Open post

Why we need to change the attitude that ‘men are the criminals, women are the victims’

Recently, Justice Secretary David Gauke MP announced community services supporting vulnerable women have been awarded £1.6 million funding as part of the government’s commitment to reduce the number of women entering the criminal justice system. Further, the government has committed to investing £5 million over two years in community provision for women in the justice system & those at risk of offending and an initial allocation saw £3.3 million awarded to 12 organisations providing a range of specialist support. The funding follows the publication of the government’s Female Offender Strategy in June last year. As it stands, no such strategy exists for male offenders save for the announcement further prisons are to be built.

The current UK prison population is not a diverse mix of men and women; for every 1 woman in prison there are approximately 22 men and this has been the case for over the past decade. Do men commit 22 times as many offences than women? Is our offending behaviour 22 times as bad as that of women’s?


As an analysis of data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) shows, men are not committing 22x as many offences, nor are men’s offences 22x as bad as women’s. In fact, men are arrested, prosecuted & sentenced around 3-4x more often as women despite the fact that the offending behaviours of men and women are largely the same.

So, why are so many more men in prison and why are government strategies being employed to lower the female prison population but not the male? Well, it’s to do with gamma bias, the cognitive distortion that impacts our perception of gender.

In terms of crime, when if a criminal is male the fact of their gender typically is magnified, and if a criminal is a women the fact of their gender typically is minimised. Conversely, when a person is a victim of crime this pattern is typically reversed. In short, men are typically seen as perpetrators and women as victims.

This template receives support from research by Dr Tania Reynolds, discussed on the podcast Heterodoxy. Using vignettes of shapes ‘harming’ each other, Dr Reynolds found “participants more often assume that the harmed target was female but especially when we used the terms ‘victim’ and ‘perpetrator’… Moreover, what we also found is that when people assumed the harmed target was a woman, they responded more positively towards her… So they were forced to choose male or female and we found that on average, people assume a female victim. So about 76 percent of the time. But this likelihood was even stronger when we used the terms ‘perpetrator’ and ‘victim’.” People automatically assume a victim to be female and, when they do, will be much more supportive of her – this does not happen for men. Instead, they are perceived as the cause of the harm because, according to the template, men are the perpetrators.

This template of men as perpetrators and women as victims manifests quite noticeably in the criminal justice system, as found by Dr Samantha Jeffries in her 2002 paper. She notes, of female offenders, they “challenge appropriate ideas of “femininity” through their criminality and involvement in the criminal justice system, both of which are traditionally the domain of men. Thus, when confronted with criminal women, it was found that the justice system tended to see them as either “not women” or “not criminals”. Women were constructed within dominant ideals of femininity in relation to the family and mental illness, and this provided a way to reposition offending women as “real” women and not really criminal after all.” When female offenders are passing through the criminal justice system, those processing them cannot reconcile the gender of the offender with their criminality, thus minimize their perception of the perpetration. Women cannot be perpetrators and perpetrators cannot be women. Instead, they are victims because they have to be.

For men, however, Dr Jeffries found there is another story, that of maximizing perpetration. She writes “[A]n analysis of judicial discourses surrounding male offenders revealed discussions bound by dominant masculine assumptions which usually made punitive sanctions more, rather than less, likely. Dominant judicial discourses of masculinity were focussed on badness, disruption, and criminality. There was no need to reconcile men within dominant gender ideology because criminality is consistent with “manliness”. Thus, judicial sympathy was rarely extended to men because most were seen as a threat to the social order and in need of state-controlled regulation.” The very nature of men being men means they must be criminal, the aspect of their gender is maximized and they are, inherently, perpetrators.

This psychological template is why government policy is to treat women as victims (thus, not criminals) whereas men are discarded and treated as criminals (thus, not victims). Various guidelines (The Female Offender Strategy, Corston Report, President of the Supreme Court Baroness Brenda Hale OBE’s influential 2005 Longford Trust Lecture and the Equal Treatment Bench Book) all say that female offenders’ life histories must be considered when they are passing through the criminal justice system. Have they endured abuse? Do they suffer from adverse mental health? Ultimately, are they victims? This line of enquiry is not extended to men. By considering the negative aspects of their life histories, female offenders are awarded softer sentences and treatments to support & accommodate them. The template of women as victims and men as perpetrators is applied, leading to a massive sex discrepancy in the prison population.

