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BRIT. J. CRIMINOL.

(2002) " , 743761

RISK, CRIME AND GENDER


WEND Y CHAN and GEORGE S. RIGAKOS *
This article offers a feminist critique of risk theorizing for criminology. Current theoretical
discussions of risk society and governmentality are critically appraised with reference to gender,
raising questions about the nature of risk for various social groups. Theories of risk taking and risk
management in late modernity have assumed a general universality of calculation and effect borne
out of instrumental science. Womens negotiation of risk, however, both in terms of risk taking and
risk avoidance point to an understanding of risk as inherently gendered and not easily universalized. Moreover, theorizing risk from a gendered perspective highlights its political nature,
challenging the idea of risk as a neutral concept and risk assessment as an intended apolitical
actuarial practice of late modernity. Instead, we contend that how women experience risk and how we
view such experiences are shaped by the politics of gender. Formulations of risk are deeply embedded in
gender, race and class politics, and the narrow conception of risk taken in criminological writings
has consequently excluded womens experiences of crime.
This paper is a contribution to the ongoing academic discussions and debates taking
place on the concept of risk. A significant amount of attention has been devoted recently
to this concept. A feminist analysis of women and risk seeks to expose the gendered
nature of risk. To suggest that risk is gendered is to highlight how men and women are
required to confront and negotiate different types of risk in their lives. For example,
womens fear of crime is derived from engaging in their daily routine practicesactivities that place them in situations where they are exposed to risks such as harassment,
intimidation and/or assault. For many women, this is the cost of participating in social
life notwithstanding their engagement in any exceptionally risky or daring activities. Yet
these risks have not been wholly recognized because what constitutes risky behaviour is
filtered through a masculine lens that conditions what we identify and define as risky.
Moreover, when women do take exceptional risks, the tendency is to conflate womens
exceptional risk taking with amorality as in the case of promiscuity.
The failure to recognize the different types of risk women assume has resulted in the
view of women as more risk aversive than men. Whether it is the product of socialization,
patriarchal proprietariness, or structural barriers in accessing risk-taking activities,
women are generally not associated with risky behaviours such as car racing, sky-diving,
or extreme skiing to name a few.
To confound matters still further, we must be cognizant that women and men do not
enter a universe of potential risks independent of one another. Women negotiate the
risk of personal harm in the context of knowing that their assailant will most probably be

* Respectively, School of Criminology, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia; wchane@sfu.ca; and Department of
Law, Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario, gsr65@email.com. The authors are listed alphabetically. Dr Rigakoss contribution to this
paper was supported by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (No. 41020000145). The writers would
like to thank Susan C. Boyd and Dorothy Chunn for their comments and editorial suggestions on an earlier version of this paper.

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a man while men do not, as a general empirical rule, encounter women with the same
sense of trepidation. This fundamental empirical truism exposes the interactivity of risk
taking and risk susceptibility, particularly in the context of crime or potential crime
around the axis of gender. But of course, gender cannot be the sole pre-condition of risk,
for we know that race and class also have direct implications for risk susceptibility and risk
taking.
This paper thus begins with a review of risk and governmentality discourses by examining notions of ontological and institutional risk for their applicability and understanding
of women, class, race and risk. We maintain that these discourses are impoverished by a
relativist notion of real risks and a lack of critical analytic frameworks. We then turn to
ideological constructions of gender as they relate to risk taking and risk avoidance and
reveal the political and masculine biases that underpin such understandings. In the third
section of the paper we take up risk theory more directly through a feminist critique of
the literature and identify how overlooking the social construction of risk omits the most
important core of critical analysis.

