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Ten years after the U.S. Attorney General's Task Force on Violent Crime considered problems of violence in the United States, and on the heels of a National Academy Sciences report on violence, the nation seems poised to begin a new "war on violence." Past "wars" on crime problems, including the recently stalemated "war on drugs" have focused primarily on males. This one promises to be no different. Violence continues to be viewed as the province of young males in urban areas. According to the Uniform Crime Reports, over 75% of homicide victims in 1990 were males, and over 85% of homicide and aggravated assault arrestees were males. The risks of violent victimization are highest in urban areas where there also are the highest concentrations of poverty, residential mobility, single males, young persons, unemployment, racial heterogeneity and segregation, racial minorities, and other social correlates of violence.' And the higher rates of violent victimization among violent offenders suggests that these factors are similarly concentrated in urban areas for violent behaviors. Our research has led us to the conclusion that women in New York City are becoming more and more likely to involve themselves in violent street crime. This essay analyzes the developing role of women in violent street crime and poses a model, based on both historical analysis and empirical research, to explain the participation of women in violent street crime in the 1980s. Unlike the outcry over street crime committed by males, concerns about women and violence have centered primarily on their roles as victims of sexual and physical violence committed by strangers and by males in intimate relationships. When women do commit violent crimes, though, their behaviors are considered doubly deviant. Because violent behavior is concentrated among males, it is confounded with gender roles. Accordingly, women who commit violent acts are violating their sex roles as well as the criminal law. As a result, it seems that assaults and homicides by women still are considered a sideshow, rare acts that are expressive acts of revenge or self-protection in contrast to the predatory or instrumental acts of violence committed by males. Rarely is violence by women considered in the development or testing of theories of aggression.


Criminal Law | Law | Law and Gender


This article was initially published in Volume 20 of the Fordham Urban Law Journal and is republished with permission.