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Contributions of Feminism to the Study of Victimology

Info: 3435 words (14 pages) Essay
Published: 10th May 2021 in Criminology

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Contextually, the role of the victims has become more complex, with the development in the theory of Victimology has illustrated that inform public and politics concepts about crime. The feminist movement has sought to change these issues surrounding victimology, interlinking the feminist perspective and a change to the theories of Criminology as a whole. This led to reforms to the legal system in regards to handling the sensitive issues that were previously neglected in the theory; the work of feminist established that these issues are a major social problem and influenced the changes in Criminal Justice System.

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In the Criminal Justice System, the victims’ role is relatively an organic phenomenon; contextually the victims were at the core of the Criminal Justice System, this was particularly demonstrated prior to the late nineteenth century. Criminology suppressed the voice of women and acknowledged little reference to women and children throughout the Criminal Justice Process. During this period, there was a rapid expansion of the Interventionist State whereby victims were less able to inaugurate a prosecution or control a court case. The feminist researcher also found the archetypal writers on crime, neglected gender, they also questioned how conventional quantitative research methods gained information on sensitive areas of study. (Stevens 2006) Also, most Criminological theories were designed by men, through the perspective of males without any acknowledgement of ideas and theories that are gender-specific.

Kearon and Godfrey (2007) identified that during the end of the twentieth century; there was an understanding that the victims were not only a homogenous group. During this time, the rediscovery of the victims illustrated that there were several victims that contributed to the visibility of victims some of which included the media’s role and sensitization of the vulnerable groups throughout the 1940s and 1950s. The feminist contribution was initiated outside of the mainstream Criminology, the feminist Criminology co-inside with the rise and creation of the Second Wave of Feminism. This movement was able to identify several issues such as penal reform, marital rape - formerly private issues into the public sphere, from this a recurring theme was the juxtaposition between Women and Crime. Through the historic survey period, there was a rise in female academia and scholars, who were able to express the role of victimology in Criminology. Evidently, Fry’s legacy as a campaigner for penal reform from the 1920s helped to develop the international standard of prisoners’ minimum rights, this resulted in a United Nations charter that introduced of compensation for victims of criminal injuries, as well as the abolition of the death penalty. Fry also was established as a pioneer of the female perspective, first as an academic discipline and secondly as an initiator of Criminology lectures.

Also, the introduction and importance of the Criminal victimisation survey, especially again the backdrop of rising crime rates - an early program of the British Crime Survey - enhanced the field of comparative criminology. An example of these surveys: America Presidents Crime Commission 1967, International Criminal Victimisation Survey 1989. The British Crime Survey for examples were mainly based on quantitative methods of data collection, it was mainly criticised for the insensitive questioning, through qualitative methods in order to deal more sensitively with the question of sexual harassment. (Gelsthorpe et al 1990 p.87) The victims’ dissatisfaction with the criminal justice system could have a lasting impact on the victims’ eagerness to report any crimes that were committed against them and to also help with the prosecution of crimes. Ann Oakley (1981) adheres to this as Oakley argued that conventional methods of interviewing invalidate women’s subjective experiences as women and as people. Oakley dismisses ‘masculinist paradigm’ of interviewing in the favour to create the notion of ‘unbiased, objective interviews as myth’. (Gelsthorpe 1990 p.91) Feminist greatly criticised the positivist perspective for their concept of blaming the victims and holding the victims accountable for crimes that may happen to them.

Positivist Victimology established the ‘Responsibilisation Agenda’, whereby it implicates the victim and excuses the offender of committing the crime, instead, it focuses on the issues of risk avoidance. In Amir’s (1971) book Patterns of Forcible Rape, demonstrated an inventory of victim characteristics such as possessing a ‘bad’ reputation, consuming alcohol, meeting an offender in a bar, picnic or party. During, 2005 and 2007 the controversial anti-drinking posters which epitomise that the victim is at fault of the rape, the poster titled ‘Know Your Limits’ by the NHS government established that “one in three reported rapes to happen when the victim has been drinking”. This poster was demonstrative of the rape culture in society and within the Criminal Justice System, with a spokesperson for the Rape Crisis of England Wales stating that “the poster may be triggering for rape survivors and is misguided. As established previously, Cohen and Felson developed the Routine Activity Theory which revolves around three main concepts: a potential offender, a suitable target and the absence of a capable guardian. All three must be conducted in order for criminal activity to be established. These events led to the postmodern feminist "slut walk" protests and issues surrounding "rape culture". These protests identified the patriarchal notions, that the offender is portrayed as the patriarchal, male dominate part of society and diminished the concept of ‘victim-blaming’. Another example, that was epitomised was during August 2013 the trial of Neil Wilson at the Snaresbrook Crown Court was conducted. Robert Colover, QC resigned from the CPS Rape Panel for describing the 13-year-old rape victim as ‘predatory’ and ‘sexually experienced’ in the trial of Neil Wilson. This highlights how the Positivist studies were also criticised for the way that they portray women of any age as being ‘sexually responsible’ for their own victimisation and any sexual crime that was committed against them. From a historical context, the victim is socialised into acknowledge their victimisation and then accepting that they deserve this. As a result of this, feminist has aided the understanding of ‘gender relations’ within the archetypal social order, they established the relationship between females and gender rather than just trying to provide an understanding of the crime.