This template is why, at every step of the way, men are treated far more harshly than women in the criminal justice system. The idea of perceiving women as criminals or men as victims is alien to those whose jobs it is to administer justice. They work with a sex-discriminating template which places men & women onto different paths through the criminal justice system, causing this massive sex discrepancy.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Imagine the Criminal Justice System did treat men and women the same. Let’s fantasise, just for a moment, that male life histories and extraneous variables were considered by the Justice System as they are for women. They could start with the fact men and women process mental distress differently, ergo, will behave differently in times of mental distress.

Men and women typically process distress differently. Men are more likely to externalise their feelings, become aggressive, abuse substances and become prone to suicide; women show classic signs of anxiety or depression. No surprise then that distressed men are more likely to be dealt with by the prison services, where any therapy is likely to be directed towards the need for behavioural change rather than emotional distress. In these conditions, men might be less inclined to seek help if they fear that their anger might be interpreted as a sign of criminality.

Because male psychology is so poorly understood and misrepresented, men can find themselves falling through the criminal justice system when, in fact all they require is therapeutic attention. Thus, I find myself asking some serious questions. How many men are in prison when they should have been given help for adverse mental health? I do not know. How many men have suffered adverse mental health (or, mental distress) and have acted out, only to be sent to prison? How many men have suffered mental distress (lost their children because of the family courts, lost their jobs, are feeling suicidal) and, in acts of desperation & loss of control, find themselves involved with the Police and Justice System and are imprisoned because they are seen as a ‘bad man’ when, really, they just need help?

But how many men in the Criminal Justice System should be receiving psychological help instead of punishment? At the Male Psychology Conference 2017, Dr Naomi Murphy from the Fens Offender Personality Disorder Pathway Service at HMP Whitemoor spoke of her work with offenders in her care. She found:

• 66.1% reported childhood sexual abuse
• 72.6% reported childhood physical abuse
• 80.6% reported childhood neglect
• 66.1% reported childhood emotional abuse
• 59.7% reported parental antipathy
• 43.5% reported parental domestic violence
• 54% of the men who were sexually abused were victimized by a woman

Thus around 65% of the men she worked with had suffered some form of childhood abuse which, if it had been caught sooner by the system, could have resulted in these men being directed away from incarceration and towards the help they need.

It’s not just emotional trauma but, physical as well which can set a man on a dark path. A review in Lancet Psychiatry suggests that bumps to the head from accidents, road traffic collisions, assaults/violence, etc – things guys suffer from more than women – can lead to neural injuries which affect how the brain operates, and may increase the risk of violent offending. The authors show that of people in the criminal justice system, around 20% have had a moderate to serious Traumatic Brain Injury and another 30-40% had something less serious. Thus at least half of the prison population (around 40,000 inmates) have suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury. When we compare this to the 0.5% of TBI in the general public, we see a vast discrepancy.

Speaking of the effects of identifying these injuries early, lead author Professor Huw Williams of the University of Exeter said “[A]ddressing traumatic brain injury offers a means to not only improve the lives of those who offend, but also to reduce crime. A range of measures could reduce the risk of crime following traumatic brain injury. These could include any form of neurorehabilitation, and better links between emergency departments, community mental health services, GPs and school systems that might lead to early identification and management.” Imagine that: if their head injuries had been properly addressed both by the Criminal Justice System and the Health System, up to and beyond 40,000 men today could potentially not be in prison.

These are not numbers to be trifling with. Around 65% of men seen by Dr Murphy suffered some form of childhood abuse which, if extrapolated to the whole prison population, is over 50,000 people and an estimated 40,000 have suffered some form of Traumatic Brain Injury.

How many men would not be in prison today if these factors were considered? How many men could instead be receiving the help they need and be healing their injuries (both physical and psychological) rather than being behind bars? How many lives could truly be turned around if male life histories were considered rather than dismissed?

Remember, because of the psychological template applied: at conviction, women are more likely to be awarded a community sentence, they are more likely to be awarded a suspended sentence, yet men are far more likely to be subject to immediate custody – and, their sentences will be longer. Also, mitigating factors will be more accepted for women than men and aggravating factors will be accepted more for men than women, despite them being present. Think how much better the system would work if all the measures which have been introduced for women were also made available for men.

