Behind Closed Doors Women Violence Surveys Criminology Essay

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This chapter looks at forms of violence committed by women that only rarely, in the extreme cases, appear in the public domain. While victim surveys and the politicisation of violence against women has promoted the image of women as victims who are hidden behind closed doors relatively little has been written about the violence committed by woman in the private domain. The chapter portrays the deviant image of women that has been hidden for many years, due to the social roles they take upon as mothers, carers, guardians and so forth they have been able to get away with many violent criminal offences. One particularly offence which will be acknowledged throughout will be infanticide. Moving on from this the image of the 21st century woman, how they are more in the media and women's violence is now being portrayed to society more than ever before will be outlined.

Women have always been seen as the caring, coping, nurturing and sacrificing humans compared to men. They are seen to have lack of control over themselves and are dependent upon their male counter parts. Hunter et al (1981 in Carlen 1987) states; 'Being a normal woman means needing protection'. It also means potentially becoming a mother as well. Mothers are seen as the guardian of morality. It is a way in which a woman is allowed to demonstrate she is more than a man, as she has the ability to reproduce which is a significant inspiration for men of which they fear as well as please. The normal mother is seen to be dependent on the child of her father, and she is considered essential to her child's welfare.

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It is also claimed that women do not perpetrate violence or abuse against men or children to anywhere near the same extent as men. It is false to say women do not commit violent offences as statistics have shown they do, especially one type of offence which women only are liable for, this is infanticide which is an offence that only women can commit. Infanticide is the legal term of recognition for post-natal depression in women. It is taken place when the balance of a woman's mind is disturbed by reason of her not having fully recovered from giving birth to her child (Smith and Hagan, 1973 in Smart 1976). Therefore, taking into account this offence and other offences which women commit it can be argued that behind a closed door particularly within a family or home where women were traditionally seen as the home maker as stated at the beginning a lot could take place without people being aware as it is difficult to investigate matters within a person's home.

Pollak (1950 cited in Leonard 1982) published a book in relation to women and crime in the post-war years, 'The Criminality of Women'. He identified that due to the social role of women this enables them to have an excellent cover to carry out violence. Women are seen as homemakers, they care for their children and the sick, and they are also domestic workers. These roles provide the opportunity for hidden crimes to take place within the public sphere. An example in relation to the type of crime they can commit is the opportunity a woman has to poison a sick child and the difficulty in detecting this offence as this is seen as an unimaginable offence which society cannot accept. He further goes on to analyse that women's violence is more in relation to deceit. This is adapted through culture and biology, a women's physical weakness can cause her to accept deception. However, not much importance was added to this. The role of biology and social factors however, contribute significantly to women's hidden violence personality. He alleges that women disguise their sexual response, conceal their period of menstruation and withhold sexual information from young children within the household, this is clearly deceit. This then builds upon the training of women's deception further and the different attitude they have towards the truth as they have to lie to their children due to some matters being private for women but it is still seen in a negative way. He further goes on to say, as women are expected to attract a husband indirectly, through charm and subtle pressure which society condones, is an encouragement for women to deceit. Therefore, as all criminals wish to be anonymous, women will be more successful in this as they will be used to not telling the truth. It will be difficult for their violence to be discovered as the poisoning of the child mentioned earlier is seen as an undetected offence. Sexual offences by women carried out against children are also easily hidden since women's role in society expects them to handle children; hence a sexual attack by a woman leaves no physical evidence. (ibid)

