These findings stand in contrast to statements in some of the more recent literature, which seek to emphasize women’s agency in their offending behavior. The implications of these findings for the criminal liability and sentencing of women are discussed. Key Words agency co-defendants coercion sentencing women [Myra Handled] described how Brady had once drugged her, and when she came round he was leering over her. She said she thought her life was in danger But the letter also revealed her obsession with him and a few months after sending it she asked her friend to destroy it.
She was by then completely in Brady thrall. (Ritchie, 1988: 32) 147 148 Criminology & Criminal Justice 8(2) Handled was a woman of competent understanding The argument that she was not the ‘actual killer’ must be put in perspective. Her role in the murders was pivotal. Without her active participation the five children would probably still be alive today. (Lord Steen, R v. Secretary of State for the Home Department, ex part Handled, House of Lords, 30 March 2000) Introduction Reports of women’s involvement in crime have always been considered newsworthy and likely to capture the publics imagination.
This is not simply because female offending is relatively uncommon: the condemnation heaped upon the fallen’ woman is greater than that which would be experienced by a man in the same situation. Despite the greater freedoms enjoyed by women nowadays, there remains an underlying belief within many sections of society that they should conform to their traditional roles of wife and mother, and any significant lapse which can be related to criminal behavior will result in their portrayal as ‘doubly deviant?both offenders behavior (Hedonism, 1970).
Particular interest has been shown in women who eave committed violent or sexual crimes with men, particularly where the victims were children. Perhaps the most notorious case in Britain was that of Myra Handled who, together with her boyfriend Ian Brady, was involved in the torture and murder of several children in the early sass. Although it has been claimed that Brady was the instigator of the crimes (see earlier), it was Handled who remained a national hate-figure until her death in 2002.
In recent years she has been replaced in the public imagination by Maxine Carr, the girlfriend of the child murderer Ian Huntley. Yet Car’s only conviction was for perverting the course of Justice, which resulted from her providing the police with a false alibi for Huntley on the day of the killings. (Indeed, the Jury’s verdict suggests that it did not believe that Carr thought Huntley had committed murder at the point she decided to give a false alibi. ) Rose West is another woman who became notorious following her conviction for murders committed with her husband, Fred.
However, it has been suggested that there was little evidence to support her conviction and that she was effectively condemned by he Jury both for the association with her husband and her sexually deviant lifestyle (Masters, 1996). The level of interest shown by the media in every little detail of the involvement of Handled, West and Carr with their male partners is in stark contrast to the interest shown in the relationships between women and men who are involved in everyday routine criminality. Nor have criminologists devoted much attention to this area.
Research into female offending has concentrated more on abuse, both physical and sexual, or women’s experience of imprisonment. Studies of co-offending are usually eased on Juveniles in Jones?partners in crime general and boys in particular. This article considers the phenomenon of adult co- offending: certain features of women’s involvement with partners or friends which appear to have been closely related to, or even precipitated, their criminal behavior. It draws on interviews conducted by the author with imprisoned women about their relationship with their co-defendants.
Research literature A central feature of the research literature on male-female criminal collaborations is the role played by the women: were they fully independent agents exercising a cantonal choice to act in a particular way; or were they effectively coerced into behaving the way they did? In other words, were these women ‘offenders’ in the full sense of the term, or should they be seen as essentially Victims’? Most of the earlier studies portrayed adult women who offended with men as having occupied a secondary role. For example, Ward et al. 1979) concluded that women burglars were ‘supporting players’ and that it was the men who played the main part. This was also found in research into adult heroin addicts by Coving (1985), where drugs. Pettily (1987) reached the same conclusion from his study of adult female rug users in Miami and New York. In the more recent studies there is a greater chance of finding researchers who go out of their way to emphasize that women had not become involved in criminal partnerships through the influence of men. Yet a close study of their findings does not always fully support this conclusion.