This serves the interests of not only the men in the Criminal Justice System but society at large as the cost per year per prisoner in England and Wales in 2016/17 was £22,933. Let’s say the prison population was halved because these men were correctly redirected to therapeutic measures rather than punitive, such a reduction in prison population could save the Criminal Justice System an estimated £917,320,000 every year in prison costs alone. Yet, because of the template of ‘perpetrators are men and victims are women’, this prospect seems far off in the horizon.

The prognosis, however, is not all doom-and-gloom. For example, as a preventative measure, the charity JourneymanUK helps troubled young boys & men pass through a rites-of-passage, teaching them how to be good men who will contribute positively to society. They provide therapeutic measures to help craft them into healthy men and fathers of the future. The charity A Band of Brothers works with young men & boys in the criminal justice system, providing for them guidance and support as they transition into manhood. Both of these charities recognize men & boys have their own methods of emoting and behaving which requires care and attention, not scorn and contempt. If only the Criminal Justice System could see this too.


About the author

Jordan Holbrook is an Honorary Research Assistant with the Male Psychology Network. His key area of interest in the sex-of-target empathy gap, how it evolved, why it did so and how it manifests in today’s society. He is also interested in sex differences and male mental health.


Open post

Why would ‘The Conversation’ reject a conversation about gender inequality?

by Professor Gijsbert Stoet

The Conversation is a well-known online news outlet. It works closely together with the many UK universities it receives payments from. This is, in principle, a good deal for all parties. The Conversation gets paid by universities to brings academic work to the general public in lay terms.

In the past, I have published a few short contributions for The Conversation about my own research.

Early January 2019, I called one of the editors I had worked with in the past, and I suggested that our latest paper might be of interest for them. The editor was enthusiastic and agreed. After a few days of me following the various suggestions by the supportive editor, a contribution titled “Inequality isn’t just something that impacts women – men need help too” was ready to go.

Or so I thought. All of a sudden there was a problem! The editor I had worked with needed approval from someone higher up in the editorial team. The superior was opposed to publication, despite the fact that it had been fully edited after several days of work on it! My university’s press office told me that this was the first time a The Conversation article gets pulled in this late stage of editing.

So what was the reason for not publishing it? I quote from an email I received from The Conversation:

“Unfortunately, after filing your article this morning to the news desk, my editor has rejected the piece. [anonymous*] explained that in this instance, we won’t be taking your article forward as the research seems to contradict itself – in one breath indicating men are more unequal and then indicating women are. She felt the end result was an article that doesn’t work for us or stand up to the rigour required for our pieces.” (*Name not disclosed here)

So basically, there are 3 objections listed here:

1) “The research seems to contradict itself – in one breath indicating men are more unequal and then indicating women are”. This objection is absurd, given that we report that in some countries women fall behind and in others men fall behind (read it yourself below). The whole point of the paper is that countries differ in terms of gender inequality.

2) “an article that doesn’t work for us” – that is strange. On the PLOS ONE website, our original research paper was viewed/downloaded more than 60,000 times in just the first 2 weeks after publication, that is a very high level of popularity for PLOS ONE. The Conversation regularly publishes about research that receives far less attention!

3) It does not “stand up to the rigour required for our pieces.”  What is the rigour they expect then? They regularly publish articles that regurgitate old data, rather than being based on the latest innovative research. I have no problem with that at all (and it can be worthwhile), but I would argue that our paper has at least the same rigour as such articles that just reinterpret old data with a moral message (such as for example, this article).

Of course, senior editors at The Conversation have every right not to publish an article I have worked on for days with one of their editors. But still, you wonder why they really do not want it, given that the above mentioned objections seem hard to follow. I can only speculate!

I speculate that one of the issues that played into it is that many people seem to get angry when their accepted view on the world needs revision. Our research article argues that, in highly developed nations, men and women have it nearly equally good, but that men often fall somewhat behind women due to a shorter healthy life expectancy and less education. And therefore, men need a bit of help. That contrasts with the widely held view that women fall behind in every single country of the world (of course, it depends how you define “falling behind”, and our paper addresses exactly that issue).

Unfortunately, raising awareness for men’s disadvantages can lead to real frustration among gender warriors. For example, there is much opposition against the idea to put “men’s day” on university equality and diversity agendas. In 2015, staff and students of York university had protested the fact that men’s day was put on the agenda. It just shows that many highly educated people in this country are not ready for the idea that men need help and attention too, or that men and boys can suffer from disadvantages just as well as women and girls (and our paper actually addresses women’s issues just as well).

