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About this book

Shani D'Cruze and Louise A. Jackson provide students with a lively overview of women's relationship to the criminal justice system in England, exploring key debates in the regulation of 'respectable' and 'deviant' femininities over the last four centuries. Major issues include:

• attitudes towards murder and infanticide * prostitution
• the decline of witchcraft belief * sexual violence
• the 'girl delinquent' * theft and fraud

The volume also examines women's participation in illegal forms of protest and political activism, their experience of penal regimes as well as strategies of resistance, and their involvement in occupations associated with criminal justice itself. Assuming that men and women cannot be studied in isolation, D'Cruze and Jackson make reference to recent studies of masculinity and comment on the ways in which relations between men and women have been understood and negotiated across time.

Featuring examples drawn from a rich range of sources such as court records, autobiographies, literature and film, this is an ideal introduction to an increasingly popular area of study.

Table of Contents

Introduction: ‘Vice’ and ‘Virtue’?

Abstract
This book aims to provide an overview of women’s relationship to the criminal justice system and to explore key issues in the regulation of ‘respectable’ and ‘deviant’ femininities over the last four centuries. Three phenomena relating to women and criminal justice have been recently highlighted as matters of social concern. Firstly, reports have drawn attention to the rising number of women in England’s prisons: between 1992 and 2002 the female custodial population increased by 173 per cent.1 Secondly, it has been noted that women’s experience of rape is rarely likely to lead to successful prosecution: only 5.6 per cent of reported cases resulted in successful conviction in 2002.2 Thirdly, academic studies have commented on the ways in which the involvement of teenage girls in criminality, including a gang culture of bullying and violence, has been sensationalised as a growing trend in the newspaper press.3 Yet in order to understand contemporary debates and concerns we need to turn to the past. The ‘newness’ of recent patterns and trends can only be fully assessed by placing them in a broader historical context, enabling us to comment on continuity and change across time. There is no doubt that criminal justice has become highly politicised as increases or decreases in crime rates are viewed not merely as a barometer of the failure or success of government policy but as evidence of the state of the nation. As we shall show, however, the process of ‘counting’ is riddled with difficulties, particularly when our main subjects — women — have often been hidden not merely from ‘history’ but also in part from the mechanisms of criminal justice.4
Shani D’Cruze, Louise A. Jackson

1. Women and Criminality: Counting and Explaining

Abstract
Across the modern period commentators have argued that women as a sex are less likely than men to engage in criminal activity. Yet they have disagreed on the reasons. For the psychologist Havelock Ellis, writing in 1894, there was ‘scarcely […] any doubt that the criminal and anti-social impulse is less strong in women than in men’.1 In his published memoirs of 1931, high-profile London detective Frederick Porter Wensley explained women’s lower levels of participation in terms of social roles rather than instinct: ‘women […] may be just as wicked as men, but their opportunities for crime on a big scale are more restricted’.2 The collation of criminal justice statistics from the early nineteenth century onwards exposed apparently lower levels of female participation in criminality. Women formed 17 per cent of the prison population in England and Wales in the nineteenth century; this was reduced further to 4 per cent by the 1980s although figures are now rising starkly.3 Criminality as a concept came to be defined in terms of masculinity. The scientific study of offending behaviour — which has come to be labelled ‘criminology’ — can be dated back to the analytical work carried out by prison medical officers from the 1860s onwards. These studies focused overwhelmingly on male prisoners and thus the set of characteristics associated with male offenders was viewed as a ‘norm’ or ‘type’ against which deviancy was measured.4 Women’s offending has tended to be viewed not merely as unusual, but in extreme cases (including press representations of Myra Hindley or Rosemary West) as ‘doubly deviant’ in that it contradicts gendered assumptions about ‘caring’ femininity as well as threatening broader social norms through the act of law-breaking.5 Indeed, the assumption that certain types of criminal women are exceptionally ‘monstrous’ can be linked to the dualistic depiction of women as infinitely good or infinitely evil within Judeo-Christian frameworks. This did not mean that all women implicated in offending were treated harshly; indeed, far from it. Rather, notable exceptions to norms of ‘womanhood’ have been held up as cultural icons of feminine ‘evil’.
Shani D’Cruze, Louise A. Jackson