Ontological and Institutional Risks


A significant amount of academic attention has been devoted recently to the concept of
risk. These risk discourses have distinct but overlapping lineages that invariably posit
liberal notions of social control. The arguments being proffered in these theses might be
abridged in the following way: late modernity is a dangerous age wrought by industrial
and ecological disaster and new economic developments that undo our more dated
understandings of social structure (Beck 1992b). The new risk society is about a
plethora of advancing dangers and how these have come to shape institutional practices
and individual identity (Castel 1991; Ericson and Haggerty 1997). We are now known
through the practices of institutional risk profiling as we are panoptically sorted (Gandy
1993) and actuarially encoded by a surveillance monster that has no head but an endless
array of tentacles (Foucault 1991; OMalley 1991; Reichman 1986; Rose and Miller 1992;
Shearing 1993). These tendencies are due in part to the receding state in post-industrial
society. Instrumentalist science thus permeates the decision-making apparatuses of both
public and private spheres of governance, accelerating (but also reacting to) an anomic
social universe where denizens are assessed by a constellation of risk ratings based on
personal biography. Accountability becomes merely an adjunct of market societys
over-arching principle of consumerism. One is either let through the door or sent on
ones way, given what the institution knows or can access about ones history. Thus, we
have become access cards, credit ratings, health reports, school files, public registries, etc.,
etc. because decisions, options, opportunities, and successes are mediated by our
political economy of the self (Ericson and Haggerty 1997: 126; Ewald 1991: 203). We
police ourselves in order to govern our personal identities. We are radically individualized in a new way. The gesellschaft goes digital.
Risk theorizing, of course, may be more complicated and multifarious than our
skeletal introductory depiction permits. One might argue that the myriad versions of
social theory operating under the conceptual umbrella of risk are surely more diverse
and complicated than we allow (OMalley 2001). Indeed, a major thrust of this paper is to
canvass critically the uses and methods of these discourses for their application to
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feminist theory. In certain cases, feminists have made conceptual use of risk in their
analyses, so we are not entirely tilling new groundbut we are interested in the larger
theoretical frames in which variants of risk have been utilized and how this especially
affects thinking on race, class and gender. Despite risk theorys various manifestations,
we maintain that it is nonetheless largely Weberian (and Foucauldian) in its lineage and
content. It is a discursive offshoot that eschews the role of class, gender, or for that matter
any conceptual device perceived to be borne out of grand narrative so central to
modernist emancipatory politics (Garland 1997). Such dated (usually Marxist) tendencies are rejected in favour of an analysis that prioritizes textual (or digital) representation
as substitute for the reality of institutional practice (cf. Rigakos 1999). This allows risk
theorists to make dubious claims about the death of class, gender and race; and by
implication proffer a decidedly liberal analysis in its place. When Habermas (1987)
critically interpreted Foucault, he did so as a deliberate polemic designed to warn
progressive intellectuals about the latent tendencies and distractions in Foucaults work.
Namely, that without a tethering to critical inquiry, the conceptual utility of Foucauldian
notions such as governmentality, discipline, surveillance, biopower can result in misspent energies, liberal apologia, and regressive politics:
Foucault cannot adequately deal with the persistent problems that come up in connection with an interpretive approach to the object domain, a self-referential denial of universal validity claims, and a
normative justification for critique. (Habermas 1987: 286)

Our critical appraisal raises questions about the applications of risk theory and the
actuarial practices it seeks to map with specific reference to gender.
There are at least two meta-theoretical schools of thought on the issue of risk:
ontological and institutional. Ontological risk refers to the perspective that argues very
important changes have transpired in the prevailing mode of production that place all of
us at increased risk. Giddens (1990, 1991) and Beck (1992a) establish the changing
nature of late modernity by arguing that an epochal transition has occurred. We are in an
era where obsession with risk management is merely a function of what is truly a more
dangerous world. The reaction to risks and our obsession with risk information is, in part,
a product of this changing social reality. People and institutions must react to these
developments. Science is sent to the rescue, only revealing even more risks in an endless
cycle of uneaseBecks system immanent normal form of the revolutionizing of needs.
On the other hand, institutional risk theorists focus on the role of the institution for
the maintenance of surveillance and discipline. Foucaults original thinking on
governmentality and the subsequent development of this concept by contemporary
social theorists who have followed him (see the collections by Barry et al. 1996; Burchell et
al. 1991) has resulted in a distinct school of thought that sometimes tends to banish what
is real (see OMalley 2001). Governmentality theorists argue that their project discursively divorces the question what really happens? from how is this institutionally
represented? Both of these schools, however, have much more in common than is often
conceded, and both can be viewed as a liberal project largely within the gamut of neoWeberian thinking and rooted in Hobbesian political philosophy.
The argument espoused by Beck (1992a) is that we are living in a risk society. This
new order has radical implications for understanding the economic, scientific and class
structure of late modernity. Beck argues that as ecological and industrial fallout becomes
democratic we must grapple with the reality that dated notions of class affiliation
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become obliterated. Since the effects of contamination are global, and since technological innovation produces and uncovers even more risks, we become endlessly trapped
in a world that produces both actual risks and risk knowledge: To put it bluntly, in class
positions being determines consciousness, while in risk positions, conversely,
consciousness (knowledge) determines being. (Beck 1992b: 53, emphasis in original). If no
one can escape the fall-out and fear of risks, the argument goes, then surely classes
become less relevant, or merely one more risk factor among a plethora of others. All of us
must navigate our own susceptibility to risks:
. . . risks display an equalizing effect within their scope and among those affected by them. It is precisely
therein that their novel political power resides. In this sense risk societies are not exactly class societies;
their risk positions cannot be understood as class positions, or their conflicts as class conflicts. (Beck
1992b: 36, emphasis in original)