Gillis (1992) conducted in-depth interviews with 20 imprisoned women. Although she was keen to point out that ‘most of the women were quick to take responsibility for their actions’ (1992: 81), her data suggest that, for a significant number of them, involvement with overbearing men could be elated to their criminality: ‘Fourteen of the women had serial relationships with men who shared and encouraged their drug abuse and illegal work, and who used violence to keep the women “in linen (1992: 81). In research by Laird et al. 1996), all the women entering a Texan ‘boot camp’ during one year were asked to comment on their involvement with accomplices and the extent to which male co-offenders had influenced their criminal behavior. (There was also a racial dimension to the research, which is not discussed here. ) More than half (58%) of the women claimed to eave played a ‘primary role’ in their most recent offense. However, of the women whose latest offense involved an accomplice almost half claimed that the crime was initiated by a male. Also, those women who offended with a man were likely to commit more serious offenses than those who did not.
In a study of 37 predominantly African-American women imprisoned on Risers Island, New York, Archie (1996) did not make such claims for 149 150 the women’s individual agency. Instead, she considered that they were the victims of ‘gender entrapment’. According to Archie, this notion ‘helps to show how some women re forced or coerced into crime by their culturally expected gender roles, the violence in their intimate relationships, and their social position in the broader society (1996: 133). Some of the women she interviewed had been coerced into offending by their male partner.
In several cases the men had set up the women to be arrested by planting weapons or drugs on them. Archie reported how the women were generally seeking intimacy and had become emotionally dependent on the (usually abusive) men to such an extent that a desire to please them transcended any misgivings about their behavior that they might otherwise have had. The notion of ‘gender entrapment’ or ‘policing is also found in a study by Well and Falling (2000) of 60 women in drug treatment programmer in New York City and Portland, Oregon.
The authors drew a distinction between ‘romantic’ and ‘non- romantic’ co-defendants. The former were found to be particularly vulnerable to the some of the women disclosed that domestic violence had been used in order to force them to commit the crimes. However, even those who ‘consented’ to participate in the criminality of their partners claimed to have been consistently threatened and physically harmed by them in other areas of the relationship. Women with romantic co-defendants were also likely to be pressurized by their partners into participating in their plea-bargaining plans.
Well and Falling described this as ‘relationship policing’ and contrast it with the typical reluctance of conventional policing agencies to become involved in issues of domestic violence. The authors concluded that: Women with romantic codependents experience a continuum of policing in which abusive partners exclusively police women at home and augment already intensified state efforts to police women on the street, in Jail or prison, and on parole or probation’ (2000: 61).
Mullions and Wright (2003) looked at the way in which issues of gender affected the practices of 36 male and 18 female residential burglars in SST Louis, Missouri. They found that many of the women claimed to have been coerced into their first, and sometimes subsequent, burglaries. Some of them said they did not even know their boyfriend was planning to commit a burglary until they arrived at the crime scene, at which stage it was very difficult to back out.
Two studies of women’s involvement in the New York street-level drugs economy during the sass came to somewhat differing conclusions. Basking and Somers (1998) interviewed 170 women who had committed serious violent crimes in New York. Only one-quarter of these had been committed with male accomplices; indeed, more crimes had been committed with other women. Basking and Somers reported that most of their interviewees rejected both the suggestion that they had been forced’ into crime and the idea that they had made a ‘rational choice’.
The authors considered that Within contemporary drug markets, women made decisions to participate based on a logical evaluation of career options’ (1998: 94; see also Somers et al. 2000). On the other hand, Maier (1997), while not specifically considering co-offending, challenged the view that women have gained any sort of equality in the drugs business or created for themselves a new niche in the expanding crack market. The drugs market had not become ‘an equal opportunity employer’ (1997: 19).
Although Maier did not consider that drug dealers tried to ‘entrap’ women into crime, she acknowledged ‘a range of situations in which men appear to have gained more direct social control over women involved in the street-level crack scene, including casework-client ramifications, and dealings with male drug users, dealers and “house men (1997: 10). Using data from the American National Incident-Based Reporting System, Soon-Witt and Ashram (2003) examined the relationship between co-offending and type of violent offense.
They discovered that, whereas females committing crime alone were more likely to be involved in aggravated assaults, those who co-offended with males usually committed more serious offenses involving guns. The authors’ findings reflect involvement in both drug-related and violent crime when they offended with males. More recently, Anderson (2005) has claimed that previous researchers have ‘neglected vital “behind-the-scenes” action’ and that women’s agency is fundamental to the social and economic organization of the drug world and earns them various forms of capital among their similarly situated peers’ (2005: 375).
