Gina Fedock and Stephanie S. Covington
As the number of women under correctional supervision continues to increase in the United States, attention to gender within correctional programming is crucial as women offenders present with different concerns than their male counterparts. Gender differences exist in a range of criminal justice factors, including pathways to involvement in the criminal justice system, frequencies in types of offenses, treatment needs, and facilitating factors for treatment engagement and positive outcomes. Thus, this chapter highlights the importance of gender in terms of correctional program design and delivery. Gender-responsive programming for women involved in the criminal justice system is guided mainly by the feminist pathways theory of women’s criminality, as well as additional theories. This framework considers the interconnected roles of trauma and victimization histories, substance abuse, economic and social marginalization, and the gendered effects of criminal justice policies and practices. For gender-responsive programming, elements that should be considered in women’s treatment and services in correctional settings include: program environment or culture or both, staff competence, theoretical foundations, treatment modalities, reentry issues, and collaboration. In addition, principles of trauma-informed care are crucial elements needed in systems and services for women involved in the criminal justice system. These two frameworks of gender-responsive programming and trauma-informed care offer specific principles that can be applied across correctional settings for women to shape policies, programming design, program delivery, and daily practices. Likewise, these frameworks encourage community-based responses to women’s involvement in criminal behaviors. Gender is a crucial element for correctional programming in multiple ways.
Walter S. DeKeseredy
There is no single critical criminology. Rather, there are critical criminologies with different histories, methods, theories, and political perspectives. However, critical criminology is often defined as a perspective that views the major sources of crime as the unequal class, race/ethnic, and gender relations that control our society. Critical criminologists oppose prisons and other draconian means of social control. Their main goal is major radical and cultural change, but they recognize that these transitions will not occur in the current neoliberal era. Hence, most critical criminologists propose short-term anticrime policies and practices and fundamental social, economic, and political transformations, such as a change from a capitalist economy to one based on more socialist principles.
Tara E. Sutton and Leslie Gordon Simons
Family violence encompasses a broad range of maltreatment types between family members including physical, sexual, and psychological abuse, as well as neglect and financial exploitation. Such violence includes child maltreatment, sibling abuse, intimate partner violence, and elder mistreatment. Family violence is relatively common and represents a significant social, legal, and public health problem. Specifically, research shows that rates of family violence range from 10% to 45% across family relationships in the United States. Moreover, family violence tends to occur in a socioecological context characterized by risk and vulnerability and is related to various negative consequences including psychological distress, health risks, injury, and even death. Despite overlap in the causes and consequences of family violence, work on each type has largely developed independently. However, several theoretical perspectives have been offered that apply broadly to this important social issue. Additionally, existing criminological theories can be utilized to understand the nature and consequences of family violence.
Syeda Tonima Hadi and Meda Chesney-Lind
Global-level data suggests that the number of women and girls in prison is growing and at a faster rate than the male prison population is. In order to meaningfully address this shift in female deviance and criminalization, more attention should be given on the specific ways that women and girls are labeled “deviants” and subsequently criminalized. Women and girls have been criminalized, imprisoned, and harshly punished for “moral” offenses such as adultery or premarital sex or for violations of dress codes or even for being a member of the LGBTQ community. Women and girls have also been reportedly been imprisoned for running away from their homes (often from abusive situations), for being raped, and even for being forced into prostitution. Furthermore, victims of domestic violence or sex trafficking and sex workers have been administratively detained or simply detained for seeking asylum, having committed no crime. The feminist criminological perspective has widened an understanding of all forms of female deviance. This perspective stresses the importance of contextual analysis and of incorporating unique experiences of women and girls at the intersection of not only gender, race, class, and ethnicity but also nationality, religion, sexual orientation, political affiliation, and immigration or migration status, and against the backdrop of national as well as international conflict. Now the challenge is develop effective solutions both to address female victimization and to end the silencing of women and girls through criminalization on a global level. Effective implementation of a gender-mainstreaming strategy, adopted in United Nations policies such as “the Bangkok Rules,” is one of the proposed solutions.