Note what happens in Becks supposed risk society: first, risk is indiscriminate, farreaching and democratic (he says: poverty is hierarchic, smog is democratic (p. 36, emphasis
in original)) so risk categorizations overcome class categorizations; second, having been
disaggregated, people must now manage these endless risks on an individual basis.
Having obfuscated class, Beck moves on to gender. The argument here is even less
historically nuanced and far more declaratory (relatively speaking), but can be
summarized by saying that a consciousness of equality between the sexes is frustrated by
the fundamental reality of a political economy that cannot allow for it. He argues that
industrial capitalism pre-supposes a primary caregiver and separate worker, and that this
fundamental tension cannot be overcome: industrial society is dependent upon the
unequal positions of men and women (Beck 1992b: 105). This trap produces an
exchange of inequalities wherein The liberation of women from housework and marital
support is to be forced by the regression of men into this modern feudal existence
which is exactly what women reject for themselves (Beck 1992b: 109, emphasis in
original). In other words, women can only become more equal at the expense of opportunities for men. For Beck, this produces new risks to family because the consciousness of
women and their late modern expectations create the development of a heightened
ontological insecuritythat of loneliness. Men and women need each other but cannot
coexist in equity because of a competition of opportunities. Notwithstanding the obvious
conservative implications of these tenets, we shall skip ahead to examine Becks own
forecasting on women in the risk society. In his chapter on gendered space (Beck 1992:
esp. 1236) he suggests three possibilities: (1) a move back to the nuclear family, which
he finds unlikely; (2) equality between men and women, which he argues would destroy
the family; or (3) moving beyond male-female roles. The last of these possibilities is a
vague and unenergetic series of ruminations about the possibility of family versus
individual mobility so that institutions may offset the familial insecurity of job searches by
offering work to both partners. Again, there is a barely hidden conservative thread that
runs through these deliberations and forecloses the possibility of womens emancipation. Having identified industrial capitalism as the problem, Beck stops short of
arguing for its restructuring or elimination. Beck sees the important historical material
transformation from feudalism to capitalism in the production of this inequity yet cannot
see outside the current political economy for its solution. What allows Beck to make such
unsubstantiated claims in his consideration of risk and the family is his omission of the
history of risk thinking. This thinking is as at least as old as the seventeenth century where
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it served the emerging class interests of a projector bourgeoisie (Rigakos and Hadden
2001). Tendencies toward myopic historical contingencies are shared by some risk
governmentality thinkers. When one supposes the newness of riskboth ontological or
governmentalthen one may posit any series of very recent economic or political
contingencies to explain its development. By extension, this allows theorists such as Beck
(1992) or Ericson and Haggerty (1997) to argue against more dated notions of inequality
since these are superseded by their supposed new risk society. We can thus talk of gender,
class, or ethnicity as one more risk variable, one more constitutor of identity because we
have either: (a) accepted bureaucratic rhetoric and denounced what is real and/or (b)
historically disconnected risk society from the emergence of capitalism. In both cases
there are serious ramifications for theory construction and the re-subordination of
gender for sociology and criminology.
Ericson and Haggerty (1997) adopt Becks general thesis for criminology but their
attention to gender is negligible. In fact, they devote only a short section to the policing
of identities and then only to discuss age and race/ethnicity. Gender and women are
not even indexed. The production and policing of identities, they argue, is a function of
differentiation which itself is a relentless product of the panoptic sorting process in a
risk society having the capacity to exclude so that prejudice and discrimination are
often built into the classification schemes . . . and thereby become institutionalized
(Ericson and Haggerty 1997: 2567). We have little doubt that Ericson and Haggerty
(1997) are well aware that social inequities and moral pronouncements about dangerous
populations are involved in the construction of risk categories and policing. It is just that
they ignore almost entirely the political context of how such scientific information is
socially constructed in the first place. This is largely outside the gamut of their project
and does not sit well with their rejection of searching for the duplicity of bureaucratic
knowledges. This critical impetus is sacrificed in many treatises on governmentality
and here Ericson and Haggerty (1997: 84) are utilizing both Beck and Foucault to
reason:
We make no distinction between information and knowledge. Information is knowledge, for to make
sense of a thing there must be institutional frameworks of representation for defining and establishing
its logic, and what it means.

