Reviewing Whether Sexual Stereotyping Occurs Criminology Essay

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This essay will attempt to answer the question in regard to gender blindness and sexual stereotyping being aimed at the victims of crime, with emphasis on those who have been raped or sexually assaulted. Gender-blindness refers to a failure to identify or acknowledge difference on the basis of gender where it is significant. Sexual stereotypes are inferred traits and expected behaviour based upon sex. These stereotypes are beliefs held about characteristics and traits that are deemed appropriate for men and women. For example, traditionally, typical characteristics for women are goodness, submissiveness, and domesticity, while authority and assertiveness are traits commonly held by men. They are influenced by social principles held at certain periods of time, and are changing, even at times reversing, with every significant social revolution.

A problem regarding the above in the United Kingdom is that all victims are bundled up together, when policy-makers should be bold enough to say that cases involving sexual abuse and the discrimination against women deserve special treatment (Kennedy, 2005). However, many ministers seem to retreat from the reality that the most ill-treated victims within our system are women (and children) and that this is still a reflection of some very disconcerting facts about male violence (Kennedy, 2005). What is the gender of the partner most often beaten in a relationship? What is the gender of those most often sexually violated? When we hear of honour killings, who are found dead? The gendered nature of much law, because it is largely created and administered by men, does not account for the gendered nature of certain crimes and their victims.

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The law has historically criminalised aggression with certain types of anti-social behaviour being targeted, while others have been left unregulated. Because the law on rape and the minimising of domestic violence are examples of the second type of behaviour it seems that such law is about male patterns of behaviour and standards of acceptable conduct. The law is gendered, especially in relation to violence, and the new gender-neutral language of legislation does not fully disguise this fact (Kennedy, 2005). An example of this is that as women rarely kill in a sudden blind rage; as the law requires, and more usually their loss of control arouses from despair after years of prolonged abuse, it took such a long time to get the defence of provocation to work for women in domestic killings. Despite the fact that we know that men and women behave differently and seem to act for different reasons, we still watch governments provide universal theories of crime and formulate general criminal laws that are meant to work in a gender neutral manner (Kennedy, 2005).

For a long time in this country and many others, public concern has been expressed about rape (and other sexual assault) and the way victims are handled by the criminal justice system. The main areas of concern are not only the treatment of victims by police and the courts but also the low reporting and conviction rates for rape, and the lenient treatment of rapists (Temkin, 2002). In addition to the ordeal of the rape, victims then go on to suffer further ill-treatment in the legal system (Lees, 1997). In the 1970s and 1980s the interrogation of rape victims were generally unsympathetic and tactless (Chambers & Millar, 1983). Even in the last decade there has be much criticism of the way the police investigate rape allegations (Jordan, 2004). Kelly et al (2005) found that the police approach rape allegations with a 'culture of scepticism' in which they are doubted unless they fit the stereotype of a 'real' or aggravated rape which would involve a stranger, outside and with a weapon (Estrich, 1987).

Prior research on charging highlights the importance of victim characteristics (Albonetti 1987; Kerstetter 1990); Stanko 1988). These studies suggest that prosecutors use stereotypes regarding genuine victims and appropriate behaviour to predict how judges and juries will react to them (LaFree 1989). This may play an especially important role in charging decisions in sexual assault cases. In these types of cases typically there are no eyewitnesses who can corroborate the victim's testimony and little physical evidence may exist. Therefore the likelihood of conviction depends primarily on the victim's ability to convince a judge or jury that the assault occurred. "Discretionary decisions are more susceptible in rape than in other types of crime due to the interjection of personal attitudes toward women, sexuality, race, and class", (Loh, 1980 p.581). Studies have demonstrated that sexual assault case outcomes are influenced by the victim's age, occupation, and education (McCahill et al, 1979); by "risk-taking" behaviour (Bohmer, 1974; LaFree 1981); and by the victim's reputation (Fetid & Bienen 1980; Holmstrom & Burgess, 1978).

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The relationship between the victim and the accused also has a significant effect on decision making in sexual assault cases. The "relationship of victim and offender and the circumstances of their initial encounter appear key to determining the outcome of rape cases" (Estrich, 1987 p.18). There is evidence that reports of rapes by strangers are investigated more thoroughly than that involving someone the victim knows (McCahill et al. 1979). Stranger rapes also are less likely to be unproven by the police (Kerstetter 1990) or rejected by the prosecutor. Evidence such as this has led to conclusions that the response of the criminal justice system is based on stereotypes about rape and rape victims. Berger (1977 p.24) maintains that society holds a "stereotyped concept of rape," believing that rape only occurs in narrowly defined situations: notably, when a stranger-preferably a long-time sex fiend lurks in an alley or vacant lot, then savagely assaults the first hapless woman he sees."

