1.1a above suggest that although the majority of women may be treated more leniently than men when they appear in the courts as defendants, women who are seen to be unconstrained by family ties are also likely to be punished more severely than both their male and female counterparts. As the women most frequently seen to be lacking family discipline are those who: have been state reared; are living apart from men (often because they have histories of domestic or sexual abuse); or who are homeless and rootless owing to poverty, mental illness or childhood abuse or neglect, then it is likely that gender factors play a part in how these women are perceived by the courts, although class and racism factors are also likely to play a part.
There may, however, be other factors (both judicial and ‘non judicial’) which influence the sentencing of women and these concern sentencers’ perceptions of the women before them. These perceptions are, in turn, dependent on the kinds of information they have about the women and their own value judgements about what the woman ‘needs’ and/or ‘deserves’. Only certain kinds of information are admissible in court. Most routinely, these kinds of information (or knowledge claims) are: lay ‘common-sense’ knowledge; legal knowledge; social psychological knowledge and (occasionally) medical knowledge (Worrall 1990). Any other information or knowledge claim (such as the defendant’s own explanation or socio-political analyses of the defendant’s circumstances) are inadmissible unless re-presented in ways that are compatible with ‘authorised’ versions of events. ( For discussion of the processual factors known to affect sentence, see the discussion under hypothesis 1.1c and 1.2. above).
Sub Hypothesis 1.4: Domestic and sexual violence also shapes some women’s criminal careers. This sub hypothesis is upheld without qualification as a result of the extensive evidence in the literature which is summarised below.
Over half of women in prison report that they have suffered domestic violence and one in three has experienced sexual abuse. (Prison Reform Trust 2004: 11)
Carlen (1988,1996 and 1998) suggests that the criminal careers of many young women are precipitated when they leave home after being physically or sexually abused by a family member. Similar findings have been made more recently by James et al (2004)
Sally was interviewed in prison. She left home at the age of 18 and moved into a hostel because her father was being physically violent towards her. She was pregnant at the time…Her partner was a drug user and Sally also started using heroin after the baby was born. They had to leave the flat because of her partner’s drug debts…Since then she has been unsettled and lost her most recent tenancy when she came to prison. (James at al. 2004:112)
Young girls who run away from state care are also especially vulnerable to sexual abuse as children in prostitution (Cusick et al 2003). In recent years, too, there has also been evidence that young people may also be abused while in local authority care. Two of the women we interviewed had been sexually abused while in care, one of them after being placed in care because she had been abused by her step-father and two brothers:
I was sexually abused by my step-father and two real brothers – all three of them. I took drugs to blot it out. I went to a boarding school when I was in care and was abused by a teacher and the headmaster. The headmaster got two and a half years but the teacher walked [was not sent to prison]. (P1)
13 of the professionals’ interviewed said that they believed domestic violence and/or sexual abuse to be two of the main ‘causes’ of women’s crimes, though some were referring to the abuse provoking the conditions in which the crime occurred while others