The question we may pose to risk theorists is: then what is information or knowledge
absent the other? The answer we fear is that the purposeful conflation of the two is in
part what allows risk theorists to abandon any critical entreaty borne out of their analyses.
This lack of critical follow-up, of course, need not be our method (Rigakos 2001), since
this is only one debatable reading and application of Foucault. It is also a particularly
Weberian tendency to fuse with Foucaults notion of governmentality the assertion that
bureaucratic knowledge should be taken at its face value (cf. Garland 1997). We think
this is most clearly evinced in Ericson and Haggertys (1997: 689) treatment of
community-based policing where they question any attempt to differentiate critically
between rhetoric and reality since the two, in their mind, are redundant. But, of
course, bureaucracy is more than subjective, it can very well be duplicitous and
misrepresentative of a reality outside linguistic construction. To think otherwise is to
entertain an impoverished ontological sense of what is real and by extension delegitimize an entire range of transformative politics (Callinicos 1989). Marx (1843/1978:
24) maintained long before us that because the bureaucracy turns its formal objectives
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into its content, it comes into conflict everywhere with real objectives and thus both
observers and technocrats can be mutually deceived from this double meaning. The
task for critical academic knowledge is to penetrate this representational faade, rather
than reify it even further. So it is unfortunate, albeit understandable given their
epistemological grounding, that many risk theorists abandon such considerations. Even
to the point of omitting women from their analysis because, like class, it is a construct that
might be regarded as a realist category associated with totalizing theoretical scenarios
and thus inconsistent with governmentalitys perceived characteristic arealist and
antiglobalizing assumptions (OMalley 2001: 86). Having in no uncertain terms quite
contrarily declared our desire to keep it real for the moment, let us more closely
examine how it is that these notions of risk stunt our understanding of women in late
capitalism.
Feminist approaches to the discussion of women and risk already help to highlight the
limitations of current liberal conceptualizations of risk. The focus of their critiques is
directed at two central assumptions in the risk literature. First, feminist writers have
critiqued risk analyses that identify the relationship between women and risk solely with
activities around womens risk avoidance while ignoring womens risk-taking activities
(Miller 1991). In addressing womens risk-avoiding activities only, writers argue that this
one-sided perception of risk not only reinforces the stereotyped image of women as
victims of crime, but it also fails to see how women can also be risk takers. Second, they
challenge the idea that the concept of risk is gender neutral (Stanko 1997; Walklate
1997). The focus of this critique has been on womens risk avoidance in the context of
crime victimization. Feminist writers such as Elizabeth Stanko and Sandra Walklate
contest the neutrality of risk as a conceptual tool of actuarial practices. Their evidence,
drawn from empirical studies of womens constant negotiation of risks to their personal
safety in the context of their public and private lives, suggests that risk avoidance for
women is an inherently gendered activity. Both sets of feminist debates about women and
risk demonstrate how risk is politically defined in ways that cut along gendered lines
despite claims to the contrary or omissions borne from the unnecessary meta-theoretical
circumscriptions described above.