Although some feminists and social scientists claim that legally irrelevant victim characteristics come into play in all cases of sexual assault, others argue that the effect of victim characteristics depends on the nature of the case. LaFree (1989), for example, found that the victim's background and non-traditional lifestyle influenced jurors' verdicts only when the defendant claimed either that no sexual acts had occurred or that the victim had consented; these factors did not affect verdicts when the issue was identification of the suspect. Estrich (1987) holds a similar argument. She maintains that the handling of rape complaints always has depended on the kind of rape that is alleged, that the handling of rape cases has not been depicted by indiscriminate sexism, instead there has been discrimination in the distrust of women victims where all women and all rapes are not treated equally. She suggests that traditional rape law terms represented "a set of clear presumptions applied against the woman who complains of simple rape" (Estrich, 1987 p. 28). A simple rape is that which involves a single defendant who is known by the victim and that no weapon is used. Estrich believes that because of off-putting presumptions about victims of simple rape, they are less likely to be reported to the police and if they are reported, they are less likely than aggravated rape cases to result in prosecution and conviction. If a woman was attacked by a stranger who held a knife to her throat, criminal justice decision makers would not care whether she had been using drugs, had been walking alone at night, or how she was dressed. Simple rape cases are not considered "real rapes" so such victim characteristics would play a more important role in determining the outcome of these cases (Estrich, 1987). It is believed that in rape cases the focus shifts from the offender to the victim. LaFree (1989, p. 239) detects that "if women who violate traditional gender roles are raped and are unable to obtain justice through the legal system, then the law is serving as an institutional arrangement that reinforces women's gender-role conformity." The fact that legally irrelevant victim characteristics were stronger predictors of charging than either case seriousness or evidentiary strength suggests that the rape reform movement has not achieved its instrumental goals (Spears et al, 1997).

Stereotypical perceptions surrounding rape have a significant influence on people's responses to its victims (Bohner & Schwarz, 1996). Glick and Fiske (1996) proposed that sexism may not only be evident as an antipathy but suggest that attitudes toward women may comprise both hostile sexism (HS) and benevolent sexism (BS). Hostile sexism can be explained as the typical hostility that is commonly associated with sexist prejudices (Tendayi et al, 2004). In comparison benevolent sexism is a set of sexist attitudes towards stereotypical roles for women, these are positive and affectionate (Glick & Fiske, 1996). Sexists reconcile their hostile and benevolent attitudes by differentiating between 'good' and 'bad' women (Glick & Fiske, 1996). Benevolence is targeted at those women that conform to traditional roles, whereas hostility is directed at women in nontraditional roles (Glick et al, 1997). This differentiation between different women appears to provide a means for men to justify and excuse aggressive behaviours towards certain women. Abrams et al proposed that benevolent sexism could explain some of the observed differences in blame attributed to acquaintance and stranger rape victims. Women are benevolently stereotyped as "guardians of sexuality", this perception of male-female relationships place most of the responsibility for sexual morality on women, not men (Bateman, 1991). Because of this when accusations of sexual assault are made, more attention may be paid to the behavior of the victim, rather than the perpetrator's intentions and actions (Batemen, 1991). Therefore individuals who hold attitudes that women should be pure and chaste (high BS) are more likely to blame rape victims who can be viewed as violating these traditional gender role expectations (Tendayi et al, 2004).

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When it comes to the reporting of rape, only around 15% of victims report the incident (Waltby & Allen, 2004). Cases where the perpetrator is known to the victim are least likely to be reported, yet these are by far the most common types of rape (Fawcett Society, 2006). Attrition where cases 'fall out' of the process contributes to the very low conviction rates. Attrition rates in rape cases have been gradually increasing and in 2005 the conviction rate for reported cases was just 5.29% (Home Office). Only around half of cases progress beyond the police investigation stage and around a quarter of reported rapes are 'no-crimed', this is, recorded as no crime having taken place (Kelly et al, 2005). Research for the Home Office indicates that the police significantly over-estimate false reporting in rape cases and that victim withdrawal also plays an important part in attrition. Research shows that a fear of not being believed and a fear of the criminal justice process are key factors (Fawcett Society, 2006). There continues to be an inconsistent response to rape with some police forces still not having specialist teams in place. An example of this being that whilst domestic violence has the highest rate of repeat victimisation of all offences, there remain serious problems with injunctions not being enforced by the police, leaving women and children vulnerable to further assault or intimidation (Dustin, 2006).