However, Feminism and feminist criminology have been frequently criticised as it can be seen as “causing an increase to crimes for and against women”. The main concepts that encompass the feminist criminology are: the separatism theory, the lack of intersectionality in the approach i.e. race, status, gender, The main issue is how feminist criminologist is unable to visualise the actual political reality of criminology through their gender-centric tendency. For example, it is not only females or children who are victims of crimes or that females do commit crimes; seemingly, feminists main interest has become only criminalising men. This creates a separatist tendency, as it allows women to speak for themselves, rather than all individual regardless of their race, gender to be equal. Also, some scholars explain that by allowing females to have this ‘separatism’ approach means that they may not accept any new developments that occur in mainstream Criminology.

Despite the advances of feminist criminology, black women and women from developing countries have been noticeably absent from this discourse. (Rice 1990 p.57) Here, intersectionality should be a factor when distinguishing a crime, for example, black female offenders have been overshadowed by both black men and white women in criminological literature (Rice 1990 p.57). Scholar Gilroy (1987) established that research in Britain has tended to focus on black men and crime; argued that social, political and economic marginalisation is of key significance, however, none of these studies addresses the issues of black women. The invisibility of women creates false impressions about the extent of their involvement in criminal activity although research argues that they are subjected to the same discriminatory and stereotyping treating in the criminal justice system as black men (Rice 1990 p.59). Rice argues that scholars such as Carlen and Worrall (1987) and Morris (1987) have all adopted an essentialist position in relation to the construct of ‘females’, they have paid little acknowledgement to the relevance of race. Contextually, whilst sexist images of women have been challenged, racial stereotypes have been greatly been ignored. (Rice 1990 p.59) Arguably, black women, like most women have experienced some degree of sexual oppression - feminist research has prided themselves on developing the method of the inquiry between changing the relationship between the researcher and the subject. (McRobbie 1982; Rice 2006 p.61) Feminists claimed that they represent the subjective experiences of ‘all’ women, much of their research has yet to prove it’s relevance to black women (Rice 2006, p 62). Although, feminist criminology has evolved the theoretical approach to the importance of patriarchal oppression and the sexist ideological practice. (Chesney-Lind 2006) They have assumed that the ubiquitous dimension of men’s power, however, this theory has ignored the significance of the race - which in turn affects black women’s experiences either within the household, the labour market and within the Criminal Justice System. (Rice 2006 p.62-67)

Spelman (1988) epitomised that “in the criminal justice practice, the development of the feminist perspective and theory has not changed, due to the fact that they have not acknowledged the difference.” For example, the factors of archetypal female stress on the most privileged type of women - white, middle class, heterosexual. Spelman also established that they diminish the representation of female offenders particularly the lack of representation of women in the developing country. Arguably, as the feminist perspective main goal is more gender inclusivity, every other issue gains little acknowledgement.

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During the decades of the 1980s and 1990s, the concept of Victiminology developed, in comparison to thirty years prior where this concept had little reference in Criminology. Radical feminist, according to Chesney-Lind and Daly (1986) has greatly developed female victimology, particularly sex and gender relations has established issues in the form of deviance, conformity, and social control that archetypical masculinist concepts of crime and justice have either been disregard or neglected. Radical Victimology borrows from the concept of Radical Criminology whereby the Criminal Justice System only serves the ruling class and preserve inequality in society. Radical feminist establishes that victimisation is shaped and moulded by structural inequalities; they also create a new interpretation of the offender-victim relationship. The offenders are victims who as well as the victims are exploited by the powerful and agents of the state, an example of that being the Criminal Justice agencies. Radical feminist theoretical studies - both quantitative and qualitative - has aided the development of sexual assault, harassment and domestic violence. Previously, the consequences of these types of ‘abuse’ were not acknowledged thirty years again, violence persisted in the private sphere. An example of this, efforts were underway to create a new paradigm – to persuade law enforcement officers and prosecutors’ offices to treat domestic violence as a crime, rather than a private, family matter. (Davis 2005) They have also inferred that the fundamental issues in Criminology stem from our perceived biological nature, therefore women become suppressed, neglected as a human being and restricted to their ‘archetypal gender roles’. Radical feminists argue that this prolonged oppressed has not only diminished women as victims but not encouraged them to speak out.

In popular culture, this is shown through the feminist movement of #metoo - a movement against sexual harassment and assault which was created by social activist Tarana Burke. These movements, as well as others, created such as the slutwalk, liberty group, everyday sexism project, femen group co-inside with the fourth wave of Feminism. Feminist also sought to redefine the topic of sexual consent recently, the jury was told to examine the 17-year-old rape victim’s choice of underwear in the closing statement of the defence lawyer. After this trial, the campaign went viral with many women posting pictures of their own underwear on twitter with the hashtag #thisisnotconsent created by a Facebook group called Mna na Eireann (Women of Ireland) as a way to highlight their outrage about the outcome of the trial. This also shifted the dynamic issues from academic research to political activism. This wave interconnects the various dimensions of power that add to the stratification of archetypal marginalised groups. These issues have then brought about legal reforms - legal decision-making - within the Criminal Justice System and the change in awareness of the ‘victim’ and other topics is shown to the public, through either the media and popular culture.