In the contemporary era of “tough on crime” policies and the globalized drug war, the number of women in the criminal justice system has increased across several countries. Women’s involvement in the system is not limited to imprisonment, however, and many criminalized women (those involved in the justice system with the assigned status of defendants, offenders, etc.) participate in community-based programs after serving sentences in prisons or jails or as an alternative to incarceration. Criminalized women encounter multiple interlocking forms of oppression based on sexuality, race and ethnicity, class, disability, immigration status, punishment status, and (importantly) gender. Gendered ideas and norms shape the way women are treated not only by the carceral state but also by community-based, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).
NGOs have played an increasingly prominent role in the provision of social services since the 1970s. Organizations working with criminalized people in more affluent, English-speaking nations commonly address job readiness, psychological and substance issues, parenting, sexuality, romantic relationships, and spirituality, among other important areas. Some NGOs work with criminalized people as a condition of their criminal sentences. Criminalized women’s self-reported needs are great, yet resources are often scarce, inadequate, and unwelcoming, particularly for women of color. Responding to a dearth of services available to women, feminists formed NGOs focused on this population beginning in the 1970s; women are also served at NGOs that work with men. “Reducing offending” and “empowerment” are frequently stated goals at NGOs that work with women, but these goals can be interpreted widely depending on the views of NGO leadership and staff about gender.
NGOs can approach women’s gender in a variety of ways. For instance, they can resist or affirm the dominant views used by the carceral state that criminalize and stigmatize women. Their approaches matter because of the implications for equality of opportunities that follow. Two major philosophies can motivate the outreach that NGOs do with criminalized women. Gender sameness disregards gender differences and stresses that it is necessary to treat women “like men” to reverse the disadvantages and marginalization that women encounter. Gender difference emphasizes the importance of treating men or women based on their purportedly unique characteristics and social experiences. Much critical feminist research on NGOs that work with criminalized women has studied programs formed around ideas of gender difference.
Critical researchers have examined gender in organizational work with women outside of prisons, in community-based prisons run by NGOs, and in more traditional prisons. Researchers have examined practices at programs, the philosophies underpinning them, and their implications. This body of work shows that NGOs can perpetuate gendered exclusions and may expand the power of the carceral state. In their prescriptions for responding to the status quo, critical researchers make arguments along a spectrum from advocating more moderate social change, such as by creating more effective programs, to more radical social change, such as by ending community-based programs that perpetuate carceral control.
Sex and gender are often conflated, but there are important distinctions between the two. This is true also with terms related to gender identity, including masculinities and femininities or the performance of gender. In addition, the terms gang and gang member are contested, so it is important to establish a basis for understanding these terms in order to discuss the relationships between gender and gang involvement. Historically, gang-involved young women and men were described in terms of gender extremes, with scholarship and journalistic accounts focusing on the perceived aggressive masculinity of lower class males—and the deviant sexuality of females, who were rarely seen as legitimate full-fledged members of those groups. By the 1980s and 1990s, young women were recognized in scholarship as “real” gang members, and qualitative researchers sought to provide voice to them and examine issues of gender and gender dynamics in gangs, while quantitative researchers sought to explore similarities and differences between girls and boys in gangs, often through large scale studies using self-report surveys of adolescents. Feminist criminology and burgeoning queer criminology have pushed and blurred the boundaries of gender and gang involvement, asserting the importance of taking into account multiple, intersecting identities that differentially structure the experiences of young people, and of the troubling heteronormative, heterosexist, and cisgendered assumptions that have permeated criminology. Moving away from these assumptions means accounting, for example, not only for gender but also for the multiplicative effects of race, ethnicity, class, sexuality, ability, etc.; it means considering what the presence of young women in stereotypically hypermasculine environments signifies for gender performance, moving away from assumptions of opposite sex attraction that cast females in supportive and dependent roles with males, and accounting for the experiences of gang members who identify outside gender and sexual orientation binaries. These issues provide fruitful avenues for sensitive and productive future scholarship on gender and gang involvement.
Lynne Haney and Lili Dao
In many respects, gender has been missing from the enormous literature on the form and focus of state systems of punishment. This is true in both the historical accounts on shifts in penal practices and the scholarship on the contemporary emergence of mass incarceration. Gender is absent as a category of analysis and as an explanatory variable in these scholarly debates. At the same time, while there is a large literature on women in the criminal justice and penal systems, it rarely addresses broader questions of how and why the penal system has grown in size, deepened in scope, and broadened in reach over the last few decades.
