Criminality and Victimisation Structure
Belarus is one of the world leaders in the numbers of convicted per 100 000 of population.1 According to different sources, their numbers are ranging from 350 to 565 (to compare: in Russia this number is 808, in Ukraine - 380, in the Czech Republic - 175, in Germany - 85). During the last twenty years every 58th citizen of the country spent some time in prison. There are several reasons for crime rise and immense penitentiary system: criminal legislation of a repressive type, economic marginalization of a large part of the population, transformation of the value system after the collapse of the USSR and deconstruction of the communist ideology.
Immense rise of crime typical for Belarus as well as for other post-Soviet countries can be registered in two ways: by registering the number of crimes and the number of victimized persons. According to the international victimisation poll "Victims of Crime in Belarus" published in 1997 in Minsk2, almost half of the city dwellers (49.3%) have been victimized in some way during the last five years, mostly through crimes against property: larceny, burglary, robbery etc. Victimisation level would be higher if one included corruption, consumer cheating and forced debt pay-back.
Societal criminalization is especially vivid among women: their crime rates growth is higher than that of men (the same trend as in the majority of countries). If general crime rise in Belarus in l997 was 0.9% (as compared to the previous) year, female crime increased by 4.2%.3 The number of women convicted for heavy bodily injury increased by 6.2% in 1998, convicted for premeditated murder by 4.2% as compared to 1992.
Most criminological theories are focused on "a criminal in general", which is another phrase for a male criminal. The generalisation is not rightful as female crime though having much in common with male criminal behaviour is still specific. It cannot be explained through gender neutral concepts. They do not provide an explanation for the gender profile of both crime and victimisation structures Thus, gender determines not only what an individual commits but also what is done to him (her). From the point of view of common sense, there's no doubt that male crime is more violent than female, and men commit more crimes than women. In view of ethnotheory which postulates that femininity is incompatible with violence, there's no nothing new in that. But what is really interesting is the fact that female victimization has the same structure as of female crime.
In the male crime profile violent crimes dominate (murder, assault, robbery) while female crime is mostly of mercenary character (theft, fraud cheating). The same trends are revealed while studying male and female victimisation. Men more often than women become victims of violent crimes (for example, 9% of Minsk male citizens and 2.8% of female ones have been victims of robbery for the past five years, 15.6% males and 6.3% females have suffered from assaults). Women more often than men become victims of theft (26.3% opposed to 17.1%) and consumer cheating.4
Thus there are reasons to claim that regardless of the role a person plays in a criminal act - a victim or a victimizer - his/her behaviour is determined by a gender norm which implies a higher degree of violent behaviour for a man than for a woman. (I understand a female gender norm as a complex of values and behaviour stereotypes which regulate women's life. A male gender norm is different. These two coexist in culture as a bipolar opposition). As the above data imply, a he is supposed not to only to commit violence, but to suffer from it. It is common knowledge that belonging with the private sphere is part of the female gender norm and with the public sphere a part of the male gender norm. It is be expected then that women who keep the house are more inclined to be victims of consumer cheating. According to the International poll on crime victims, the percentage of consumer cheating is very high for the countries in transition within a regional panorama. In 1/3 of the countries it exceeds victimisation data by 50%. For Belarus th esnumber was 42.6% in 1996.5
Victims of shop cheating make up 67.5%. At the same time, men having access to big money, involved in business governed and controlled by state officials, more often become victims of racketeering and corruption. 4.7% of respondents suffered from financial and banking cheating when starting a new business, 2.8% were cheated while building and repairing a house. The same norm determines different crime and victimisation for men and women.
Thus, crime and victimisation structures are, to a great extent, determined by genders of a criminal and a victim. Exaggerating to some extent, one can say that men and women do not only commit different crimes but also suffer from different crimes. It reflects differences in male and female social status in modern culture, which is in the focus of attention of contemporary gender theories.
Female criminals and their victimization experience: in outer world and in detention
At first glance no one is more opposed to each other than a criminal and a victim. But quite often these groups are not so much opposed to each other but combine common features of the victim and the victimizer. When studying female crime quite often it is not easy to say who are these women: victims or conductors of violence. This refers to domestic violence.
According to the data, out of 3000 women serving term in the Gomel labour-correctional facility about 10% have been convicted for a murder. Half of these women killed their husbands. But more than a half (59.4%) of those convicted for violent crimes had been victims of domestic violence and only 11% have never suffered from it. It is worth noting that among those convicted for other crimes, the number of victims of domestic violence is half as much and makes about one third.
The executors of domestic violence are commonly husbands and lovers (81.5%). It means that sex partners are the most dangerous for women.
What is said above should not betaken as an attempt to release women-criminals the responsibility for what they have committed, as every woman a victim of domestic violence chooses her own way to solve the problem and must be responsible for her choice. Nevertheless, there are all reasons to think that women committing a murder in response to long-lasting home abuse are both criminals and victims of those cultural and traditional stereotypes that tolerate violence as one of the means to regulate gender relations.