These forms of capital’ are said to include women’s control of the household; the usefulness of private residences (run by women) for drug-dealing; the economic advantages (including for the family) of women’s extra purchasing power; and their subsidizing of partner’s drug addiction by going out to work. Much of the research that has involved a consideration of women’s relationship with co-offenders has been conducted in American inner-city areas and concerns organized drug dealing and related violence. L This in itself raises questions as to how relevant the findings are to the British experience.
However, it is perhaps the ethnic and racial dimension that provides the most significant difference. The American drugs literature in particular is dominated by accounts of rivalries between African-American, Latino and White groups. Therefore, when looking at relationships teen male and female co-offenders in the USA, it is necessary to allow for the effects of different cultural loyalties. A rare example of British research into the practices and relationships of female drug users is Tailor’s (1993) study in Glasgow.
Although keen to emphasize the women’s willing participation in drug use, Taylor found that most of the women had moved from soft to hard drugs as a result of male influence. This could happen in three ways: male partners could directly introduce them to the drugs; they could make them easily available or 151 152 socially acceptable; or they could provide a role model for the women as to how to arches and use the drugs. Subsequently, the men would seek to influence all aspects of the women’s behavior, typically through the use of violence.
Data and methods Between December 2004 and December 2005 all sentenced women aged 21 or over who passed through one English prison were given a letter inviting them to be interviewed about their experience with a co-defendant. 2 It was usually possible for the letters to be delivered by the researcher in person and this proved valuable as it enabled the women to ask questions about the research. Most of the women approached had not had a co-defendant, but this would have been very difficult to ascertain in advance.
Fifty women with co-defendants agreed to be interviewed. Structured nature. Having been asked several background questions about themselves and their co-defendants, the women were then engaged in a more general conversation about the relationship they had with these people and how they came to commit offenses together. Although the particular focus was on male co-defendants, this was not stipulated as a requirement for participation in the research in case it was interpreted by potential interviewees as an encouragement to criticize their male associates. In the event, a large majority of the women who greed to be interviewed did talk about their criminal activities with men. Far more interviews would have resulted if the women had simply been asked to talk about the part played by other people in their offending. However, the adopted approach of focusing on co-defendants was designed not only to make the project more manageable but also to provide objective evidence that the two (or more) of them really were ‘in it together’ to an extent which attracted accomplice liability. Nevertheless, it became apparent from the interviews that many women have been influenced to commit crimes by men who have never been prosecuted. A question arises as to the appropriateness of a male researcher conducting interviews with vulnerable and often damaged female prisoners, and whether complete and accurate accounts can ever emerge from such encounters It is possible that some women did not want to talk about their experiences to a man. Others clearly did not want to talk to anyone (a few ‘could not see the point’ of the research). This is not the appropriate place for a full discussion of research ethics. However, it appeared that the commonest reason for women declining the offer to be interviewed was that they had not had a co-defendant. Indeed, a large number expressed a desire to talk about other issues. ) While it is not claimed here that the interviewees were a representative sample of imprisoned women who had stood trial with male co-defendants, it is worth considering their characteristics and comparing them to those of female offenders more generally. The women were fairly young: 58 per cent were aged 21-9 and 74 per cent were aged 21-35.
National statistics show that around 80 per cent of sentenced women entering custody are under 40 (Home Office, 2006). The male co-defendants were a little older, with about 75 per cent aged 21-40. It appears that the males in such partnerships are usually a little older. Research by Saracens (2001) into 22,000 offenders in Stockholm aged under 21 found that, on average, the males were 3. 8 years older than their female co-offenders. Sixty-four per cent of the women in the present study had children, with the commonest number being two.
Of those, more than 38 per cent were teenagers when they gave birth to their first child. About half of the women were tenants at the time of their conviction and about a quarter described themselves as being ‘of no fixed abode’. The remainder either lived in their own or ratter’s home, or with their parent’s. Nonwhite of the women claimed to have been Hamlin and Lewis (2000) found that 66 per cent of a sample of imprisoned women had dependent children under the age of 18, 58 per cent were living in the social rented sector before coming to prison and 30 per cent were in paid employment.