There have been three major approaches to the study of gender and punishment. The first inserted women into accounts of the criminal justice and penal systems, which had historically concentrated on male offenders. Some of this early work used a historical lens to analyze shifts in women’s confinement practices, particularly the evolution of the reformatory in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Influenced by debates in feminist legal theory about sameness and difference, one major line of inquiry sought to determine whether women were treated more leniently than men, particularly with regard to sentencing. A second approach, gaining momentum in the 2000s, shifted the focus from gender differences in outcomes to the gendered dynamics of penal control. More qualitative in nature, this scholarship conceptualized gender as a process that was both transformed and harnessed in penal institutions. Drawing on a broader movement in gender studies, this work focused less on women per se than on how gender was socially constituted. The third and final approach takes seriously the call of critical legal scholars of race and gender to examine the intersections of disadvantage. While academic analyses of intersectionality came to the fore in the 1990s, this perspective made few inroads into penology and criminology until relatively recently. Recent work on the intersection of racialization, masculinity and punishment, and the sexual politics of the prison point to promising new directions that transcend common understandings of criminalization and punishment.
Asher Flynn and Nicola Henry
Image-based sexual abuse (IBSA) is a form of technology-facilitated sexual violence. The term describes a pattern of behaviors involving the nonconsensual creation, distribution, or threats to distribute, nude or sexual images. Also known as “revenge pornography” or “nonconsensual pornography,” IBSA affects a significant proportion of the population. According to Australian research conducted by Henry, Powell, and Flynn, and the Australian Office of the eSafety Commissioner, one in five Australians between the ages of 16 and 49 have had at least one experience of IBSA, including 1 in 10 who have had a nude or sexual image shared without their consent. In a 2016 US study conducted by Lenhart, Ybarra, and Price-Feeney, 4% of men and 6% of women ages 15 to 29 reported having had a nude or nearly nude image shared without their consent. These figures are likely to be an underestimate of the true prevalence of IBSA because such studies only capture victims who have become aware that images of them have been created or shared without their consent.
Perpetrators of IBSA can include intimate partners, family members, friends, acquaintances, and persons unknown to the victim, with diverse motivations, including sexual gratification, retribution, coercive control, social notoriety, monetary gain, and voyeurism. The images themselves may be self-created by the victim as a “selfie” or produced consensually in the context of a relationship. Alternatively, images may be digitally altered, taken surreptitiously in public or private settings, or created coercively, or they may have been taken of a sexual assault or rape. While IBSA is not itself new, technology has created a conducive and large-scale platform for such abuse to occur.
In the context of crime, victimization, and immigration in the United States, research shows that people are afraid of immigrants because they think immigrants are a threat to their safety and engage in many violent and property crimes. However, quantitative research has consistently shown that being foreign born is negatively associated with crime overall and is not significantly associated with committing either violent or property crime. If an undocumented immigrant is arrested for a criminal offense, it tends to be for a misdemeanor. Researchers suggest that undocumented immigrants may be less likely to engage in serious criminal offending behavior because they seek to earn money and not to draw attention to themselves. Additionally, immigrants who have access to social services are less likely to engage in crime than those who live in communities where such access is not available. Some emerging research has shown that communities with concentrated immigrant populations have less crime because these communities become revitalized. In regard to victimization, foreign-born victims of crime may not report their victimization because of fears that they will experience negative consequences if they contact the police or seek to avoid legal mechanisms to resolve disputes. Recently, concern about immigration and victimization has turned to refugees who are at risk of harm from traffickers, who warehouse them, threaten them, and abuse them physically with impunity. More research is needed on the relationship among immigration, offending, and victimization. The United States and other nations that focus on border security may be misplacing their efforts during global crises that result in forced migrations. Poverty and war, among other social conditions that would encourage a person to leave their homeland in search of a better life, should be addressed by governments when enforcing immigration laws and policy.