The critical victimology argues that as the process of labelling individuals as victims involves a statement of values, it is essential to analyse how, when and why some who sustain injury are labelled victims, and others not. It encompasses both symbolic interactionism and feminist approaches. It also highlights hidden crimes such as domestic violence, rape and sexual harassment, this highlights the importance of the historical and cultural context in shaping victimising practices. From this, it can be established that, in contemporary society, Victimology and the feminist perspective has been demonstrated profoundly within academia, in many published books and articles. Also, during the last thirty years, there has been an expansion of victims movements: women’s’ refuges, charities, rape crisis centres developed in the early 70s.  From the 1980s more funding was offered from the Home Office for females, children and victims support. Also, during the 70s survivors of crime and their advocates began to mobilise developing several grass-root crime victim’s organisations and movements. The creation of victim programs and victim’s group worldwide, some of which include: self-help - SAMM, Survivors and Aftermath. National Association of Victim Support Schemes (1981), Victim Supportline (1998). These organisation and the women’s movement sought for more reforms surrounding the topics of sexual assault and domestic violence. The creation of the first rape crisis centre in 1971 titled ‘Bay Area Women Against Rape’ in response to an outrage of how a young girl was treated after she was sexual harassment. Seven years after this, the National Coalition Against Sexual Assault was developed in order to provide leadership to many rape crisis shelters that were founded throughout the country. (Davis 2005) Many of these movements provided both shelters, educational resources and advice to those women who had been assaulted. These movements also inferred the underlying issue of the problem in the criminal justice system in relations to how victims are treated and it also created the services that aided criminal victims.

Furthermore, the waves of feminism have been a major force in politics and have had a big impact on influencing social policy agendas. Scholars Randall and Waylen, (1998) inferred that professional politics is dominated by men, they argued that instead women’s social experience will be needed greatly in government as women give a different insight that would be valuable in government such as sexual harassment laws, anti-violence bill. Also, there was further development of the politicisation of victims enabled the criminal justice system to help the needs of victims through various points i.e. during court proceedings and criminal injuries compensation. (Mawby 2009) It is inferred that feminists bought about how victim participation is crucial in securing the conviction and how victims should be prepared before a trial with full support from the criminal justice system. A document published by the government illustrated new rights for victims of crime as they will receive greater support under government plans to boost their rights. (Ministry of Justice 2019) Also, outside the Western Countries in developing countries like Sub-Saharan Africa women have added issues like HIV/AIDS and domestic violence to the political agenda. (Devlin 2008) This demonstrates that feminism has become an international theory,  and have helped to influence political agendas in contemporary society in aiding victims as a whole.

In conclusion, in recent years, as Franklin (2003) explains post-structural approaches have sought to destabilise the theoretical approaches of political developments; instead, they establish an alternative explanation to the effects of social policy and understanding discourse within society. The feminist perspective and research have essential in the evolution of the theory of victimology. Recently, the last fifty years, the feminist criminology theory has created substantial changes have been made towards the ratification of laws that gave both victims’ who have had a crime committed against them rights and support to get them through the process of the criminal justice system. Whilst the feminist theory has created a new perspective and changed the assumption theories and concepts in Criminology, the perspective has been limited through creating a divide between both genders and factors like intersectionality (race and class).

Reference List

  • Chesney-Lind, M. (2006). Patriarchy, crime, and justice: Feminist criminology in an era of backlash. Feminist Criminology, 1(1), 6-26.
  • Chesney-Lind et al (1986) “Women and Crime: The Female Offender.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 12 12:78-96
  • Davis 2005, The Grassroots Beginnings of the Victims’ Rights Movement <https://www.lclark.edu/live/files/6453-the-grassroots-beginnings-of-the-victims-rights> accessed 23rd of February 2020
  • Devlin, C et al (2008) The Effect of Increased Women's Representation in Parliament: The Case of Rwanda, Parliamentary Affairs, Volume 61, Issue 2, Pages 237–254
  • Feminist Theories of Crime (2019) accessed 13th February 2020
  • Franklin, J (2003) Feminist Review, No. 73, Exile and Asylum: Women Seeking Refuge in 'Fortress Europe' pg. 183-186
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  • Gov UK, Ministry of Justice https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-rights-for-victims-of-crime accessed 23 of February 2020
  • HM Government (2018) Victim Strategy accessed 1st February 2020
  • Kathleen Daly & Meda Chesney-Lind (1988) Feminism and criminology, Justice Quarterly, pg 497-538
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  • Miers, D. (1989) Positivist victimology: a critique. International review of victimology, 1(1), 3-22.
  • Nicholson, L. (2013) Feminism/postmodernism. Routledge
  • Rafter, N et al (Edition 2) (1995). International feminist perspectives in criminology: Engendering a discipline (pg. 1-14). Buckingham: Open University Press.


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