Women, Risk Taking and Risk Avoidance


In his Edgework article, Stephen Lyng (1990) offers a way of understanding and
theorizing voluntary risk taking in late modern society. Through an examination of male
sky-divers, Lyngs argument is that changes in labour-force participation have resulted in
experiences of alienation. The loss of control experienced in an economic environment
characterised by the deskilling of labour and the bureaucratization of work has led
individuals of all social classes to seek control through edgework. Feminist writers such
as Eleanor Miller (1991) argue that whilst Lyngs analysis does indeed offer an interesting exploration of thrill-seeking behaviour, his analysis, like that of other risk theorists, is
nonetheless rooted in male experiences only. For Miller, how women or racialized
minorities might experience the phenomenon of risk taking would be different from
white middle-class mens experiences since their participation in the labour market is
different. Lyngs analysis cannot adequately speak for either women or racialized
minorities since, as Miller points out, he fails to seek empirical evidence to support such
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an analysis. Sandra Walklate (1997) echoes a similar critique when she points to the way
in which Lyngs analysis reinforces the traditional cultural images of men and women.
Lyngs analysis provides a positive relationship of men and risk through his claim that
men, particularly young men, are more likely to engage in edgework but his discussion
of women and risk taking emphasizes a negative relationship on the grounds that women
are far less likely to have an illusory sense of control over fateful endeavours because,
unlike men, they are not socialized to develop a skill orientation towards their environment (1990: 8723). For both Miller and Walklate, Lyngs conclusions reinforce
stereotyped understandings about gender socialization and fail to grasp how womens
activities can also include risk-taking characteristics.
Miller points to her own work on African-American female street hustlers as an
example of how womens conceptions of risk taking can take a different form from those
of mens. Although their risk taking may not be completely voluntary because of
structural constraints, there are some women, however, who will choose to take on more
risky hustles (Miller 1986). Indeed there are many empirical examples demonstrating
that women do engage in risky behaviours. Susan Boyds study of mothers and illicit drug
use is one example of women who voluntarily engage in risk-taking activities (1999). Her
study reveals how mothers perceive their illicit drug use and how they negotiate and
challenge negative perceptions held by medical and legal authorities of their risk taking
behaviour (Boyd 1999).
The arguments being proffered by risk theorists are not dissimilar from notions
grounded in evolutionary psychology where sex-role differentiation emanates from the
cave. In other words, females gathered while staying close to the encampment and
collecting berries and roots, as males hunted for big game. Females were biologically
cultured to low-risk, low-energy, low-return caloric intake, while males engaged in highrisk, high-energy, high-return caloric intake. This evolutionary differentiation, it is
argued, still conditions risk taking at a sociobiological level. The applicability of such
neolithic narratives in the age of supermarkets and drive-through fast-food outlets is
highly dubious. Rather, whether it is young girls seeking refuge in gangs where crimes
occur and violence can erupt or women crack smokers participating in high-risk streetlevel sex work, these types of activity pose the possibility of serious threats to the participants and indeed test the limits of womens attempts to maintain control. Contrary to
Lyngs assertions, women do engage in edgework. To be sure, the type of edgework
activities men and women engage in are qualitatively different in many respects. The
thrill-seeking aspect of edgework is less present in womens involvement in risky
behaviours. Walklate (1997: 43) notes that for women, danger seeking is typically
associated with activities around sex with men, although the policing of womens
sexuality defines how the issue is discussed. According to Lyngs own definition of what
constitutes edgework, which includes, as he states, activities which involve a clearly
observable threat to ones physical or mental well-being or ones sense of an ordered
existence, there is a persuasive case to be made that the activities women engage in fall
within these parameters since women are required to negotiate the line between order
and chaos in their lives in choosing to become involved in these activities.
Gender differences evident in the choice of activities highlight the differential opportunities available to men and women. The social constraints placed on women mean that
how and where they choose to engage in risky behaviours can vary considerably. Hence,
while women may not choose to participate in activities like sky-diving, motorcycle
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racing/car racing or combat soldiering, it is less the case that they are not as inclined to
participate than it is the case that they do not have the same opportunities. For Hagan
(1989), differential risk taking is the product of parents social construction of power
relationships through the control of their children. Mothers are expected to exert
control over their daughters in traditional families. Of course Hagan, like Lyng, has a
masculine conception of risk taking as public deviance in the form of capitalist entrepreneurial self-fulfilmentan unintended consequence of patriarchal social structure.
Hagan is interested in predicting risky behaviour by using pre-existing deviancy
measures such as marijuana use and the effect of police contact, but in the end finds no
real difference between males and females (Keane et al. 1991: 241) except that police
contact may sometimes amplify male deviance. Thus, for Hagan, adolescent girls are
both more likely to be susceptible to informal (patriarchal family structure) and formal
(police contact) social control for certain male-centred notions of risky behaviour. While
we do not doubt this, the real question for us is how and what we consider risky behaviour
for women. This needs further discussion and analysis.
One of the thorny questions Lyngs discussion raises is how we understand what the
concept of voluntary means in terms of those who are deemed risk takers. Here, many
feminist scholars have argued that womens social, economic and political situation
shapes the opportunities and decisions that women make in their lives (Barrett 1980;
Pateman 1989). Their ability to make choices is bounded by the deeply inscribed norms
and expectations of womens role in all spheres of life. Miller and Hoffman (1995) have
even argued that the foundation for womens perceived heightened religiosity may be a
function of risk aversion. Based on the classic concept of Pascals Wager, they hypothesized that risk can predict religiosity. Interestingly, while risk was a good predictor, it
actually attenuated the importance of gender. There are thus both risk-aversive men and
women. Studies focusing on financial planning have come to contradictory conclusions
about womens risk-taking propensity compared to men. Even in controlled simulations
men appear more risk prone to abstract financial gambles (Powell and Ansic 1997) but
are no more likely to take risks compared to women when confronted with concrete
investment and insurance choices (Schubert et al. 1999). We must be very careful,
therefore, about what we mean when we say risk so that we do not confound this concept
a priori with simply being male. For criminology, the comparison to mens voluntary
involvement in risk-taking activities needs to consider the context of womens lives
generally and how womens risk taking has often been pathologized. That women do
seek risks but are not given recognition of doing so highlights the gendered understanding of risk-taking behaviour.