Interestingly, John Barry and Martin Seager recently argued that there is a general tendency to magnify both positive achievements and negative actions of women more than those of men. This cognitive distortion, which they call gamma bias, means that when women suffer from inequalities it is seen as a more serious issue than when men suffer from inequalities. For those people suffering from  gamma bias, our paper seems to do injustice to women. Hopefully, raising awareness of gamma bias will help to overcome it. I fear it will take some time though!

Now without further ado, here is the text of my contribution for The Conversation, that was pulled by a senior staff member of the UK editorial team last minute. Read it and draw your own conclusions.


Inequality isn’t just something that impacts women – men need help too

by Gijsbert Stoet, Professor of Psychology at the University of Essex

 When it comes to gender inequality, many people believe women are still (on average) worse off in life than men. The #metoo campaigns have certainly exacerbated this impression.

When measuring gender equality, typically a number of different variables are considered. This often includes the number of female politicians in a country or how many years boys and girls go to school. Then, using such numbers, an “inequality score” for each country is calculated. A popular index, for example, is the Global Gender Gap Index.

Most existing measures of gender inequality tend to focus on issues such as women in politics, women on company boards, and gender pay gaps. All of which are, of course, highly important issues, but often these same calculations fail to recognise factors that statistically are more likely to impact men – such as suicide, imprisonment, homelessness and negative experiences in family courts.

So with this in mind, in our recent research we wanted to look at three issues that are critically important to everybody’s well-being to create our own equality measure. The factors we looked at were healthy life expectancy (expected years living in good health), basic education (primary and secondary) and life satisfaction.


The findings

What we generally found, based on our three factors, was that in very highly developed nations – such as the UK – men and women have it nearly equally good with regard to well-being. The UK actually does really well – coming in at second place in our ranking after Bahrain.

But in these nations men fall typically behind on healthy life expectancy. So despite the fact that modern medicine has improved the lives of both men and women – in today’s world, women experience good health for a longer time than men.

Industrialisation and modern lifestyles have also increased exposure to toxins – including easily accessible alcohol and industrial toxins – which often affect men more than women. On the flipside, we found more maternal deaths during births in the less gender equal countries – such as Chad and Nigeria.

Our research also showed that despite greater access to education than ever before, in many countries girls often receive less of an education than boys.

This is why most part of Africa and also parts of Asia, women fall behind enormously on our gender equality index – mainly because of lack of education. So although education has been on the agenda for a long time, the outlook for girls in many developing nations is still grossly unfair.


Equality for all

Using our measure for equality, it seems then that in the most developed countries, men and women have it nearly equally good – with a slight advantage seen for women. In contrast, inequality often prevails in the less well developed nations – with Chad, Benin, and Liberia found to be the least equal in our measure.

Our gender equality index shows a need for more awareness of men’s health issues in very highly developed countries. This is particularly important given that countries such as the UK have a national health strategy for women, but no such thing for men. And although a few Western nations – such as Ireland and Australia – have now recently started to create a men’s health strategy, it is clear more needs to be done.

Our study also shows a focus on girls’ education in the developing world is of crucial importance to reaching gender parity. Particularly, as the degree to which girls fall behind in the developing world is often larger than the degree to which men fall behind in terms of a shorter life expectancy in the wealthiest nations.

And while our research does not take variables such as women in politics or company board diversity into account, such positions are only occupied by a very small fraction of the population.

If these factors were to be included, we would also need to look at the larger number of men than women in prisons, the fact that more men than women live rough, or that more men take their own lives. So we chose to ignore the tiny proportion of people at the top of politics and economy, because we felt it wasn’t relevant to the opportunities of people to live a good life and their overall well-being.


About the author

Gijsbert (English: Gilbert) Stoet is originally from The Netherlands, where he studied psychology at the well known Groningen University. In 1998, he was awareded his summa cum laude PhD at the Ludwig Maximilian’s University (aka University of Munich). In 1999, he was also awarded the Otto Hahn Medal for his doctoral research. From 1998 to 2006, he worked at the Washington University Medical School in St.Louis in the USA, one of the world’s leading universities and medical schools. Here, he focused on the neurobiological foundation of cognitive processes. In 2006, he moved back to Europe and has since worked at a various UK institutions, including Leeds University and Glasgow University. He is currently working as Professor of Psychology at the University of Essex, which is a research-focused university in the South East of the UK, not far from London.


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