Explaining Gendered Sentencing Patterns for Men and Women in the Late Victorian Period

Karstedt, S (2005) Explaining Gendered Sentencing Patterns for Men and Women in the Late Victorian Period. British Journal of Criminology, 45(5), pp. 696-720.

View at publisher


Contemporary studies of disparities in the sentencing of male and female offenders claim that the differences found are caused by gender-related contextual factors, but not by a gender bias. In contrast, historical studies have suggested that women were disadvantaged by appearing to offend both against the law and the conventions of femininity. This article analyses minor assaults prosecuted in ten English magistrates’ courts between 1880 and 1920. It is based on a data-set that combines court cases and newspaper reports, and allows for the control of gender differences in sentencing outcomes through four contextual factors: severity of the assault, bonds between victim and assailant, culpability, and evidence. The findings reveal a differentiated pattern of sentences that questions the assumption that ‘doubly deviant’ women were more often convicted, and received higher penalties, throughout the Victorian period. The results show that the contextual factors of the offence affected judicial decision-making to the extent that they virtually account for gender differences in conviction rates, but do not, on their own, account for the different penalties handed out to men and women. Women who committed similar assaults to men were likely to receive a lighter punishment. Magistrates clearly targeted ‘male’ contexts of violence, and handed down more convictions and harsher penalties to men involved in these, in contrast to women involved in 'female' contexts. The findings of a strong gender bias in sentencing that disadvantaged lowerclass men indicate that local magistrates directed their efforts of 'civilizing' lower-class communities at 'dangerous masculinities', and deemed assaults committed by women as less important in this task.

Impact and interest:

18 citations in Scopus
Search Google Scholar™
11 citations in Web of Science®

Citation counts are sourced monthly from Scopus and Web of Science® citation databases.

These databases contain citations from different subsets of available publications and different time periods and thus the citation count from each is usually different. Some works are not in either database and no count is displayed. Scopus includes citations from articles published in 1996 onwards, and Web of Science® generally from 1980 onwards.

Citations counts from the Google Scholar™ indexing service can be viewed at the linked Google Scholar™ search.

ID Code: 51839
Item Type: Journal Article
Refereed: Yes
DOI: 10.1093/bjc/azi028
Deposited On: 17 Jul 2012 03:34
Last Modified: 23 Mar 2015 00:42

Export: EndNote | Dublin Core | BibTeX

Repository Staff Only: item control page