2. Women and Property Offences

Abstract
Daniel Defoe created an intimate but cynical portrayal of the relationship between gender and an emerging consumer society in his depiction of Moll Flanders, the most famous female thief in English literature (first published in 1722). Tempted to steal a bundle of clothes from an apothecary’s shop and a string of beads from a small child, Moll then learns the ‘craft’ of pickpocketing and shoplifting from an expert accomplice. She explains her shift into criminality in terms of necessity and then greed: ‘as Poverty brought me into the Mire, so Avarice kept me in, till there was no going back’.1 An opportunist involvement in thieving and prostitution is presented as part of an economy of make-shifts through which poor women managed to survive in eighteenth-century London.
Shani D’Cruze, Louise A. Jackson

3. Women and Violence

Abstract
Historically, women have been a clear minority of individuals tried for violent offences. For example, only 9 per cent of those accused of murder at Surrey Assizes between 1660 and 1800 were female.1 The key historical questions this raises revolve not only around how men’s and women’s social practice has differed in its uses of violence, but also around how their acts have been differentially recognised by the criminal justice system.
Shani D’Cruze, Louise A. Jackson

4. Women and Sexuality

Abstract
Where women’s sexuality has overlapped with crime, gender issues have been to the fore in the criminal justice process reflecting and often symbolising specific and historically shifting social anxieties. Firstly, sexuality in terms of motherhood and reproduction has positioned women offenders differently than men; pregnant women convicted of capital offences in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries could plead their bellies and defer or sometimes avoid the gallows (Chapter 7). Secondly, perceptions of women’s sexuality have helped shape judgements about their culpability or criminal responsibility in a range of crimes, sometimes to their advantage and sometimes markedly to their disadvantage. To recap some of the points made in previous chapters, although the precise timing, spread and mechanisms of the shift are very much debated amongst historians, it is clear that in the Early Modern period female sexuality was more often understood as dangerous because it was active and even predatory. By the mid-Victorian period, although the earlier model could still be applied, especially to lower-class women, the dominant model of respectable female sexuality was one of passivity and submission. Both models saw women as very much constituted by their sexuality and potentially debilitated by its vagaries. Hence, where sexuality could in any way be linked to women’s criminal behaviour, the way was open for them to be constructed as either particularly threatening or as in part victims. Either way, their autonomy and agency were undermined. We noted such effects at work in our discussion of female murderers in Chapter 3, and in Chapter 2 saw how shoplifting by women could be attributed to the menopause.1
Shani D’Cruze, Louise A. Jackson

5. Women, Social Protest and Political Activism

Abstract
Over three centuries women have been involved in much political activism that was within the law. Here we explore the interface between (political) protest and the criminal law, asking how, over time, this boundary has been inflected when the protesters that the law confronted were women. We can distinguish two kinds of protest at this interface. Firstly, some protests have called on customary or informal codes of legitimacy, or have exploited loopholes in the law, but the state (either local or central) has invoked the criminal (or civil) law to control protesters. Secondly, some protesters have deliberately protested by defying the rule of law, usually through acts of violence, so as to draw attention to their cause or to coerce the state to accede to their demands. For the purposes of this discussion, we can think of such actions as ‘political crimes’, committed deliberately to challenge the state to respond through the criminal justice process. The violence involved has extended from the minor property damage committed by Early Modern grain rioters to the arson and bombing carried out by militant suffragettes. Our focus here is on women protesters, and we have already argued in Chapter 3 that criminal justice interaction with women’s violence has been inflected by gender power in complex ways. Though both kinds of protest have been committed by women and men, there have been particular resonances when women have taken protest action that put them outside the law.
Shani D’Cruze, Louise A. Jackson

