Monday, September 16, 2019


Article Index

III. Female Offenders: Differences in Offending Patterns

      Incarcerated women are typically both offenders and victims, but the typical theory of why women commit crimes is extremely reliant on gender stereotypes. The logic of these theories usually flow like this: because she is a woman, she is a victim, and because she is a victim, she uses drugs to cope, which leads to addiction, which leads to more crime, especially prostitution. Thus, women are forced to commit crimes because they are addicts and victims, and there are limited criminal roles available to them because of their gender. To some extent this is true. Oklahoma University sociology Professor Susan Sharp's studies have shown that over 90 percent of the women in Oklahoma prisons have themselves been victims of domestic violence in the past. But to classify all incarcerated women as only victims is dismissive of some of their autonomous life choices as well as their survival techniques.

      To commit crime is an autonomous choice for a good proportion of female offenders. In Women Street Hustlers, Barbara Rockell studied a sample of sixty incarcerated women in New York and found six distinct reasons why women commit crime, which she called: “show me the money”, “all in the family”, “just another addiction”, “partiers by trade”, “challenged”, and “lives of loss and trauma.” Of these groups, only the ones in the last group were so victimized in their childhoods that they turned to drugs to forget. The rest of the women committed crime because the women wanted fast money, it was the “family business,” it gave them a high just like being on drugs, they just wanted to party, or they wanted to feel normal because of mental illness. Some of the women were well-educated and had good work histories. Some of them chose crime over a respectable career, however, because they saw it as a quick way to get the expensive things they wanted.

      In addition, the women Rockell studied did not just have one crime that they all first committed, nor did they all offend in the same patterns. The “show me the money” group of women usually used credit card fraud. Also, they often used their places of employment to gain access to credit cards or bluffed to their male coworkers to get money or transportation. The “all in the family” group usually committed their first crime, shoplifting, with other family members and then sold the item over to other family members. The “just another addiction” group usually shoplifted because the successful commission of a crime gave them a high like being on drugs. “Partiers by trade” used prostitution to get money for drugs but bought the drugs from dealers themselves, often getting something extra for bringing the dealer the business or taking some of the drugs before turning them over to the “date.” In contrast, those in the “challenged” group let their “dates” get the drugs and, therefore, sometimes ended up with nothing. Those in the “lives of loss and trauma” group usually carried out crimes in association with significant others. The only common theme was that all of the women claimed to have dealt drugs at some point in their criminal careers whether they were caught or not. Thus, female offenders are best studied through their individual stories when looking at what crimes they commit and why they commit them, even though some common themes affect a majority of female offenders.


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Vernellia R. Randall
Founder and Editor
Professor Emerita of Law
The University of Dayton School of Law