11. Feminist Criminology
The key issues that brought feminist criminology to the surface involved domestic violence or violence against women (Dobash & Dobash, 1979; Johnson, 1996; Johnson & Dawson, 2011) and the differential and unequal treatment of women as offenders within the criminal justice system (Britton, 2000; Chesney-Lind & Pasko, 2004; Comack, 1996). We discuss the issue of women as offenders later in this chapter. We look now to how the contributions of feminist criminology have shaped our understandings of women’s victimisation.
“Feminist criminology has perhaps made its greatest impact on mainstream criminology in the area of women’s victimization” (Britton, 2000, p. 64).
Gender-based violence is disproportionately experienced by women in Canada (Cotter & Savage, 2019, p. 3) and around the world (World Health Organization, 2021). As Bruckert and Law (2018) note, violence against women stems from a broad range of systemic issues, including those rooted in patriarchal beliefs, such as colonialism, neoliberalism and capitalism (p. 9). Such social structures intersect with aspects of identity (such as sexual orientation, gender expression, age, ability, ethnicity) which can increase risk of victimisation.
Female victims account for two-thirds of police-reported family violence in Canada (Conroy, 2021). Women are much more likely to be murdered by their male intimate partners than male partners are to be murdered by their female partners; in fact, women make up approximately 80% of all victims of intimate partner homicide (Conroy, 2021).
The trend of the disproportionate victimisation of women grows larger when looking at the victimization of women along intersectional social positions and identities:
While anyone in Canada can experience violence, women, girls and young women, Indigenous women and girls, lesbian, gay and bisexual people, women living with a disability and women living in rural and remote regions, are at greater risk of violence. (Government of Canada)
Specifically, women with disabilities experience double the rate of violent crime compared to women without disabilities (Cotter, 2018). With regards to lesbian, bisexual, transgender and non-binary people’s experiences of violence, there is a lack of comprehensive statistics, but the available evidence indicates that bisexual women and transgender individuals face very high levels of violence compared to their heterosexual and cisgender counterparts (Jaffray, 2020; Langenderfer-Magruder et al., 2016). In particular, bisexual women in Canada have the highest rates of violent victimisation and physical assault, and transgender people are more likely to experience violence compared to cisgender people in Canada (Jaffray, 2020). When considering intersections of transphobia and racism, experiences of violence are higher among racialised transgender and non-binary individuals (Chih et al., 2020). While the lack of comprehensive data on transgender women and non-binary people’s experience of victimisation is glaring (see Experiences of violent victimization and unwanted sexual behaviours among gay, lesbian, bisexual and other sexual minority people, and the transgender population, in Canada, 2018), as is the lack of available data on Black women’s victimisation, what we do know is that Black women’s experiences of violence are rooted in misogynoir, a concept coined by Moya Bailey and defined as “the virulent and often unseen hatred directed at Black women due to the intersections of anti-Blackness, misogyny and racism in society” (Maynard, 2017, p. 130). Feminist criminology critically interrogates statistics such as the ones presented above, and points to the gendered elements of such violence, calling for wide recognition and social and criminal justice reforms.
Indigenous women’s experiences of violence are also situated within intersectional social identities as well as colonial and gendered structural inequities. In particular, Indigenous women’s experiences of violence are directly linked to the colonial history of Canada, beginning with the Indian Act, and permeating through past and present discriminatory policies and practices within various social institutions, including but not limited to health care, criminal justice and education. The intergenerational trauma of the residential school system, as well as pervasive systemic racism, have resulted in higher levels of domestic violence, substance abuse, and suicide (Comack, 2018). Indigenous women are also much more likely to be the victims of violent assaults and victimisation than non-Indigenous women, and this violence tends to be more severe (Monchalin, 2016) (see ‘Nobody wants to look for a 40 year-old Native woman down here’). For example, in Canada, Indigenous women are three times more likely to experience intimate partner violence than women who are not Indigenous (Boyce, 2016). A crisis of violence against Indigenous women and girls in this country exists, yet too often the victimization of Indigenous women continues to be dismissed and ignored by legal and law enforcement systems.