Feminism and the Politics of Risk


The second thread of discussion by feminist scholars on the relationship between women
and risk, and one which dominates current debates, examines how risk is conceptualized
in the context of womens risk avoidance of criminal victimization. Understood more
commonly as womens fear of crime, the literature in this area is steeped with rich
empirical studies, discussions of practical strategies for women about how to manage
potential risks in their lives, and theoretical discussions about state and community
responses to the problem of womens criminal victimization. Feminist contributions to
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this area of study began by critiquing those studies that explored womens risks of victimization in public settings only. The idea of the stranger lurking behind the bushes waiting
for his victim has been an effective mechanism for the social control of women, making
them more dependent on men for their protection and forcing women into believing
that the home is the safest place for them (Hanmer and Saunders 1984; Madriz 1997a).
Representations of victims and criminals where the dominant images of the criminal as
the poor, minority male and the victim as a white, middle-class woman further enhances
the racial and gendered stereotypes about which social group has legitimate fears of
crime and which groups perpetrate these crimes (Madriz 1997b). Consequently,
reference has been made to the way in which womens fear of crimetheir risk of victimizationis exaggerated and disproportionate to the actual rates of crimes against
women.1 According to many feminists however, increasing womens fear of public spaces
maintains their marginalized participation in public life and increases their dependency
on a strong protector for their physical integrity (Stanko 1987).
In the ideological drama that transpired in the hunt for Peter Sutcliffe, the male serial
killer of 13 women dubbed the Yorkshire Ripper, female victims were more or less at
risk depending on their morality. The six prostitutes he murdered were taking risks by
being sex-trade workers (i.e. they were their own gravediggers) and it was not until
Sutcliffe murdered an innocent that police experts reactedbut only to reinforce this
dichotomy. Bland (1992: 2456) quotes Acting Assistant Chief Constable Hobson who
reasoned that the Yorkshire Ripper has made it clear that he hates prostitutes. Many
people do. We, as a police force, will continue to arrest prostitutes. But the Ripper is now
killing innocent girls. While women feared for their safety, the hunt was cast as a battle
between masculine archetypical giants with the local soccer fans keeping score (Ripper
13, police 0) at the pub. Women were urged by the police to change their lifestyles
dramatically in order to minimize risk. Its was not until feminists turned the tables on
who the police were targeting with their safety advisories, by disseminating their own
advisories on curfews and changes in behaviour targeted at men, that the deeply
gendered practices of risk were politicized and brought into the open.
Yet, while many women may experience a heightened fear of criminal victimization,
there are few options available for women to be safe. Retreating into the safe haven of
the home assumes that women can depend on a male provider for economic support.
For many minority and working-class women, economic pressure requires that they
participate, however marginally, in the labour market. The political and economic
consequences for women are all too clear. Women who are required to straddle both the
public and private spheres must endure the risks of victimization both within and outside
their homes. White middle-class women may retreat to the home, but patriarchal
ideology prescribes responsibility and blame on all women when an incidence of victimization does occur. Finally, the roles that women can assume are severely limited because
of their fears of victimization.
As a result of misunderstanding the roles and responsibilities many women assume in
their lives, there has been a lack of knowledge, attention, and understanding given to
1
The question of the true extent of womens victimization and the accuracy of crime surveys has attracted considerable attention
and controversy. The question over who is manipulating womens fear of crime for political purposes has also been raised. See for
example, Doob (1995), Gordon and Riger (1989), Johnson and Sacco (1995), Johnson (1995), Koss (1993), Mooney (1997), White
and Farmer (1992).

