Feminism and Crime by Leila Poole

12 Sep

I am a feminist criminalist, which I’d love to say opens doors for me and makes my papers more interesting but it doesn’t. It basically means I’m a criminalist, who happens to be a feminist that works and builds on the feminist theories left behind before me. However I don’t always agree with these theories or with feminist criminology.

As a feminist I can find criminology rather insulting. It is geared more towards men, mainly due to the numbers. There are about 84,000 men in prison compared to around 4,000 women. This means that instead of ‘he/she’ being used in textbooks the offender is always, unless in a chapter about female criminals, referred to as ‘he’.

Feminism has done some great things for women who are victims of certain crimes. In the 1980s feminism bought domestic violence and rape to forefront of their campaign and is still fighting to ensure that these cases are dealt with in the right way. However since the 1970s the rape conviction rate has dropped from 33% to around 6% today depending where you live in the UK. I did some research into rape last year and found that in 2008 it was estimated that 47,000 women were raped in the UK, and it was mostly likely to be by the spouse/partner or an acquaintance. Stranger rape is very rare: it makes up about 20% of rapes.

Before the 1980s the police would not respond to a domestic abuse case as it was known as a ‘domestic’. The police now have to attend thanks to the hard work of feminists and campaigners who managed to get the Domestic Violence Act through. However in 2010 a scheme to remove violent partner from the home of those at risk of violence was shelved by the Government.

Yet feminism does not look into women who are victims in other crimes. I’ve just finished my postgraduate dissertation investigating whether media representations of female prostitutes as murder victims have changed over time. I learned very quickly that prostitutes are rejected because of the profession they are in. However some of the women involved in prostitution go through hell, with clients beating, raping and in the worst cases murdering them. And yet the only time that feminists within criminology mention prostitution it is to reference that it is one of the most common crimes that women are arrested for.

Street prostitutes are most likely to be beaten, raped, used or murdered, as they are known as ‘easy targets’ because to get work they will go with anyone. Sometimes its because they choose to do this as a living. However on the whole, it is women who are pushed into it by a man or organised crime groups. They are doing it to feed a habit (usually drugs not drink) or because they need the money (during these hard times more woman are turning to this as an option). Most of the women who are street prostitutes are victims in their own right. However, there seems to be so little help. Even when they are sent to prison, most of them will come back out and start again. Somehow the cycle needs to be broken. Women should not be or live on the fear of being beaten, raped or even used no matter what their profession.

While doing research for my undergraduate dissertation about whether feminism and the Women’s Liberation Movement has had an effect on female criminality, I did a lot of research into how women gained the rights we seem to still be fighting for. I was shocked to find out that many women had resorted to violence to gain what they wanted . However glad I am that I’m free to vote, get a degree and chose a career, I still find myself disheartened that women had to commit violent offences to gain this.

When fighting for the vote in 1918, The Suffragettes smashed shop windows in Oxford Street, burned down churches belonging to the Church of England, got a boat on the Thames and shouted abuse at the Houses of Parliament (OK, something most of us would like to do.) and even fire-bombed a house. All of these actions took place before the outbreak of World War One and as the war ended the Suffragettes would be granted partly want they wanted.

The second wave of feminism known as the Women’s Liberation Movement saw crime used once again. Famously, RAF Greenham Common had a ‘Women Peace Camp’ in which the women ripped down the fence of the base and regularly broke into it. Admittedly, there was a sense of humour about it at times: 1st April 1983 saw the women break into the camp dressed as teddy bears and have a ‘teddy bear’s protest picnic’.

Then there was the attack on the Miss World contest in 1970, in which flour bombs and other items were thrown at Bob Hope and the press pit. Professor Sally Alexander of Goldsmith College took part in the flour bombing and has said, ‘Our targets were the people who ran Miss World, and Bob Hope, because he’d been to Vietnam, and we wanted the media to be aware of the Women’s Liberation Movement. The object of our anger and our frustration was, as we saw it, a system that left women with no other economic opportunities, except cleaning, or low-paid jobs at the very bottom of the wage hierarchy.

No matter how the objectives were achieved, it’s true to say that feminism has bought us The Abortion Act 1967, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Domestic Violence act 1976. However, it is only the tip of the iceberg. More needs to be done to help both females as victims and females who commit crime. And with any luck, we won’t have to resort to crime to achieve this.


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