Emily Wright and Brandon Valgardson
Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a serious problem that affects many individuals and crosses national borders, religions, gender, sexual orientation, racial, and ethnic groups (Harvey, Garcia-Moreno, & Butchart, 2007; Krug, Mercy, Dahlberg, & Zwi, 2002). The World Health Organization has defined intimate partner violence as any behavior that inflicts harm on an intimate partner, such as a spouse, prior spouse, or partner. This harm can be physical, psychological, or sexual in nature and is inflicted through physical aggression, psychological abuse, sexual coercion, or other controlling behaviors (Krug et al., 2002). At times, the terms domestic violence and partner/spouse abuse are used interchangeably with the term intimate partner violence (Harvey et al., 2007).
Historically, intimate partner violence was seen as a matter to be dealt with in the home (Andrews & Khavinson, 2013); that is, it was largely considered a private issue between intimate partners. As such, little attention or support was extended toward victims of violence. The women’s rights movement during the 1970s brought many of the deleterious effects of IPV to the attention of the public. As a result, assistance became increasingly available for victims (Dugan, Nagin, & Rosenfeld, 2003). Some of the efforts to provide assistance to victims of IPV include mandatory arrest laws, victim advocacy, counseling services, shelters, and crisis hotlines.
Substantial efforts have been made to provide needed services to the victims of IPV, yet the exact rates of victimization are unknown. This is due to different research methodologies and operationalizations of IPV that are used across studies. For instance, there is some controversy as to whether IPV should be measured by acts of violence (e.g., hitting, choking) or the severity of injuries (e.g., bruises, broken bones). Complicating the issue is the fact that different sampling methods may yield different estimates of IPV. Research drawn from the general population, for instance, may uncover higher rates of less severe IPV, while purposive samples drawn from domestic violence shelters may yield higher rates of severe IPV (Johnson, 2008). Measurement challenges also occur because many individuals underreport or misrepresent their victimization. Thus, research that incorporates multiple study designs and sampling techniques, indicates that approximately 16% of adults in the United States experience IPV victimization each year (Langhinrichsen-Rohling, Misra, Selwyn, & Rohling, 2012).
Social scientists have used a number of theories to better understand IPV. These theories include feminist theories, power theories, social learning theories, and personality theories. Research grounded in these theories has found many risk factors that are related to the likelihood of victimization and perpetration. Additionally, various risk factors for IPV perpetration and victimization have been identified, including individual (e.g., alcohol abuse, anger), historical (e.g., abuse as a child), and demographic (e.g., cohabitation, age) factors (Stith et al., 2000; Stith, Smith, Penn, Ward, & Tritt, 2004). Recently, behavioral scientists have begun to investigate the biological and genetic factors related to IPV perpetration (Barnes, TenEyck, Boutwell, & Beaver, 2013; Hines & Saudino, 2004). Because there are many short- and long-term negative effects of IPV victimization, scholars and advocates continue to explore new avenues to increase understanding of IPV perpetration and victimization to better assist victims and perpetrators. Currently, the main sources of help for victims of IPV include mandatory arrest laws, domestic violence shelters, crisis hotlines, civil protection orders, victim advocacy, treatment programs, and informal means of assistance. However, each of these resources has demonstrated varying degrees of effectiveness for increasing victim support and reducing repeated victimization.
Meenakshi Gigi Durham
News narratives of violence against women in India are part of a larger discourse of Orientalism that began in the nascent years of the British Raj and continues into the present; these narratives also reflect documented patterns of reporting on gender violence that sustain intersectional hierarchies of race and class as well as gender.
In the years leading up to British Crown rule in India, newspapers were embroiled in debates around the rare practice of sati, or the self-immolation of widows. British and Indian newspapers carried articles and commentaries both decrying and defending the practice. Arguments about sati were predicated on contests over national autonomy rather than on the gender violence at the crux of the practice. Sati is conceptually related to “bride burning,” also dubbed “dowry death,” which is reported in the news media as an effect of Indian tradition and gender culture, in contrast to the reportage on domestic violence in “First World” settings, which is depicted in terms of isolated incidents and not interpreted as a consequence of the social milieu. Female infanticide and feticide follow similar patterns of journalistic framing. Human trafficking in India is reported narrowly in terms of sex trafficking and without reference to its connections with other forms of human rights violations.