6. Women in Control?

Abstract
Women’s inequality before the law and hence within the criminal justice system itself was a central focal point of feminist campaigning for much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Arguing for votes for women in 1851, Harriet Taylor and John Stuart Mill depicted women’s political subordination as inseparable from their lack of legal status: ‘women, whenever tried, are tried by male judges and a male jury’.1 A series of educated women who were active in professional and philanthropic work used their public prominence to call for women’s increased presence in the courts and in policing. Elizabeth Blackwell, the first English woman to qualify as a doctor, argued in 1881 that there was a need for a small number of ‘superior women’ to take up ‘positions of power and authority’ in ‘the police organisation’ to work specifically with female offenders.2 As Chapter 1 has shown, women participated in the courts as complainants and witnesses across the Early Modern and modern periods. Yet, until 1919 women were unable to practice as lawyers, or to act as judges, magistrates or jurors. During the nineteenth century it became customary to clear the room of all female observers when cases of rape or indecent assault were tried; it was argued that this was necessary to protect their modesty.
Shani D’Cruze, Louise A. Jackson

7. Women and Punishment

Abstract
Placing women offenders in the foreground complicates the established trends and chronologies in the history of punishment. Historians are in broad agreement about how the punishment of the criminal offender has changed over time, though their explanations of this transition differ. Early Modern social order was hierarchical and the punishment of criminal offenders confirmed and reflected social status. The most punishable bodies were not infrequently those of the poor. Punishment was orientated towards the body of the criminal; its purpose was to punish through pain or shame. For serious offences, punishment aimed to exile the criminal from the social order, either permanently through capital punishment or for long periods through transportation to the Americas. In contrast, by the later nineteenth century, penal regimes relied most heavily on incarceration or, from the twentieth century, through other means of curtailing the freedom of the offender, such as probation or subsequently, ‘tagging’ or community service. The emphasis of modern penal policy has shifted between viewing imprisonment as punishment, as deterrence and/or as encouraging rehabilitation.1 However, across these broad shifts, there have been important continuities in the technologies and ideologies of punishment when applied to women offenders.
Shani D’Cruze, Louise A. Jackson

8. Girls and Delinquency

Abstract
In 1732 the artist William Hogarth produced a series of six engravings — entitled A Harlot’s Progress — telling the story of the moral and physical decline of Moll Hackabout, who is first shown arriving in London as a fresh-faced country girl in her late teens (Figure 8.1). She is rapidly ‘seduced’ by an elderly procuress and a nobleman, descends from finery into prostitution, is imprisoned in Bridewell House of Correction for an unspecified offence, and finally dies of syphilis at the youthful age of 23. Moll Hackabout is portrayed as a victim of external circumstances and her fall depicted in sexual terms as she becomes a contagion to others. Hogarth’s engravings also demonstrated parallel concerns about the disorderly behaviour of male youth, particularly apprentices, whose habits of gambling and drinking might lead to criminal offences of theft and violence (depicted in his series of engravings Industry and Idleness).1 Such a gendered narrative, which drew on pre-existing concerns about the corruption of innocent youth within a decadent urban environment, was repackaged and reconfigured across the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Shani D’Cruze, Louise A. Jackson

Afterword

Abstract
We began this book by pointing to three modern areas of concern that linked women and crime. These were, firstly, the growing numbers of women in prison; secondly, the very low percentage of rape and sexual assault cases that currently produce a guilty verdict; and thirdly, the recent press attention to the (unfeminine) violence of ‘girl gangs’. These are all issues that, we argued, are hard to understand without an appreciation of the history of gender. Sexual violence against women, violence as a component of female juvenile deviance and the penal incarceration of women are separate and distinct subjects. However, viewed historically it becomes clear that each of them have depended on the dispositions of power by gender which have constituted (some) women and girls as deviant and punishable; these include the field of criminal justice but also exceed it.
Shani D’Cruze, Louise A. Jackson
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