Although women represent a smaller proportion of the penitentiary population compared to men, it seems that in the past two decades violence by girls and women has increased internationally. In the Netherlands, women are a minority within the penitentiary system and the forensic psychiatric care system, but recent surveys showed an increase over the last thirty years from about 4% in forensic residential care in the 1980s to 7% in 2011, and 9% inflow in 2011. In the Dutch penitentiary system 5.7% of the detainees are female and the inflow in 2011 was 8% DJI, 2011).
Research has shown that in general, the nature, severity, frequency, and victim characteristics of violent offenses committed by women are significantly different from those committed by men. Overall, female violence less often results in serious injuries and is less visible and more subtle, manifesting more often as relational violence, child abuse, or violence towards relatives. The most common victims of violence by adult women are partners or child(ren) and the most common victims by girls are brothers / sisters and peers. Violence by women is more reactive, indirect, less instrumental and occurs more commonly within the context of social relationships and less instrumental compared to men. Several explanations for this are discussed in the literature (see for example a comprehensive review article of Bennet et al., 2005). A commonly cited explanation is the different method of socialization, whereby boys are encouraged to act assertively while girls are encouraged to bond with others. In adulthood, women are more likely to describe themselves in terms of their relationship with others than in terms of their individual characteristics. Furthermore, women seem to have different motives for violent offenses; female violence is more often reactive and relational and less often characterized as instrumental. Claimed motives for violence by women are, for example, jealousy, self-defense and feeling disrespected by the other.
For more information and references to the literature please see the FAM and de Vogel & de Vries Robbé (2013). Click for more specific information and references regarding intimate partner violence, arson, filicide / child abuse, sexual violence and violence by girls.
Risk and protective factors for violence in women
Research has demonstrated that violence risk factors differ at least to a certain degree between female and male patients. Research has demonstrated that unstructured clinical judgment relating to violence risk is sensitive to sex-based biases; mental health professionals of both genders tend to underestimate the risk for violence in female psychiatric patients (Skeem et al., 2005). Use of structured risk assessment instruments is recommended to avoid these types of biases, however, widely used structured risk assessment instruments are developed based on violence risk research conducted primarily in male samples. Moreover, research into the psychometric properties of these instruments has been carried out almost exclusively on men.
There is not much literature on protective factors specifically for women. Protective factors that are suggested in the literature are dedication to their children, education and financial independece. For more information on protective factors and the Structured Assessment of Protective Factors (SAPROF) please see the SAPROF website.