Płeć a przestępczość. O problemie dysproporcji płci wśród sprawców przestępstw z użyciem przemocy
Authors: Magdalena Grzyb, Ewa Habzda-Siwek
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Gender gap in crime, that is the claim that women tend to commit less crimes than men, has been the subject of criminological research for years. The gender gap is found throughout the world, not excluding Poland. Scholars dealing with the issue mainly focus on two aspects of the problem. First, they try to find out why women commit fewer crimes than men, which means the very gender gap is their key concern. Second, they try to clarify and interpret any potential changes in this disproportion observed over time; in particular this relates to the narrowing of the gap that can be noted in the official statistics (especially in the US) over the last decades.
Based on publicly available police statistics for the years 1992-2011 on persons suspected of: murder (Article 148 Penal Code), bodily injury or harm to the bodily functions or severe health disturbance (Articles 156 and 157 Penal Code), brawling or assault (Articles 158 and 159 Penal Code) and the so-called aggravated crimes (Articles 280, 281 and 282 Penal Code), the authors decided to identify the size of the gap between offending men and women involved in chosen violent crimes in Poland and to check if the difference changes over time. The main focus was devoted to finding out if the gender gap in selected types of crimes in Poland is changing (narrowing), as it is the case in the western countries. Some results of previous research, conducted mostly in the US, show that the disproportion has been shrinking over the last several decades. Two hypotheses are offered by researches to explain the trend. The first one, referred to as the Behaviour Change Hypothesis emphasises the fact that over the last few decades women have become more socially active and they are becoming more similar to men in their behaviour, which leads to increased readiness to display aggressive behaviours, and this is reflected in criminal records. The hypothesis could illustrate the actual changes in women behaviour and evolution of gender roles. According to the other hypothesis, the Policy Change Hypothesis, the observed change does not stem from the fact that male behaviour patterns are adopted by women, but can rather from the changing perception of violence and greater pressure on law enforcement bodies to prosecute every, even the most minuscule acts of violence, regardless of the age or sex of the perpetrator.
The analysis of data on Poland was preceded with a short review of the contemporary criminological concepts concerning gender and offending, with the aim to investigate their potential in explaining the qualitative and quantitative differences in criminal activity of men and women. The authors devoted special attention to: the T. Hirschis control theory, J. Hagans theory of control-power, the general strain theory by R. Agnew (including the concept of L. Broidy and R. Agnew concerning women offending exclusively), theories of differentiating social roles, J.W. Messeschmidts patriarchal society theory and the gendered theory of female offending by D. Steffensmaier.
Through analysing the available data, the authors came to the conclusion that in three out of four researched violent crime types, the number of women suspects was growing faster than that of men. The extent and dynamics of these changes over time depends on the type of analysed offences. As far as murder is concerned, gender structure is fairly stable, but a general downward trend was observed in the number of persons suspected of murder, and the trend seems stronger in women than men. In the bodily injury related crimes, a growing share and higher dynamics rate was recorded in women than in men. For brawling and assault, we observed an increasing share of women among the suspects, however, this is attributed to the fact that the number of male suspects is growing, too. It should be noted that the growing share of women in suspects is a phenomenon most vivid in the recent years, which may indicate that the manner of reacting (or the policy) to acts perpetrated by women has been changing. The increase may be due to the school violence awareness programmes and to emergence of minor offenders preventive groups set up by police. As to aggravated crimes, the women offending is on a dynamic rise too, with only slight cumulative increase in the number of female suspects. Over the recent years, despite the growing dynamics factor, the number of women changes only slightly, which al- lows to assume that the growing share of women is mainly due to the falling number of men being suspects in aggravated crimes.
The authors believe that the changes in women and young females’ offending are due to the transforming behaviour patterns in context of cultural aspects of gender, and to the way in which breaking the law by women and female adolescents is seen and countered. On the Polish ground, the key factors that modified the manner of reaction to such type of crime are believed to be: the broadening definition of violence (legal and penal control over incidents taking place in schools or private premises, especially homes, where women would display aggressive behaviours more often, and recording more lenient forms of violence), organizational changes in police and law enforcement policies (such as employing more women personnel, which may result in more equal treatment of women by law enforcement bodies and establishment of specialised crime prevention units devoted to minors). Moreover, another structural change may prove important, i.e. the educational reform in Poland and the introduction of gimnazjum (junior secondary schools), which meant that the age at which pupils changed the peer environment became lower. Building up a social position in a new group of peers may lead to infringement of social norms and law. Social sensitization campaigns dealing with violence and institutional activities to persuade school teachers to react to any act of violence and report even negligible cases to police (school authorities were more eager to report such incidents), could also play a role in the increased number of juvenile offenders among violent crime perpetrators.
To sum up, all the above factors and systemic changes could have led to a greater “visibility” of women and adolescent females in the official crime statistics, yet such increased representation of women in violent crime offenders does not necessarily mean that women presently commit more crimes than before. Undoubtedly, the analysis of the obtained data allows to conclude that, when investigating the dependency between the gender and violent crime offending, one must take into consideration an additional factor, which is the age of perpetrators. The narrowing gender gap is probably smaller in younger age groups. Further in-depth qualitative research should be done in order to establish if an actual cultural change has taken place in girls as a result of reformulated womens social role paradigms, thus resulting in their increased readiness to display aggressive behaviours.