to men. Feminists hold that most men acclaim the services of prostitutes since they find pleasure in the power trip that they derive from controlling women in the course of sexual activities.
The patriarchal ideology justifying the existence of prostitution is strongly objected by most feminists. According to some traditional perspectives and cultural values, prostitution is viewed as a necessary evil since some men cannot control themselves. In light of these perspectives it is therefore necessary for women to sacrifice themselves so that they can be abused and used by men however, this is not regarded as sexual harassment or rape. Contrary to these perspectives most feminist view prostitution as epitome of slavery they argue that rather than decreasing rape cases prostitution increases the wave of sexual violence and harassment against. This is mainly because prostitution practices creates the impression that it is acceptable for women to be treated by men as mere sexual objects that men can exercise total control.
In localities or states whereby prostitution is legalized, there are increased reports of sexual offenses and crimes. For instance, in Nevada, a state in U.S.A whereby prostitution is legalized, sexual crimes are rampant. The rates of rape cases in Nevada are higher as compared to the average rate of rape cases in states such as New York, California and New Jersey. Legalizing prostitution creates an atmosphere whereby women will be disrespected by men and treated as unequal to their male counterparts. In addition, prostitution creates a centre stage whereby there is increased sexual violence against women (Kesler 2002).
Basically, prostitution poses great threat to feminism since it degrades women and exerts a total shift of power politics to the male. Given the fact that there are various forms of feminism views on prostitution tend to differ. For instance, in regards to radical feminism prostitution oppresses women and perpetuates hegemonic beliefs that will eventually suppress women not only in the social domain but also in the socio-economic spheres of lives. Radical feminist hold the view that prostitution could incapacitate the role of women in leadership in the cooperate settings and other social economic settings. From the standpoint of radical feminist prostitution extends to power politics governing the interaction between men and women. Radical feminists define the wrongness of prostitution in terms of its influence in corrupting the dignity in women.
Prostitution poses a great threat on feminism in that it inhibits the establishment of legal protection and equal rights for men in the cultural, political and economic spheres. This is mainly because prostitution accentuates on the male dominance over the female species thus invalidating the notion of equality between men and women. The legalization of prostitution inherently leads to exploitation and victimhood of women. This would in turn affect the performance or ranking of women in the cooperate world and other socio economic settings.
Domestic and Family Violence
Domestic violence can be described as a pattern of abusive conduct that is done by both or one partner in an intimate relationship such as marriage, family, friendship, cohabitation or dating. Domestic violence can also be referred to as domestic abuse, intimate partner violence or spousal violence. There are various forms of domestic violence include, physical aggression, emotional abuse, sexual abuse and intimidation. In some cases domestic violence may not necessarily constitute of a crime, aspects such as mental illness or alcohol consumption greatly contribute to domestic violence. On the other hand, family violence can be described as a situation whereby one or more members of a family cause emotional or physical harm to another member of the member. The motive behind family violence mainly lies in the abuser wanting to gain control or power over the victim (Lynn 2004).
In most cases violence between people who are related is regarded as domestic or family violence however there are extremes in which such violence do not qualify to be considered domestic or family violence. For instance, violence among people who are related instigated by alcohol can be referred to as alcohol related violence. Alcohol is a great contributor to all forms of violence. Recent studies show that over 40% of men and 27% women who are violent towards their partners were under the influence of alcohol at the time of the incident. Furthermore, it was established that in cases whereby the perpetrators were in a sober state they could not carry out these abuse. Therefore, the influence of alcohol contributed to the violence between these related persons. These statistics point out that alcohol can have great effect on behaviour and the normal psychological functioning of an individual thus leading to abusive conduct. Such cases of violence cannot only be distinguished as family or domestic, this form of violence can also be regarded as alcohol related violence. Nevertheless, it is possible for people to consciously use alcohol as an excuse of perpetrating domestic violence (Sara 2000).
Domestic violence has been synonymously associated with violence between intimate partners. Nevertheless, family violence has a broader definition in that it entails child abuse, elderly abuse and other forms of abuse among members of a family. Over the past decades, domestic violence was commonly referred to as “wife battering or wife abuse” however these descriptive terms have over the course of time lost popularity since most victims of domestic abuse may not necessarily be married and in some cases the abusers could be the woman. Furthermore, domestic violence can take other forms other than physical aggression for example emotional and psychological abuse. Men could as well be victims of physical, emotional and psychological abuse. Domestic violence can lead to suicidal attempts, self harm or mental illness.
Given the fact that domestic violence is defined as a pattern of abusive conduct in a close relationship against another partner in order to gain control or power, this definition implies that this form of violence comes in various forms and can occur to anyone. Domestic or family violence is not gender based. Owing to the fact that most victims of domestic violence are women, domestic or family violence can be regarded as gender based violence. Presently, domestic and family violence mostly affects women and children. In some cases men in relationships endeavor to gain control and power over the women. Thus the violence or abuse is instigated with the aim of establishing a gender hierarchy whereby the man is the dominant partner.
There are certain parameters of domestic violence that can eventually turn into homicide cases. For instance perpetrators and victims of domestic violence can commit murder as an act of desperation either to gain control or escape from the ongoing violence. Rage, fear and feelings of entrapment that come as a result of domestic violence may inherently lead an individual to strike out against their partners as a sheer mechanism of survival. For the victims of domestic violence, killing could seem to be the safest alternative of escaping from the on going abuse. Consequent to the ineffectiveness of legal systems and continuous absence of police protection victims of domestic violence could retaliate by using lethal self-defense. In this case this form of violence is a homicide rather than family violence or abuse.
Generally, the motive behind all types of domestic or family violence lies in gaining total control over the other partner. The characteristics of domestic violence may vary in some ways, however these distinctions are made according to the kind of violence exerted, the social context, cultural context and the motive of the perpetrator. Furthermore, distinctions of domestic violence are not based on a single incident rather it is based on continuous patterns and numerous incidences. Domestic violence can come in the form of common couple violence, mutual violence control, violence resistance and intimate terrorism. Common couple violence arises from a single altercation that causes both couples to impulsively employ violence. Mutual violence control takes place when both partners act in a violent manner against each other. Violence resistance is a form of self defense violence that is employed against the abusive partner. Intimate terrorism entails psychological and emotional abuse (Kristen 2009).
Alder, C, 1995, International Feminist Perspectives in Criminology, Open University Press, New York.
Gelsthorpe, L & Morris, A, 1990, Feminist Perspectives in Criminology, Open University Press, New York.
Kristen, R, 2009, Attitudes and Attributions Associated With Female and Male Partner Violence. Journal of Applied Social Psychology. Volume 39 p. 481-512.
Kesler, K, 2002, Is A Feminist Stance in Support Of Prostitution Possible? An exploration of Current Trends, Sage Publications, New York.
Lynn, S, 2004, Domestic violence: a handbook for health professionals, Routledge publishers, New York.
Phoenix, J, 2001, Making Sense of Prostitution, Palgrave Publishers, Basingstoke.
Pickering, S & Alder, C, 2000, Challenging reforms for feminists and the criminal justice system, Butterworth publishers, Sydney.
Sara, M, 2000, The Price of Alcohol, Wife Abuse, and Husband Abuse, Southern Economic Journal. 67, p 279-303.
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