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who are the risky others for women and where these risks of victimization occur. Many
feminists argue that womens risk of victimization is not from the unknown stranger, but
from the men in womens lives. As Elizabeth Stanko (1988, 1990, 1995, 1997) points out,
womens risk of violent assault is the risk of mens violent assault against them. The risks
of victimization that women face in their lives are their victimization from men. Thus,
womens risks of being victimized are deeply gendered. Womens fears are not just of the
potential stranger, they fear any man because any man is considered a potential
danger to them. Furthermore, feminists argue that women are less likely to be attacked
in public and more likely to suffer abuse, both physical and sexual, in the confines of
their home, away from the public eye, perpetrated by the person known to them.
Contrary to the dominant message about womens vulnerability in public, it is not the
dangerous encounter on the street that women have most to fear, but rather, it is what
might happen to them in the supposedly safe haven of their home that poses the greatest
danger and the most risks.
Indeed, the problems of violent assault, sexual assault, and sexual abuse of women
have been well documented. A recent violence against women survey in Canada, for
example, found that 23 per cent (2.5 million women) of women have experienced a
violent assault at the hands of strangers, of which 19 per cent (2 million) of these
incidences constituted some form of sexual assault; 16 per cent (1.7 million women) of
women have been involved in at least one incident of dating violence; 29 per cent (2.65
million women) of women have been assaulted at least once by a partner (husband/
common-law); and, on average, 78 women each year in Canada are killed by their
husbands or common-law partners (Johnson 1996). In one single year (1996), 19,473
incidences of violence against women by their partners (89 per cent of all spousal
assaults) were reported to the police in Canada.2 As a consequence of being subject to
violent and/or sexual abuse, many women report psychological and emotional problems
with their long-term health and well-being. Feelings of anger, fearfulness, and the need
to be more cautious are cited as some of the key emotional effects (Johnson 1996: 203).
In some cases, women have turned to drugs and alcohol to cope with their circumstances.
Surveys in other countries confirm that women are typically the victim in domestic
assaults. The 1998 British Crime Survey found that 70 per cent of women (582,000) were
the victims in a domestic incident. Women between the ages of 16 and 24 and single
parents had a higher risk of violent assault (8.8 per cent and 11.3 per cent respectively)
although young men between the ages of 16 and 24 constituted the highest risk category
(20.4 per cent) (Mirrlees-Black et al. 1998: 51). In the United States, 30.4 women per
1,000 had experienced a violent crime in 1998, with women between the ages of 12 and
24 reporting the highest number of incidents (Bureau of Justice Statistics 1999).
Although there is an acknowledgment that the problem of violence against women is a
serious concern for policy makers, this concern has not always translated into policies
consistent with the perspectives of women who experience the risk of being victimized.
The issue of mandatory police arrests in cases of domestic violence highlights how
attempts to remove the batterer from the home can run counter to the wishes of many
women who recognize the future risks posed to them in having the batterer arrested.
2
Assault level 1, or physical assault without a weapon, was the most common (89 per cent) type of assault between partners. For
further information, see Family Violence in Canada (1998).

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Feminist debates surrounding mandatory arrest policies point to the dilemma


