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HIST 277 (1)

Female Criminality

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University of Waterloo
HIST 277
Catherine Briggs

Female Criminality in 18th-century Halifax Halifax - Established in 1749 for strategic reasons - Tied to the flow of colonial warfare and British government spending - Marked by the inevitable ending of population and social instability o Periods of boom and bust depending on the imperial affairs - City’s non-military population grew at disproportionate and inconsistent manners and had a rough balance between the sexes (twice as many men than women) - In Halifax (and other societies), crime was “gendered” o Crime was primarily a male activity o When women did commit, the crimes followed a different nature o Historians stressed the gendered nature links in female criminal and social roles and controls - History of crime and punishment: the complicated intertwining of deviance, authority, and social status - Particular aspects of experience need Halifax-specific explanations o Aspects: higher rates of female crime in the first decade, the law rates after 1760, and the substantial absence of women from offence against the person o Explanation: causes are grounded in the origins, social structure, immigration patterns, and economy of this NA frontier and port city - Halifax was an exceptionally dangerous place for some women, especially at night – women were at a higher risk of being victimized of violence than elsewhere o High levels of rape an homicide provided evidence, through both absolute and relative terms of experiencing personal violence o This danger especially for women operated to restrict their participation in many areas of public life, including criminal activity - Halifax consistently experienced the drunken fights, riots, and property damage The Subject of Women and Crime - The bulk of literature surrounding female-specific aspects of crime and criminal justice o Forms of offending and victimization o Rape, infanticide, prostitution, abortion - Looks at how society used criminal law to regulate reproduction, and the gendered treatment of those considered insane - Broader work on female crime is scanty and largely limited to statistical studies of minor offences in the 19 -century city - At this time in Canadian history, the knowledge in areas of serious offences surrounding the nature and causes of female crime was almost non-existent - Looks at a database of prosecutions in Halifax in the second half of the 18 century - Women formed a small minority of the total (15.4%) of prosecutions for serious crimes – defined offences where “real harm as done to a specific victim” - At certain times and in certain places, rates of female criminality were much higher - Women found responsible for 48% of property crimes o Beattie attributed this phenomenon to particular economic pressures - Female participation in crimes were generally higher in urban areas - Bias in favour of property crime and against violent offences shed light on the aspect of gendered patterns of offending Female Criminality in 18th-century Halifax o 74% of charges against females for property crime o 60% of charges against man - Women were less likely to be charged with burglary or with robbery than with various forms of larceny or with receiving o Possible reason for women not bring charged for more serious crimes  Down-charging: charger with a lesser offence when the facts would support a graver charge (this was a gender-neutral phenomenon)  Data is gathered through the records from the Supreme Court, which looks at more serious crimes and offences, where women were most likely to have only received lesser charges in the Court of Quarter Sessions (under-reporting – private prosecution)  The more minor the offence, the less likely it was reported - Women are more prone to commit violent offences than the Supreme Court records alone would suggest – despite this involvement, women participation and prosecution was still low - What lead to victims to not be prosecuted? o Lack of resources, indifference, unwillingness to devote the time and money o Fear of the consequences, preference for private sanctioning - The notion of under-reporting is referenced to the lenient treatment of female offenders that was a common characteristic of the criminal justice systems o In 18 century Halifax, juries and judges generally displayed no lenience - Two aspects of Halifax demographics to consider o Women were the minority of the Halifax population (about a third)  The male population also carried a military component, where these young and unattached men were responsible for a significant number of the prosecuted offences  Prosecution rates were generally high in the first decade o In the 1750s, women represented about a third of the population and were responsible for 1/5th of all prosecuted crimes - The patterns of female crime were complex o BASICALLY: women had a minor role in the criminal activity and especially in non-property offences o Women’s limited participated in prosecuted crime can generally be related to their social roles and opportunities - Abandoning biological explanations for the gender gap in crime, arguments formed based on social structure o Patriarchy exercised more effective informal social controls on women than general structures of authority represented by class, community, and church did on men o Women had
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