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Kerr (1958) also carried out a study on a lower-working class group located within a town in the North of England. Throughout her findings she found that mothers were not always the tender and sweet character as referred to, they can also be violent. She analysed how tempers get frayed and violence takes place. It ranges from a serious attack on someone which succeeds, to throwing household objects at members of the family. She states this was a general habit of all the mothers. There was three particular real life situations which she noted; three children who were in violent situations with their mothers. They all reported that their mothers threw knifes at them. Firstly, Sylvia aged 15 showed how her mother coldly aims the knife and throws the blade at her. She has learnt threw this how to dodge the knife but at times she would run upstairs crying and on purpose cut her finger. Second child, Maggie aged 13 stated; one situation where her mother threw the knife at her and she rebelled back with her fist at her mother but instead her fist went through the window. Her mother told her that she had to pay for the damage but she refused to do so. Another situation arose where she picked up the knife that her mother threw at her and cut her hand with it. After seeing her blood her mother felt guilty and put her to bed, however, the next day when her mother saw her feeling well she started on her again. Third child, Freda aged 15 stated two occasions where her mother threw the knife at her, the first situation her mother threw the knife and she got very angry and kicked her foot through the panel of the door. The second situation where her mother threw the knife she ducked and went through the side board. Her mother at the time was pleased at herself for missing her but when she saw the knife stuck in the sideboard she began to throw knifes all over again.

The study above has demonstrated routine violence by mothers in the early 1950s. These were very shocking illustrations of what mothers are capable of doing. Due to it taking place within the home, society was unaware of what was going on. Children at a young age do not understand the difference between right and wrong. They are not capable of making their own decisions at that stage as they see their mother as their guardian.

Female criminality, violence and aggression in the early modern period have been the focus of several recent studies. Women's crime in the early modern period came to be acknowledged as verbal, disruptive and rebellious. This was the case in Scotland where female criminality and disorder became a particular focus and concern for the English Government. In Europe in the early modern period, during the eighteenth century the killing of a new born infant by the mother was considered a crime as it is today and illustrated above, in relation to the idea which the human mind revolts, it was deemed to be a common occurrence. Kilday (2002 in Brown 2002) identified that between 1750 and 1815, 140 women were brought before the court and charged with child murder in the south west of Scotland. These indictments contributed to nearly quarter of all charges of crimes against the person, it was also said to be the second only assault of authority in terms of being the most frequently indicted offence of that category. It can also be added to this that if the total number of indictments for infanticide were brought together for Scottish women during this period, and added on to the total number of indictments for homicide. The women committing infanticide deaths will outweigh almost triple to a level almost as great as that charged against men.

Samuel Radbill (in Brown 2002:168) stated, 'The methods used in infanticide have not changed much throughout history. Blood is rarely shed.' This can be seen in other studies where women have committed infanticide. The following are cases in Scotland between 1750 and 1815 where women were accused of infanticides which were not to the extent Radbill described.

'In 19% of the cases no discernible 'marks of violence' were discovered on the body of the victim. 6% of the fatalities were suffocated, 7% were strangled, 5% were drowned, but in a significant 63% of the indictments brought to trial, blood was shed, with 48% of the infants being killed by attacks with a sharp instrument and 15% battered to death.' (ibid)

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This evidence shows the women accused of infanticide in Scotland have committed this crime in a more violent manner in relation to the prediction of other studies.

Examples of extreme cases of infanticide are such cases like; Janet McGuffog 1787 accused of having given birth to a fully developed son who she immediately strangled with ferocity that the child turned blue and the neck bones became splinters. A similar case of Mary Thomson in court in 1802 charged with giving birth to a fully developed female child in a field, who she strangled with the aid of its own umbilical cord, the pressure caused the child's windpipe to separate. These cases may seem to be violence with ultimate intentions; however, there are more situations where women accused of infanticide were convicted in relation to using less aggressive methods of asphyxiation. But these cases were relatively rare in Scotland courts. The case of Elizabeth Frazer can be used as an example of such behaviour; she was convicted in court in 1804 charged with, 'after giving birth to a male child, on the 21st August 1804 in a house in Glasgow, she wickedly tied her child in a linen bag along with an iron for the purpose of making it sink, and then threw the child into a well. (ibid)

