Women Offenders’ Criminal Narrative Experience

Date24 January 2019
Publication Date24 January 2019
AuthorKayley Ciesla,Maria Ioannou,Laura Hammond
SubjectHealth & social care
Women OffendersCriminal
Narrative Experience
Kayley Ciesla, Maria Ioannou and Laura Hammond
Purpose Although there is a vast array of theories on crime, one area that is largely under-represented is
that of the actual experience of the offender engaged in criminal acts. The purpose of this paper is to examine
the individual and phenomenological experiences of crime amongst women offenders.
Design/methodology/approach The sample consisted of 128 women who had committed a criminal
offence, with an average age of 36.40 years (SD¼11.12). Participants were recruited to take part in the study
by answering a questionnaire exploring the emotions and narrative roles they experienced during commission
of a crime. From this, participantsCriminal Narrative Experience (CNE) was determined.
Findings Smallest Space Analysis (SSA) analyses revealed that emotional experiences and narrative roles
were thematically associated, and whenboth were subjected to SSAanalysis, two main themesof CNE were
identified:AvengingAngel and ChoicelessVictim. The ChoicelessVictim experiencewas the most representative
of womens experiences in this study.
Practical implications The theoretical and practical implications of these findings are discussed.
Future directions for research are also outlined.
Originality/value The findings offer an alternative perspective and theoretical framework for examining
women offenderscriminal experiences.
Keywords Emotions, Narratives, Roles, Criminal Narrative Experience (CNE)
Paper type Research paper
Women Offenders
Historically, theories of criminal behaviour were largely developed without the consideration of
gender. However, in the last few decades, this inaccuracy has been highlighted and the
importance of gender-specific approaches have begun to develop. Research has outlined
important variances amongst men and women and their engagement within society, and
consequently the influence these have onoffending behaviours (Chesney-Lind and Pasko, 2004;
Daly, 1992). Subsequently, for individuals involved in offending appreciation of such differences
have been highlighted as key to understanding patterns of women offenders (Chesney-Lind and
Pasko, 2004). Multiple research has demonstrated that womenhave discrete needs that need to
be recognisedwhen examining offensive behaviours. These includedomestic abuse, victimisation,
substance misuse, abuse and traumatic childhood experiences (Bloom et al., 2003; Corston,
2007; Covington andBloom, 2006; de Vogel et al., 2012; Prison Reform Trust, 2014,Rossegger
et al., 2009; Salisbury, 2007; Scott and Dedel, 2006; Thompson, 2014).
As a result of these complexities, research highlights repeatedly that, when questioned about
their experiences of crime, women report feelings of victimisation, powerlessness and
helplessness (Alarid and Cromwell, 2006). The premise of victimisation has been replicated in a
wide range of studies including female gang members (Haymoz and Gatti, 2010; Miller, 2001),
perpetrators of violent crime (Faedi Duramy, 2014) and drug smugglers (Bailey, 2013). Previous
victimisation, particularly in childhood, has indicated an increased risk of committing violent
offences (de Vogel et al., 2012; Rossegger et al., 2009) and such adverse experiences have been
highlighted as key in recidivism with past trauma dominating current offending decisions
Received 16 January 2018
Revised 28 November 2018
31 December 2018
Accepted 3 January 2019
This research did not receive any
specific grant from funding
agencies in the public, commercial
or not-for-profit sectors.
Kayley Ciesla and Maria
Ioannou are both basedat the
Department of Psychology,
University of Huddersfield,
Huddersfield, UK.
Laura Hammond is based at
School of Social Sciences,
Birmingham City University,
Birmingham, UK.
DOI 10.1108/JCP-01-2018-0004 VOL. 9 NO. 1 2019, pp. 23-43, © Emerald Publishing Limited, ISSN 2009-3829
PAG E 2 3
(Fox et al., 2015; Levenson and Socia, 2016; Wolff et al., 2017). Moreover, when women are
violent, it has been found that it is more likely to be within the family or relationship compared to
men whose aggression is more commonly out of personal relationships (Monahan et al., 2001).
Whilst there is mounting evidence to suggest that victimisation is a key factor in the perpetration
of crime, it is important to note that this alone cannot be attributed as being directly responsible
for offending patterns (Smith, 2017). Furthermore, there are many victims who have suffered
abuse who do not perpetrate crime; similarly, there are many men who are also victims of abuse/
trauma so previous victimisation cannot be attributed as a solely female issue. Moreover, the
focus of women as victimsin criminal justice settings have been criticised arguing that such
approaches exaggerate the premise of victimisation. As a result, this can lead to the removal of
agency and accountability from the offender, thus leading to the offender determining themselves
as helpless (Baskin and Sommers, 1998; Wolf, 1993).
Whilst there is overwhelming support for the importance of the victim rolein women offenders,
there are other avenuesof research that suggest alternativeexplanations for offending behaviours.
For example, a bodyof research suggests offendingis a result of necessityand becomes routine
to feed families,( Byrneand Trew, 2008), as a result of financialproblems (Rettinger and Andrews,
2010; Verbruggen et al., 2015), to feed a drug habit (Greenfeld and Snell, 1999; Huebner et al.,
2010), or because of pressures from other individuals (Scott and Dedel, 2006). This premise has
links with historical developmentsof strain theory, where individualsare faced with a gap between
their responsibilities and their current circumstances due to which strain occurs (Merton, 1957).
This notion is echoed by Sharp et al. (2016), who highlight that failures in societal systems
contribute to the problems amongst women offenders. However, contrasting bodies of research
suggest that weakfamily bonding and high levels of familystrain were poor predictors of criminality
amongst women perpetrators (Cernkovich et al.,2008).
Contrastingly, other areas of research have outlined more positive motivations for offending
behaviours amongst women. Findings suggest that women are more empowered in their
offending actions and make informed choices to follow criminal lifestyles (Baskin and Sommers,
1998; Maher, 1997; Miller, 2002) or they perpetrate for the thrills and excitement and a sense of
belonging that comes with offending (Ajzenstadt, 2009; Brookman et al., 2007). The discussed
research offers several insights into offending motivations; however, there is a need to test these
premises further to more clearly determine women offenders typologies.
The Experience of Crime
Traditionally, crime theories have focussed on a wide range of factors such as social issues,
opportunity, biology and personality as key to explaining the cause and persistence of offending
behaviours. An alternative perspective that has been proposed highlights the potential of
examining criminal acts from the viewpoint of the offender. Bernasco (2010) highlights the value of
this approach positing that offenders are expertsin notions of criminal behaviour, as they are
the ones undertaking such crimes. It is argued, therefore, that when developing theories of crime,
it is crucial that those involved are able to offer their phenomenological insights and experiences.
One logical way of exploring this is to ask offenders to share their life stories and experiences of
crime utilising narrative psychology.
Personal Narratives
Narrative theory suggests that to make sense of the world, individuals develop a story, or
narrative, in which they put themselves as the central character (Baumeister and Newman, 1994).
Within the story narrative, identities are formed through interactions with various characters,
situations and events. Life experiences are crucial in helping individuals to form their identities,
narratives assimilate and events are internalised from all aspects of their lives including historic,
current and anticipated future events (McAdams, 2001). It is suggested that narratives develop
through varying stages and continue to progress throughout ones life (McAdams, 1988).
The importance of adolescence is highlighted by McAdams (1988), in determining whether a
well-adapted narrative view of oneself is developed during a time when there are continuous
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VOL. 9 NO. 1 2019

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