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Crime and Gender: Does the punishment fit?

Before the jury stands the defendant. There is overwhelming evidence in the favor of the prosecution. The verdict comes back from the jury, not guilty. Why? The defendant is a woman. In our era of equal rights and civil liberties women have made great strides in their advancement and role in society, yet it seems that gender segregates when it comes to crime. There have been countless cases where women and men have been tried for the same crime, yet when it comes to verdict and sentencing, the results don?t necessarily match. If one commits a crime one should be punished accordingly regardless of gender. In our society we seem to have two separate rules for our criminals, one for men and one for women. The key issue is are men and women treated equally by the criminal justice system. Another issue in gender biased sentencing is in its is its severity. Are women sentenced heavier for certain crimes then men.

From the start women who commit violent crimes are all ready in the spot-light. Society has grown quite accustomed to viewing the womens role in violent crimes as that of the victim. When the women is a violator it incites a gross media fascination as a novelty. Convicted women gain more notoriety then men who are found guilty of committing the same crime. In certain cases like Amy Fisher, Loren Bobbit and most recently Louise Woodward the media celebrate the violence of women. If it had been a man who shot his lovers mate in the head or slashed and dismembered their spouse or shook a baby to death things would be different. The media would not give as in depth of coverage to the trial and sentencing would

Angelique Kalatzis

Sociology of Deviance page 2

be of a longer time. The media escalates these women to such extremes due to the fact that there are so few women who are tried for criminally violent acts. Society tends to be more sympathetic to women who commit violent crimes than men. To this day Americans are still reluctant to put women to death. The recent execution of Karla Faye Tucker had the country in an uproar. This is because women are seen as less scary and less dangerous then men.

Statistically women commit less crime then men. Women in prison make up 8% of federal prison and only 5% of state local prisons. Only one in seven is serving time for a violent crime.

However when a women deviates from her role in society she tends to be harshly punished. When she breaks from her nurturing, caring nature she is severely punished. Women that are convicted of crimes like child abandonment and assault, generally receive a tougher sentence then men do convicted of similar crimes. Women are also given more severe sentencing in drug cases then do men. When women and men are tried together for committing the same crime, the women are treated by the court as if they were led along in the crime by the man. Such is the case in 1987 of Hedda Nussbaum. Hedda Nussbaum was free-basing cocaine, while her daughter Lisa, lay dying from a savage beating inflicted on her. Hedda was responsible for the abuse of her daughter Lisa, as was her husband Joel Steinberg. Yet society gave Nussbaum overwhelming sympathy and was presented as a victim herself and all charges were dropped when she testified against her husband who is now in prison. Here is proof how when a man and women are both charged with committing a crime together women receive preferential treatment.

Angelique Kalatzis

Sociology of Deviance page 3

The punishment should fit the crime not the gender. Someone who murders is a murderer. The fact that they are a male or female should not determine their punishments. Let the act speak for itself not the sex or the criminal. Until society can ignore its ideals of the roles of the sexes, unfair sentencing will probably continue. If we want to promote equality in society it must be achieved in all areas including criminal prosecution. Punishment should be based on the crime. There should also be equality in sentencing. Men and women should be sentenced alike when like crimes are done. Until society can change its image of women as the helpless victim of crime, little will change. When society can separate deviant acts from the gender of the violator, true equality will be achieved. Be it homicide or child abandonment society must treat the defendant the same, be it man or women. We must ignore our ideals and norms of gender and focus on the fat that a member of society committed an act against society and should be punished accordingly.


1- Verhovek, Sam: ?Dead Women Waiting:Who?s Who on Death Row?, NY Times, February 8, 1998

2- Butterfield Fox: ?Behind the Death Row Bottleneck?, NY Times, January 25, 1998

3- Mansnerus Laura: ?Sometimes, the Punishment Fits the Gender?, NY Times, November 16, 1997

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