Malcolm M. Feeley and Hadar Aviram, “Where Have All the Women Gone? The Decline of Women in the Criminal Justice Process”

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This project sets out to refute the common criminological assumption that women have always constituted a negligible percentage of those subjected to the criminal justice process. Using a variety of primary and secondary datasets drawn from dozens of European courts, we prove that, in the 17th and 18th century, women constituted a significant proportion of criminal defendants all over Europe, particularly in large, urban areas. Female percentage then dramatically declined over the 19th century. This general tendency transcends local explanations, and cannot be fully accounted for by any traditional historical explanation. We suggest that the decline of women in the criminal justice process reflects the shift in patriarchal patterns before and during the industrial revolution; during this period, women were removed from the public sphere, the labor market and the control of their communities and confined in the private sphere of the home, where their opportunities to commit crime decreased, their socialization into feminine roles increased, and the state’s willingness to draw them into the public sphere for criminal trial declined. This pattern can be incorporated into two broader theoretical explanations: Elias’ process of civilization, and Foucault’s rise of disciplinary structures. We conclude by suggesting the project’s value for criminology, feminist scholarship and the dialogue between history and sociology.

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