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Understanding the Links Between Violence Against Women and Women's Participation in Illegal Activity, Final Report

NCJ Number
Date Published
July 2002
49 pages
Publication Series
With a focus on women of color from low-income communities who are in conflict with the law, this study explored the relationship between violence against women and women's involvement in illegal activity in 1999.
A total of 298 women detained in the Cook County Jail (Chicago, IL) were administered a survey to determine the extent of prior abuse in the inmate population, to identify the nature of the abuse, and to identify women to participate in in-depth, life-history interviews. A significant number of the women had been violently abused by multiple perpetrators; the abuse had serious consequences and in some cases was directly linked to the women's involvement in illegal activity. Thirty-three of these women were recruited to participate in in-depth, life-history interviews. Analysis of the qualitative results showed a clear pattern of the impact of conditions in low-income communities on the violence experienced by the women as they grew up, as well as the link between such abuse and their later criminality. The underprivileged urban neighborhoods in which the women lived were characterized by a series of structural shifts that resulted in deteriorating economic conditions, neighborhood instability, and other manifestations of social disorganization. As young adults, they witnessed the effect of high unemployment. Also, crack cocaine and conflict with police officers created a dangerous situation for the women. The women were at higher risk of exploitation when they were involved in illegal drug activity, and they were vulnerable to arrest as a result of their addiction and their abuse. In addition to community conditions, victimization was shaped by racial and gender identity as well as social position. Being abused by a crime partner and authority figures in the system heightened the impact of intimate violence and further removed women from the possibility of assistance from intervention programs. Recommendations pertain to a shift in intervention strategies, policy reform, and further research. Intervention programs that work with battered women, sexual assault survivors, victims of stalking, and adults who have experienced childhood abuse must redesign their direct services to include the ways that illegal activity is linked to these experiences. At the most superficial level, prohibitions on providing services to women who have a felony record must be lifted. Further, direct service programs must be culturally specific and offer approaches that examine the community context within which women live. Generally, the findings from this research call for an infusion of resources to strengthen the community infrastructure and foster the redevelopment of neighborhood life in urban areas that have been blighted by poverty, homelessness, joblessness, and other consequences of social disorganization. More specifically, policy should promote the health and well-being of women and families in these communities, especially young women, women who have experienced violence, and women in conflict with the law.

Date Published: July 1, 2002