No. XVI (1989)

Some criminological concepts and the problem of female crime

Janina Błachut
Jagiellonian University

Published 1989-05-08


  • criminologica,
  • problem,
  • female,
  • crime,
  • changes,
  • aggressive,
  • behaviour,
  • crime against property,
  • concepts,
  • female crime

How to Cite

Błachut, J. (1989). Some criminological concepts and the problem of female crime. Archives of Criminology, (XVI), 211–244.


In 1975, two books dealing with female crime appeared. They aroused many controversies and polemics and inspired many empirical studies. They were Freda Adler's Sisters in Crime and Rita James Simon's Women and Crime. Both works attempted to explain the changes their authoresses believed were taking place in female crime with the influence of the women's lib movements. The two approaches, though similar in many points, show different patterns of connections between women's lib and female crime from which the latter's extent and direction of changes result.

              F. Adler assumes that the women's lib movements of the 1960's and 1970's decidedly influenced changes in women's behaviour - the criminal behavior included. These changes resulted in an increase in the number and weight of offences committed by women. If such social movements continue –according to F. Adler - female crime will keep increasing and becoming similar to its male counterpart. Women will commit a greater number of the traditionally ,,masculine’’offences, i.e.offences against person, the more aggressive among offences against property, and the so-called ,,white-collar crimes’’ Contrary to  F. Adler, R. J. Simon focuses not on the ideology of women's lib but mainly on the increasing  professional activity of women which no doubt results largely from that movement. According to R. J. Simon, the women's increased professional activity will have twofold consequences: on the one hand women will get better opportunities to commit offences against property, and on the other hand, their greater material independence will lessen their frustration thus limiting the number of violent offences committed by women.

               Empirical research aimed at explaining the trend and structure of female crime basing on F. Adler’s and R. J. Simon's conceptions tended in-two separate directions. In the first group of studies, the trend and structure of female crime were estimated. The other group included studies in which the interdependences were analysed between the changes that took place in the women's social status as a result of the women’s lib movement on the one hand, and the changes in female crime on the other han. Generally speaking, none of those studies aspired at verifying the whole of either F. Adler’s or R. J. Simon’s conception being limited  to verification of some theses only.

               The present paper includes a discusson of studies carried out by D. J. Steffensmeier, M J. Hindenlang, V. D. Young, P. C. Giordano, S. Kerbel and S. Dudley, N. K. Wilson, J. G. Gory, and M. D .Lynes. Their findings were as follows.

               No major changes could be observed in female crime after 1970. Instead, such changes had taken place in earlier years. What did change slightly after 1970 was the number of offences against property, and not all of them at that; namely an increase took place. The number of offences against the person was stable or showed a slight upward tendency which was, however, also found in the case of men. The grounds of liking women’s lib with female crime are questioned, as the latter changed prior to the rise of women’s movements. The notion of ,,women’s liberation’’ is not operational; moreover, professional activity is considered insufficient as the index basing on which to estimate the social changes which many have resulted from women’s lib. Female crime should be analysed in the context of the social changes that concerned women-to do it, however, appropriate indices of those changes ought to be chosen.

               F. Adler’s and R.J. Simon’s conceptions still arouse many controversies today. The following objections can be raised to them: both authoresses estimated female crime basing on statistics of detentions by the police. As is well know, official statistics are the reflection not only crime itself but also of the functioning of administration of justice. Thus a single source is insufficient if the causes of changes in female crime are to be explained.

               Two of F. Adler’s assumptions arouse certain doubts. The first of them is that women's lib included ail women and had a large effect on all of them: actually the movement only concerned the middle classes. Moreover, there is no evidence of the existence in American society of an actual social equality of men and women resulting from the equality of legally recognized chances. The other disputable assumption is that ,,masculinity" increases the likelihood of delinquency: it is uncertain whether and to what extent the social changes actually influenced women's different behaviour, and if they did, whether women really adopted masculine patterns of behaviour.

               The conception of R. J. Simon, although more complete and better verified, includes a disputable contention that the increased professional activity of women lessens their frustration thus reducing the resulting violent offences. Admittedly, the new professional roles the women assume may improve their self-image and thus level stress; but on the other hand, the fact that they have to perform several social roles at the same time may give rise to frustration resulting from inability to perform all of those roles equally well. Therefore, if we follow this path of reasoning, the number of violent offences committed by women should remain stable as professional activity may influence the women's minds differently not only lessening but also deepening their frustration.

               The discussion of female crime, taking place in literature, gave rise to the question whether and to what extent that phenomenon changed in Poland. Basing on court statistics, an analysis was carried out of the extent of female crime in the years 1946-1986 and of its structure in the years 1977-1986.

                The number of convictions of women and their proportion in the total number of convictions underwent significant changes over the forty years from 1946 till 1986. In the forties and the early fifties, the number of convictions of women went up rapidly at a rate greater than that of convictions of men. In the late fifties, that upwards tendency still persisted but was less marked than was the case with men. In the sixties, the number of convictions of women went down markedly, to remain stable with a slight upward tendency in the seventies. The legislative changes in penal law and the several amnesty acts in the eighties make an appraisal of the extent of crime in that period rather difficult. In the years l980-1983, there was a drop in the number of convictions of women, followed by an increase in the years 1984-1986 which no doubt resulted from the introduction of two acts: on education in sobriety and the fighting of alcoholism, and on the fighting of profiteering. If we consider the above-mentioned conceptions, that of R. J. Simon in particular, in relation to female crime in Poland, the years, 1946-1955 seem especially to confirm the hypothesis as to the connections between professional activity of women and female crime. In those years, a rapid increase of women's employment took place, and their social status changed greatly.

               Female offences are mainly those against property. Convictions of women for such offences constitute over 70 per cent on the average of all convictions of women the respective percentage being over 50 in the case of men, while the average 11 pet cent of women are convicted for offences against the person (as compared to over 30 per cent of men).

               The changes in female crime in Poland in the years 1977-1986 differ greatly from what F. Adler and R. J. Simon anticipated. There was a drop in the number of convictions for offences against property in the years l977-1984,while as regards offences against the persons, the number of convictions was stable or showed a slight upward tendency; there was an increase in the respective numbers in that same period as regards convictions of men. A rise in the number of convictions of women in the years 1984-1986 issued mainly from changes in penal legislation and from the resulting practice of prosecution.

               As shown by the analysis of female crime in Poland based on court statistics, the available data were greatly insufficient to interpret the changes observed. Several different sources of information about crime ale necessary, as well as several standards or estimation (numbers of detected offences, of persons found guilty, of convictions).

              Professional activity of women, the impact it has on their social situation, and its possible connections with the change in female crime, indicated by R. J. Simon, may also help explain that phenomenon in the Polish conditions but only together with many other factors which may influence the extent and structure of female crime.


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