The 2012 rape and murder of Jyoti Singh Pandey in New Delhi incited widespread international and domestic media coverage of violence against women India. Analyses of this coverage revealed repeated tropes of Orientalism in the foreign news. The journalism about this crime characterized India as a place of ungovernable violence against women, overlooking the occurrence of similar crimes in the global North and thus reasserting geopolitical hierarchies of “First” and “Third” worlds. Indian news about this crime reinforced middle-class positions and values, reflecting the changing social dynamics of 21st-century India. Violence against LGBT+ populations, aggravated after the Indian Supreme Court’s re-criminalization of non-heterosexual sex in 2013, is largely unreported in the mainstream news media, although specialized LGBT+ media channels report on it regularly. Neocolonial tropes continue to circulate in news depictions of violence against Indian women, but the rising numbers of women journalists in India seek to expand the scope and depth of reporting on gender issues.
Jason A. Brown and Valerie Jenness
In the 21st century, an unprecedented rise in the visibility of and social acceptance for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people has been accompanied by exponential growth in scholarship on LGBT people generally and their experiences in diverse communities and institutional contexts in the United States and around the globe. A growing body of literature draws on first-person accounts, qualitative analyses, and statistical assessments to understand how and why LGBT people end up in prisons and other types of lock-up facilities, as well as how they experience being imprisoned and the collateral consequences of those experiences.
Scholarship in this body of work focuses on (a) the range of abuses inflicted on LGBT prisoners by other prisoners and state officials alike, including mistreatment now widely recognized as human rights violations; (b) the variety of ways LGBT people are managed by prison officials, in the first instance whether their housing arrangements in prison are integrationist, segregationist, and/or some combination of both, including the temporary and permanent isolation of LGBT prisoners; and (c) the range of types of political mobilization that expose the status quo as unacceptable, define, and document the treatment of LGBT people behind bars as human rights violations, demand change, and advocate new policies and practices related to the carceral state’s treatment of LGBT people in the United States and across the globe.
The study of LGBT people in prisons and other detention facilities is compatible with larger calls for the inclusion of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression in criminology and criminal justice research by advancing theoretical and empirical understandings of LGBT populations as they interact with the criminal justice system, and by incorporating this knowledge into broader criminological conversations.
Lindsay L. Kahle and Jill Rosenbaum
The emergence of feminist criminology several decades ago heralded the creation of theoretical and justice-involved spaces that are specifically centered and tailored to the unique needs of women. More specifically, this shift turned attention to issues that weren’t typically discussed, for example, female victims and offenders, male battery, and sexual assault, as well as sexual and familial violence. One of the greatest contributions made by feminist criminology is gender-responsive programming, which recognizes that unique “pathways to delinquency” exist for girls and that these pathways often involve trauma and abuse. As a result, this type of programming attends to the specific needs of girls and young women, as they differ from those of boys and young men. Although research shows that these programs work to improve the lives of girls, they often overlook how sexual orientation—as it intersects with gender—often compounds such pathways altogether.
Breanna Boppre, Emily J. Salisbury, and Jaclyn Parker
Scholarship in criminology has focused on individuals’ pathways to crime—how life experiences, often beginning during childhood, lead to criminality in adolescence or adulthood. General frameworks for this research include life-course, developmental, and biosocial criminology. However, because the vast majority of the general pathways research literature was developed using samples of boys and men, scholars with a feminist theoretical background argue that such research is not truly representative of girls and women’s pathways to crime. While general theories of crime have been applied broadly, gender-specific pathways to crime account for important distinctions between male and female experiences.
Thus, gender (and sex), through biological differences, social norms, and expectations, shapes individual life experiences that result in distinct pathways to crime for men and women. Consequently, understanding criminality requires a full consideration of gendered experiences. Even though similar life events may occur with both men and women, individual responses and effects can vary greatly and lead to different pathways to criminal behavior. Accordingly, this article discusses pathways to crime though a gendered lens. First, men’s pathways to crime are presented, which have been traditionally represented through general criminological research. Next, women’s specific pathways to crime are discussed, developed primarily through the gendered pathways literature. Finally, future directions in pathways research are outlined.