Drug use was a prominent feature in the stories that were told to me. More than three-quarters of the women were serving their sentence for offenses that were drug-related: usually the crimes had been committed to obtain money to purchase drugs. The most common convictions were for burglary and theft. On the other hand, only 18 per cent of the women were serving their present sentences for offenses relating to the possession or supply of drugs.
In the NEW-ADAM project (Holloway and Bennett, 2004) 71 per cent of a sample of women arrested and taken to 16 police stations over a 2-year period tested positively for drugs (excluding alcohol). Most of the arrests were for property offenses. The nature of the relationship An important difference between the American research studies discussed earlier and the present study is that, whereas the former tends to concentrate on the question of who played the dominant role in the offending acts, the present study is more concerned with examining the personal relationships between the co- defendants.
These could be classified in various ways. In this analysis they are categorized in terms of the levels of dependency that emerged from the women’s stories. 153 154 (A) Women in a coercive relationship with their male co-defendant who committed a crime as a result of a direct threat or use of physical violence from him Six of the 50 women fell into this category, including Lois who was forced to commit a robbery: Lois:
I had a knife put up to me and I was made to go into a property and take the person’s money but the person grabbed hold of me and like tried touching me up, I pushed him off me, and the next minute my partner put a knife up to him. To make me go in the house. Had he, I mean, you must have been a bit surprised when he pulled a knife on you, to say the least. He used to beat me up and things like that. Browne was popular with the other prisoners and always prepared to help out someone in trouble. However, she had a history of abusive relationships with men, which had clearly left a scar.
The latest one had landed her in prison: He’d been bullying me and beating me for a couple of weeks and told me I had to go into Deco’s with him, I went into Deco’s, I went into the women’s toilets and he walked around the store, filled a trolley full of Stella Argots crates and when I come out the toilets the trolley was full and he Just told me that whatever happens Just say that they have been paid for, and we got caught. Rachel was a bright and intelligent young woman who had attempted to study for a university degree.
However, the horrific level of violence and intimidation she suffered had made it impossible to do this: He used to make me do things and stuff, reedit cards and things but this particular offense I was actually shopping with my children at the time, and he came into the store and he was stealing and he was on bail for other offenses and he told me ‘If you don’t say you done it, I’ll kill you’, this that and the other, so I took the blame for him. The police knew it wasn’t me but because I said it was me they took me in and interviewed me and I got charged with it.
I couldn’t go, tell anyone the truth, he beat me up straight away, put me in hospital all the time, I wasn’t allowed to speak to nobody, if my own brother came and knocked he door he would beat me up and say I was talking about him, and giving him money and then I Just got to the stage I was so petrified I wouldn’t do anything whatsoever, I would Just sit in the corner, do whatever he said, cook his meals when he asked, he would beat me up saying I cooked dinner too quick, really silly psychotic things, he would Just take speed for weeks and weeks on end and then he would come home and relax or he would lock me in for a week at a time, or tie me up, he used to be Just bizarre, but I was so scared of him it was unbelievable, he used to threaten to o things to my parent’s, he used to threaten to rape my little sister if I left him, so I just stayed with him for everyone else’s sake.
In contrast, Moral was an older woman, with a lot of prison experience. Yet she too had suffered badly at the hands of a co-defendant: Moral: Moral: We went over there, I thought we was going for a holiday, friends was over there already, and I was young then I were only 18, and he sweet-talked me into swallowing drugs to bring them back over. Right. And I got a beating as well. Right, were you using at the time? No. And this was, you said that you got beaten when he told you to do it. Yes, I was over in Jamaica, I didn’t want to do it and he Just went mad, he beat me with his shoe, so in the end I Just done it. Was that the first time he had been violent to you? No, he had put me in hospital loads of times.
Skibobs was angry that she had been threatened with violence by her codependent, but had resigned herself to how she would react if he were ever to use it: On two occasions he did [threaten violence], but that was?no there is no but about it, on two occasions, yeah, he did?but he never actually physically hurt me If he had hit me, I probably would have put up with it because I was a heroin addict and I deed the drugs, and he knew where to get big amounts from, he knew, it was his little business if you know what I am saying. Overall, one-third of the women claimed that they had been in violent relationships with their co-defendants. Furthermore, more than one-third volunteered the information that they had been abused in childhood, although they were not specifically asked about this. 6 Other research findings suggest that that this figure is on the low side.