Violent female offenders : Facts and preconceptions
Abstract: Women’s comparably low participation in criminal activity has resulted in little overall attention to female offenders in criminological research. The general aim of the present thesis is to illuminate aspects of particular significance for understanding female perpetrators of very serious crimes. Areas of interest are gender differences in the offenders’ psychosocial background, the offenders’ mental illness and medico-legal insanity decisions regarding violent offenders. Study I compared the psychosocial background of female and male perpetrators convicted of homicide in Sweden. The female perpetrators had experienced more severe childhood circumstances. At the time of the crime they had a more ordered social situation but they were more likely to have been exposed to violence and to have sought help than the corresponding men. Study II investigated differences between female and male offenders regarding forensic psychiatric diagnoses and medico-legal insanity decisions. A significantly higher proportion of mentally disordered females were diagnosed with personality disorder, while mentally disordered male offenders more often received a diagnosis of substance dependence or sexual disorders. There was an increased likelihood for violent women to be declared legally insane. Study III attempted to explore whether the differences observed in Study II could be explained by gender bias in forensic psychiatric assessments. The results suggested strong gender effects on legal insanity judgments among clinicians and judges. Consequently, the higher occurrence of legal insanity decisions regarding female defendants found in Study II could be explained, at least in part, by gender-related bias in the judicial system. Influence from such legally irrelevant factors may pose a serious threat to the fairness of the legal system. These results highlight the need for increased knowledge and awareness of human information processing limitations among legal decision-makers.
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