Sarah R. Bostrom and Melinda Tasca
The re-entry experiences of women are an important area of inquiry given the continued rise in female imprisonment. Since most inmates will be released, reintegration is a chief policy concern. Like men, re-entering women tend to be disproportionately of color, poor, undereducated, and parents of minor children. What sets women apart from men, however, is the accumulation and frequency of the adversities they encounter. To be sure, co-occurring histories of trauma, mental health, and substance abuse—commonly referred to as the “triple threat”—along with physical health concerns and poverty, distinctly shape female re-entry. Women with children face additional burdens due to their status as mothers. In particular, women’s responsibilities for children before incarceration, contact with children during confinement, and expected parental roles after release are quite different than those of fathers. Pressures to assume mothering roles and challenges with parent-child reunification can further complicate re-entry. Women require social support to successfully transition from prison to home. Social support helps women meet competing demands related to housing, employment, transportation, childcare, and community supervision. This assistance typically comes from informal networks that are invaluable to re-entry success. At the same time, women’s relationships are often highly complicated and can be sources of stress. While prosocial relationships are protective, unhealthy ties can contribute to re-entry failure. With respect to formal social support, gender-responsive interventions that target the unique stressors of formerly incarcerated women offer the most promise for effecting post-release change. Yet, such programs are not widely available or accessible to this population. Finally, it is important to take stock of primary sources used in the study of female re-entry to identify ways to advance research and policy in this area.
Tim Brennan, William Dieterich, and William Oliver
From rudimentary conceptions of risk in the late 18th century, risk assessment slowly evolved toward a more multifaceted conceptualization of risk and progressed to more sophisticated methods to calibrate offender risk levels. This story largely involves the struggles in criminology and applied agencies to achieve a successful “science-to-practice” advancement in risk technologies to support criminal justice decision making. This has involved scientific measurement issues such as reliability, predictive validity, construct validity, and ways to assess the accuracy of predictions and to effectively implement risk assessment methods. The urgent call for higher predictive accuracy from criminal justice policymakers has constantly motivated such change. Over time, the concept of risk has fragmented as diverse agencies, including pretrial release, probation, courts, and jails, have sought to assess specific risk outcomes that are critical for their policy goals. Most agencies are engaged in both risk assessment and risk reduction, with the latter requiring a deeper assessment of explanatory factors. Currently, risk assessment in criminal justice faces several turbulent challenges. The explosive trends in information technology regarding data access, computer memories, and processing speed are combining with new predictive analytic methods that may challenge the currently dominant techniques of risk assessment. A final challenge is that there is, as yet, insufficient standardization of risk assessment methods; nor are there any common language or definitions for offender risk categories. Thus, recent proposals for standardization are examined.
Aimee Wodda and Meghna Bhat
Commercial sex continues to be an object of debate in the realm of criminological and criminal justice. The regulation of commercial sex in a global context varies due to local law, culture, and custom. Global criminolegal responses to selling sex include criminalization, decriminalization, abolition, neo-abolition, and legalization. In recent decades, global public policymakers have become increasingly concerned with the public health aspects associated with negative outcomes related to the criminalization of the purchase, facilitation, and/or sale of sex. These concerns include violence against those who sell sex, stigma when attempting to access healthcare and social services, increased risk of sexually transmitted infections or diseases (STIs or STDs) including HIV/AIDS, and economic vulnerability that leaves many who sell sex unable to negotiate the use of condoms and at risk of police arrest for carrying condoms. Those most at risk of harm tend to be young people, LGBTQ populations, and people who are racial or ethnic minorities within their communities—these are often intersecting identities. Organizations such as Amnesty International, the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, Human Rights Watch, UN AIDS, and the World Health Organization recommend decriminalization of commercial sex in order to reduce stigma and increase positive health outcomes. Scholars have also examined the challenges faced by migrant sex workers and the problematic effects of being labeled a victim of trafficking. Contemporary strategies geared toward reducing harm for those who sell sex tend to focus on rights issues and how they affect the well-being of those who sell sex.
In media representations the term sex crimes most frequently refers to rape and child sexual abuse, although it can include a wider range of acts such as exhibitionism and voyeurism. While the majority of these crimes receive little media attention, certain sensational sex crimes are prominent topics in news and entertainment media. Media attention tends to focus on violent crimes committed by “dangerous” strangers, largely defined as poor men of color, and crimes committed against white and middle-class victims. These representations provide a distorted image of the reality of sex crimes, which most frequently occur in private settings, by someone known to the victim. Media coverage has also been criticized for focusing on the actions and responsibility of victims, suggesting that victim behavior, such as drinking, flirting, or being in the “wrong place at the wrong time” precipitates sexual violence. Again, these representations vary significantly according to race and class, with white and middle-class victims more likely to receive sympathetic coverage, particularly if their assailant is from a lower-class or more marginal racial or ethnic background.