In relation to all the cases outlined above, the most common method employed by women who were accused of child murder in Scotland between 1750 and 1815 consisted of attacks with a sharp instrument usually a knife or razor. In relation to this it was noted that thirty women were indicted for cutting the throat of their child. A prime example, Jean Allison in 1805 charged with 'having given birth to a fully developed female child', she did 'immediately thereafter most barbarously wickedly and inhumanely cut the child's throat from ear to ear with a razor in great effusion of blood, with such force causing the windpipe thereof to sever in two'. The remaining attacks consisted of stabbing the new-born children with sharp instruments such as pitchforks, penknives, lances and nails were most commonly used in this type of offence. (ibid)

A number of Scottish women were also accused of battery between 1750 and 1815. Examples are as follows, Janet Cooper and Lilias Miligan were indicted for 'dashing their infant's skulls off the ground.' Elizabeth Swinton was accused of 'dashing her child on a tree trunk'; Hannah Main allegedly killed her new born son with a hammer. The evidence in the justice records establishes that the women who were convicted in the Scottish courts used violent means in order to commit infanticide. However, it can argued that the reason why these crimes came to court in the first instance was due to the violent nature presented in committing the offence. There are many cases where there is less violence used such as overlaying and suffocation which go undetected. (ibid)

As women have gone through decades of change and revolution and emerged the modern career women of today. Their lifestyles are changing to accommodate new careers, education and family structures, and their role in society is being adjusted accordingly. Education has provided them with the appropriate skills for building a family and managing a household whereby benefits them in a variety of careers as well as allows them to reach a higher social status as educated members of society. (Sarna 2004) As examined through history, the developed greater freedom has allowed women to enter new positions and new roles, giving them more opportunities for participation in crime. This does not mean they do not continue to maintain their traditional roles, it allows them more opportunities to commit criminal offences. Therefore, there hasn't been a huge difference in the type of involvement of women in crime; it has simply increased. (Leonard 1982)

The gradual but increasing social revolution, whereby women are now closing many of the gaps, social and criminal which are separating them from men. It is said that women's abilities and opportunities have expanded, causing a series of changing patterns (Simon 1979). They are becoming more independent, and due to being allowed to explore the world on their own it can be argued this has caused a new generation of women to appear. The new identity of 'Ladette' simply meaning, 'a young woman whose social behaviour is similar to that of male adolescents or young men, whereby, she behaves in a boisterously assertive or crude manner and engages in heavy drinking sessions.' (Dictionary 2011)

This can be said to be one of the reasons behind why most violent offences are now carried out by women. In 2009-10 'Ladette' were under police custody every hour for carrying out some form of violent crime; this was an exceptionally high record in all police accounts. It was also noted that 88,139 women were arrested for violence over a period of 12months, which can be seen as 250 women arrested per day causing an increase of nearly 1000 more than previous years. This was said to be incredibly low for the men, number of men arrested fell by 10,000. In 2009 this was said to be the year where women were more likely to commit a violent crime that any other type of crime (Home Office 2010).

Another cause can be said to be binge drinking. "It's drink and girl-power. Everyone thinks of the Spice Girls being an empowering thing. Suddenly there is a collective view that girls are here to do everything they like, but unfortunately this also gives them the right to do stuff that is just as idiotic as men do." Vince Egan, a forensic psychologist at Glasgow Caledonian University points out. He further states, female empowerment and binge drinking is primarily responsible for the surge in aggression. Criminologists state due to the increasing use of drugs, binge drinking and wider changes in society women are now becoming more violent and criminals. It was identified that more than 327 women committed non-sexual violent crimes, such as serious assaults and attempted murder; in 2004-5 this has gone up almost 50 per cent in four years. (Scotsman 2006)

As the examples given within this section illustrate, the caring image is not a universal representation of women it has been to some extent been tarnished. Women have always been capable of committing violent offences as illustrated above, due to their social roles they have been able to get away with their acts of violence. As the decades have passed by and the new generation of technology has been established this has played a great role in presenting the images of violent women. However, it can be argued as outlined above due to women now becoming more independent, establishing themselves through education and gaining a highly respectable career they are also becoming more like men. The image of the 'Ladette' is now constantly in the news. Women due to their freedom are acting more like men.