Violence by and against Women: A Comparative and Cross-National Analysis

Article excerpt

Drawing from different kinds and levels of analysis, this article synthesizes current knowledge on women's violent offending and victimization cross-nationally. Individual-level data indicate characteristics and situations that put women at risk for violence within particular countries. Aggregate-level data concentrate on women's risks of violent encounters across nations and the societal-level factors that are associated with these risks. This multinational, multilevel approach reveals substantial gaps between our understanding of the types of encounters in which women are at greatest risk for violence and the societal correlates that predict gender distributions in violence across nations.

We have not yet seen a thorough cross-national synthesis of information on female involvement in violent crime across levels of analysis. To date, most cross-national analyses of female crime focus on offending and, by comparison to the work on males, have a very narrow theoretical scope. By contrast, this paper attempts a more comprehensive understanding of women's involvement in violent crime, using offending and victimization data at both the individual- and aggregate-levels. First, there is an examination of individual-level data to determine what factors are associated with women's risks of offending and victimization within specific societies. Second, aggregate-level data is examined to assess how women's risks of violent offending and victimization are distributed across societies and what societal factors are associated with high rates of female violence.1

There are, however, numerous problems inherent in this undertaking. Estimating the relative percentage of violent female offenders and victims among different nations is impossible given both the limitations of large-scale cross-national surveys of crime and the lack of systematic research on women and crime in most nations. The major sources of cross-national data on violent female offending (International Criminal Police Organization, United Nations, Comparative Crime File Data) and victimization (World Health Organization, International Crime Survey) do provide information on the distribution of female involvement in violent crime. Nevertheless, as explicated by Gartner (1993), these surveys are hampered by issues of the reliability and validity of their measures of interpersonal violence which have yet to be systematically estimated or corrected. These large-scale cross-national datasets are best utilized for aggregate descriptive or analytic analyses of female involvement in violent crime.

At the national-level, systematic research on women offenders can be found in only a few developed nations (United States, Canada, selected European nations, and Australia). More generally, extant analyses of female violence vary tremendously in the years they encompass, the geographic regions they cover, the offenses they include, and the data sources they draw upon. For example, analyses include some countries that compile statistical data only on sentenced women or women in correctional facilities whereas others analyze only court records or arrest data. Even when the data sources are similar, the methods used to calculate crime rates vary across studies. Analyses of violent female victimizations are similarly limited and, increasingly, dominated by descriptive studies of domestic violence. Taken together, these data deficiencies constrain both our understanding of the behavioral trends in violent female offending and victimization and our ability to evaluate explanations for any observed trends.

Other limitations of available data and existing research shape the conclusions of this review. First, female involvement in acts of serious interpersonal violence (homicide, assault, robbery, rape) is the primary focus of this article. Analyses are excluded that confound property and violent crimes (e. g., combining burglary and robbery into one offense category) or report information only on the total female crime rate. …