The emergence of the second-wave feminist movement in the 1970s, however, has led to some changes in media representations of sex crimes. Subsequent decades have seen an increase in sympathetic reporting around victims and increased reporting of crimes perpetrated by acquaintances and family members. There has been a growth in feminist voices and views in media reporting, as well as increased focus on the responsibilities and failings of criminal justice systems. Recent years have seen several examples of media coverage or “rediscovery” of previously ignored allegations against celebrities. Sex crimes have become a highly controversial and contested area, and media coverage reflects this, sometimes supporting progressive social and cultural change and sometimes providing a vehicle for “backlash” sentiments. Social media has been a driver of changes in the media landscape around sexual violence in recent years has provided a new forum for survivors to disseminate their stories but has also been marked by online harassment and abuse.
Bianca Fileborn and Rachel Loney-Howes
The development of social media, and Web 2.0 more broadly, has revolutionized all aspects of our social, cultural, and political lives. Notably, social media and online platforms have opened up space for resisting gender-based violence (GBV) in a way that, in some respects, was not possible “offline.” Some authors, drawing on Nancy Fraser, have conceptualized online spaces as a form of “counter-public”—a site in which collective and individual resistance to, and contestation of, dominant norms is enabled. Given the well-documented trajectories of victim-blaming and the perpetuation of various myths and misperceptions in relation to gender violence, social media spaces can function as a counter-public or countercultural forum in which victim-survivors can give voice to their experiences in their own words, and in doing so challenge persistent norms and stereotypes. Such practices have been documented across the Global North and South, with the potential of social media as a space of resistance and contestation most recently evidenced by the #MeToo global phenomenon, which was preceded by a string of digital activist efforts such as SlutWalk, Hollaback, #WhyIStayed, and #EndRapeCulture.
Yet the use of digital platforms to resist gender violence brings with it a range of concerns and limitations. While some activists and victim-survivors are able to harness social media to share experiences and be heard, the ability to do so continues to be shaped by factors such as age, (dis)ability, sexuality, socioeconomic status, race, and geographical location. Online resistance has likewise faced critique for actively reproducing certain myths and stereotypes about gender violence, or for providing a limited or partial picture of what this violence “is.” This suggests that only certain victim-survivors and experiences are recognized and validated as such online. In addition, online disclosure and the “naming and shaming” of perpetrators raises serious concerns regarding due process and “vigilantism.” Moreover, social media spaces can themselves be sites of gender violence, with the routine harassment and abuse of (particularly) women online increasingly well documented. Together, such perspectives illustrate the complex, nuanced, and deeply political role of social media as a site of resistance to gender violence.
Vigilantes have arisen at many times in different regions of the world, taking the law into their own hands as defenders, often by force, of their view of the good life against those they see to be its enemies. They have a strong attraction for some commentators and they rouse equally strong hostility in others. For yet others, who attempt to take a broader view, they are a source of deep ambivalence. Academic interest in the phenomenon has grown strongly over recent years, and this has contributed significantly to an increase in knowledge of its distribution beyond the bounds of western Europe, the United States, and particularly in many parts of Africa. Although vigilantes are most commonly male, increased evidence of women’s vigilantism has also come to light in recent years.
Vigilantism is difficult to define in rigorous terms, partly because of general problems of comparative study, but there are also special reasons in this case. Vigilantism is not so much a thing in itself as a fundamentally relational phenomenon which only makes sense in relation to the formal institutions of the state. It is in several ways a frontier phenomenon, occupying an awkward borderland between law and illegality. Many of its manifestations are short-lived and unstable, nor is it always what it claims to be. For these reasons, definitions of vigilantism are best treated as an “ideal type,” which real cases may be expected to approximate to or depart from. This approach provides the possibility of comparing different cases of vigilantism and also allows one to explore the differences and similarities between it and other “dwellers in the twilight zone,” such as social bandits, mafias, guerrillas, and resistance movements.