While studying the data, the metaphor of a "violence spiral" comes to one' s mind; . the level of violence constantly increases, exceeds the limits where moral sanctions are appropriate and, finally, reaches murder which is already is within the limits of criminal law. It is obvious that prevention of domestic violence would prevent its terrible consequences. The society should realize and accept inadmissibility of violence as a way to regulate family life and provide protection for domestic violence victims.
The reactive character of female violence is proved by the fact that it is directed against men. Thus, men make up 71.7% of victims of female crime. Among victims of female violent crimes men constitute only 54.5% and the number of men who suffered from female purely mercenary actions makes up 26.3%. Thus, the less violent a female crime, the less chances for a man to become a victim of such a crime.
It is well-known that the highest victimity (as a high degree of probability of becoming a victim of a crime) and victimization (becoming a victim of a crime) are pertinent to the most criminalized groups. This statement becomes less trivial if referred to the qualitative data on violent background which convicts had before entering a prison.
Comparing our data with the results of the International victimization poll of 1997 "Crime victims in Belarus", we can state that only in case of thefts and pickpocketing victimization of those convicted was the same as among Minsk residents (29.5% convicted, 26.3% women-residents in Minsk). In the rest of the studied cases the degree of victimization is much higher among the convicted. For-example, 6.3% of women residents in Minsk and 30% of female prisoners kept in the Gomel labour correctional colony have been victims of assaults or threat of assault 2.8% and 19% of robbery, 5.4% and 42.496 of house burglary; 6.3% and 32.1% of sex abuse. The last point shows a striking contrast as the Minsk study registered all the cases of sex abuse (from attempts to touch to rapes) and the Gomel study dealt with rapes only).
For many convicts their home was no less! dangerous than the street. 31.4% of cases took place outdoors ,30% at home,19.5% of respondents said that it took place when they they were visiting somebody. Thus, homes and acquaintance. flats are determined as the most dangerous places and it reflects socializing structures women were involved in being in community.
It is quite possible that victimization level of female criminals in community is much higher. The given data prove it as a large number of respondents (almost 1/5) did not give any answer to these questions.
The most paradoxical conclusion which can be made while comparing prisoners' life in jail and in coinmunity is that prison is much safer for them. Firstly, in female prisons the risk to become abused by men is much lower. Secondly, personal property in prison is very small, thus the number of thefts and robberies is not significant. But in these conditions the value of this property can be compared with the one they had in commnity.
31.9% of women become victims of thefts and l.6% of robberies commited by other convicts. Only one respondent mentioned a rape. Sex abuse is committed by law enforcement officers; 6.8% of respondents mentioned such cases. It is interesting that this figure corresponds to the data obtained as a result of questioning women residents in Minsk who have suffered from sex abuse ( 6.3%), i. e. sexual behaviour of law-enfomement officers is not less criminaltzed than that: of the average Minsk men poputation. We have all reasons to suppose that there is a double standard behaviour among law- enforcement officers. The law is not regarded by them as universal, which is reflected in non effective character of the detained and convicted rights protection. Lawenforcement officers do not tend to violate law and moral norms while. dealing with law-abiding women. But it is quite common to violate the rights of female convicts. The exception of a certain group of population from the sphere of law protection, regardless of arguments, is a characteristic feature of totalitarian mentality.
Most commonly convicts become victims of abasement on the part of their inmates (more than half respondents stated it - 55.8%) and law-enforcement officers (29.4%). Abasement is probably the real punishment female prisoners are sentences to. Other hardships and inconveniences are reflected. by the following figures: "missing relatives" - 35%, "being deprived of freedom" - 32.l%, "violence","boredom","unusual life style","overcrowded cells", "having to deal with unpleasant people", "bad food" 3% -7%.
Criminality and victimization are two sides of one phenomenon - limitation of willof the others, narrowing of one's free choice. Both criminality and victimization reflect the level of violence in society. But the views on possible will and free choice limitations, on violence in general are not invariable. They are different im different societies and cultures, as well as understanding of the role of a woman. Humanization of the society can affect concrete problems, and one of the problems that can be solved in this way is lowering violence in the society.
1 Data is given from Reformirovanie Penitentsiarniy Sistemy, Minsk, 1998, pp. 40, 92.
2 To estimate criminality scale, which is poorly reflected in official statistics, the existing data on criminal victimization must be supported by sociological. survey. In many cases women-related violence - home violence, sex abuse, rape - falls under this category of latent criminality.
3 V. V. Romanov, Spravka Po Itogam Kriminologicheskogo Analiza Statisticheskih Svedeniy O Zhertvah Prestupleniy v RB za 1997 g., Arkhiv Otdela Kriminologii NII PKKiSE Ministerstva Yustitsii RB, p. 2.
4 To compare see data on Lthuania, a neigbouring country: 5.9% of polled men and 3.7% of polled women said they were victims of pillage, 12% of men and 7.9% of women were victims of attacks, 15.2% of men and 24,4% of women were victims of stealing. The International Crime Victim Survey in Countries in Transition, Rome, 1998, p. 357.
5 Criminal Victimisation in Countries in Transition, Publication No. 61, Rome, 1998, p. 107.