A long court process can lead to victim withdrawal and leave victims of domestic violence open to ongoing threats and violence. This can delay the recovery of victims of rape, who are more likely than any other victim to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (Temkin, 2002). Feeling unsafe in court waiting areas is a serious problem for women who have experienced violence and the courtroom itself can be an intimidating place for women. Rape victims often feel that they are the ones on trial, there are no other cases where the accuser is subject to so much scrutiny at trial and stereotypes persist about what constitutes 'real rape' (see above).

In recent rape cases it has been alleged that specialist sex-crime units failed to apprehend two serial sex attackers who assaulted hundreds of women. There has even been a link to the Stephen Lawrence case except this time the accusation is not racism, but institutionalised sexism (LaVille, 2009). In the case of 44 year old Kirk Reid, officers repeatedly missed clues that suggested he was responsible for a series of sexual assaults that took place in London. It was in September 2002 when officers identified 26 linked sex offences that dated back to August 2001. Two months later they matched DNA found on the victim of the August indecent assault with that from a rape victim, confirming the belief that it was the same attacker in all cases. The first intelligence report on Reid was made in December 2002, after a member of the public stopped an officer on duty to say they had seen a man following a woman on a nearby street. Reid was spoken to by the officer, but he was allowed to go. In January 2004, Reid came on to the police radar again, when a 999 caller told the control room a man in a red Volkswagen Golf was attacking a woman. The caller gave the car's registration, but the call cut off and no further contact was made. Officers did not follow up the details left by the caller. Less than a month later an officer stopped Reid in his red VW Golf after he was seen tooting his horn at a woman. The officer spoke to Reid and was not happy with his response but took no further action. His details were, however, crosschecked with the earlier report and he was listed as a suspect, but no one contacted him or made further inquiries. By this time Reid, had registered himself as an amateur football referee, and began to referee women's matches in Battersea Park. Between February 2004, when he was identified as a suspect, and January 2008, when he was caught, police believe he attacked at least 20 more women.

Before Reid, the case of John Worboys uncovered a similarly poor investigative response to evidence that a black-cab rapist was attacking his female passengers. One of Britain's most prolific sexual predators was allowed to remain free to drug, rape and assault more than 100 women over six years after police repeatedly failed to respond to the complaints of his victims LaVille, 2009). The case highlights some serious faults in the way police treat allegations of rape and sexual assault and comes despite years of high-profile policies and promises to improve rape conviction rates. Campaigners believe the way police failed to apprehend Worboys for six years, despite receiving numerous complaints from women, showed that officers remained sexist, dismissive of allegations of sexual assaults and ultimately guilty of "sabotaging" rape inquiries (LaVille, 2009). Before Worboys was finally arrested last year, 14 women had made complaints to police over several years that they had been attacked in a black cab but officers failed to see a pattern. Ruth Hall, from Women Against Rape, said: "Until people are held to account and sacked for not doing their job properly cases like this will continue to happen. The sexism and hostility to women who suffer rape and sexual assaults runs so deep officers will continue to sabotage rape cases, because this is what they are doing." (LaVille, 2009, p. 1)

In conclusion, although it seems from the research that not a lot has moved on from the 1980s to now, there have still been many gains by women over the past decade. There is a desperate need for special units to deal with rape cases and the Crown Prosecution Service is putting them in place. A joint Police/Crown Prosecution Service Inspection on rape in 2006 led to the Rape Action Plan, No Witness No Justice is a joint police/CPS initiative which aims to improve communication with witnesses and provide better care throughout the case. Witness Care Units are now in place across the country and there are also proposals for Victim Care Units. Specialist domestic violence courts have been shown to increase the number of offenders brought to justice, provide better support and improve communication between agencies. These courts are operating in 25 areas, with a further 25 planned. Special measures, such as screens and the ability to give evidence via a TV link have been introduced for vulnerable and intimidated victims and witnesses. Whilst judicial decision-making is not covered by the gender equality duty, there are many areas that are covered that impact on what happens in the courtroom, such as judicial training and instruction of advocates by the CPS. There is legislation to restrict sexual history evidence being put into place.

The Government has also announced funding for a domestic violence helpline (there is a DV helpline currently run by Women's Aid and Refuge) and this is welcomed (Fawcett Society, 2006).