encountered in seeking practical solutions for women. Concerns about placing too
much reliance on the criminal justice system which may prevent some women from
reporting incidents of violence sits uneasily with the desire to draw greater public
attention to the problem of violence against women in the home. Many feminists argue
that a co-ordinated effort is the best responseone which uses the services of the police
and other social agencies but is also attuned to the needs of individual women and does
not further exacerbate her victimization (Ursel 1998; Flynn and Crawford 1998).
Additionally, recent cases involving battered women who kill their abusive partners is
another example of how womens fear of further attacks from her partner has not been
fully understood by the legal system. The debate over the reasonableness of the womans
response to her attacker has generated significant debate, with the suggestion that
women who do not react to their attackers immediately after a violent episode, women
who use a weapon to retaliate against an unarmed attacker, or women who kill their
partners when they are sleeping or passed out are not justified in killing their partners
because they are holding unreasonable fears of further violence and are simply seeking
revenge (Allen 1988; ODonovan 1991; Cahn 1992; Easteal 1992). The belief is that
women can walk away from their abusers and avoid the risk of further victimization. Yet
many women defendants are more than aware that it is impossible to avoid risks of
further attack without taking desperate measure to ensure their safety. Despite their
protests and the protests of those advocating on behalf of women who kill their abusive
partners, the legal system has been reluctant to recognize how women defendants view
of the risks they face are legitimate. This has resulted, in some cases, of women being
denied access to legal defences like provocation and self defence when a homicide
between partners does occur (Edwards 1990; McColgan 1993; Chan 1997).
Finally, womens fear of sexual assault and the legal reforms initiated to recognize and
empower female victims has also come under scrutiny. In Canada, feminists challenged
the claim that the 1983 reforms of the rape law would lead to positive changes for women
victims. Questions around the admission of the victims sexual history (read woman),
the meaning of consent, and the extent to which criminal justice personnel have shifted
their attitudes remain pressing issues (Roberts and Mohr 1994). The legislative
amendments in 1992, regarded by many feminists as a significant victory, continue to be
guardedly received as it becomes less clear how these changes benefit women. Kevin
Bonnycastle (2000: 76) argues that the 1992 reforms reinforce womens status as victims
in law more than ever, and in the process, any notion of womens agency is dismissed. In
Britain, Hester et al. (1996) document the ways in which womens experiences of sexual
violence continue to be trivialized or denied. The effects of invalidating their
experiences is that many women fail to report to their victimization to the police because
they either do not define their experience as abuse or they have convinced themselves
that the experience was not sufficiently serious to warrant attention (ibid.: 30).
These examples illustrate how avoiding the risk of being criminally victimized for
women is about being safe from men, particularly the known men in their lives. Risk is
thus heavily gendered. For some women, the home can be the most lethal place for them.
Their fear of violence and possibly death is neither irrational nor unjustified. As a social
phenomenon, the killing of women occurs across many cultures and has a long historical
legacy (Radford and Russell 1992). Women were the targets of witch-hunts in England
during the sixteenth and seventeenth century (Hester 1992), they were tortured and
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burned for practising lesbianism in France and Spain during the fifteenth and sixteenth
century (Robson 1992), and women, particularly African-American women, were subject
to lynchings in the southern United States in the early twentieth century (Russell 1992).
The epistemological grounding and rationale for such atrocities were borne out of
exegetical practicesa knowledge emanating from biblical interpretation (e.g. The
Witchs Hammer) but undoubtedly then, as today, reflecting unabashed male privilege in
the formulation of official dangers. Female newborn babies in India were routinely
murdered because they posed too heavy a burden for many Indians living in poverty
(Venkatramani 1992). Research on woman-killing in contemporary societies by Kelkar
(1992) notes the widespread practice still of woman-burning in modern Indian society
for money and domestic goods as part of the dowry. The Indian governments indifference to this practice has resulted in the institutionalization of burning as a means of
maintaining womens oppression within and outside the family (Kelkar 1992: 119).
Additionally, Daly and Wilsons (1992) research in North America shows how male
sexual proprietariness places women who have jealous partners at risk of death. The
empirical evidence suggests that women have been, and continue to be at risk of death
for simply being female, and in some societies and cultures, woman-killing is a ritualized
practice.
A common approach used by many women to combat and manage their fear of crime
is to engage in a process of cognitive mapping. This involves women determining who
and where the perceived threats to their physical safety are located. It also involves
making alterations to the decisions that they make in their everyday lives that can help
reduce their feelings of vulnerability (Gordon and Riger 1989; Stanko 1995, 1996). In
her study, Johnson (1996) found that Canadian women expressed concerns about
walking alone to their car in a parking garage (27 per cent very worried), waiting for or
using public transportation after dark (22 per cent very worried), or walking around her
area after dark (54 per cent somewhat worried). Moreover, womens fear of attack and
worries about being safe are predominantly tied to their fear of sexual violence (Johnson
1996: 62). Thus women will adopt a variety of strategies to avoid victimization, including
not going out at night, avoiding known danger areas, or taking precautionary measures
such as carrying an alarm. As Stanko (1987: 129) states, womens fear of crime alerts us to
the structured nature of gender relations that govern our everyday existence. Since
women do not know nor can they predict with any certainty which man in their lives, the
stranger or the men known to them, will treat them with violence, they are required to
exercise vigilance towards all men at all times. Womens fear of crime thus becomes
womens fear of men (Stanko 1987: 130).
A good example of how the social construction and measurement of risk is heavily
gendered can be found by examining the results of the Canadian General Social Survey
(GSS) for 1988 and 1993. In 1988, data from the GSS indicated that victimization rates
[were] higher for males (148 per 1,000) than for females (138 per 1,000). In general,
men face[d] greater risks of criminal violence (90 incidents per 1,000) than . . . women
(77 incidents per 1,000) (Johnson and Sacco 1991: 93). On the 1993 GSS, one survey
question was changed by omitting the word rape from a list of general victimization
items and adding two other sections concerning (1) force, attempted force, threats, or
holding to engage in sexual activity; and (2) unwanted touching including grabbing,
kissing, fondling etc. The result was that [i]n the 1993 survey, the total personal victimization rate for woman was 11 per cent higher than for men (151 vs 136 per 1,000)
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RISK, CRIME AND GENDER

(Gartner and Doob 1996). Thus, in 1988, the most at-risk population in Canada was
made up of young single male students who were separated/divorced (see Johnson and
Sacco 1991: 97) while by 1993, there was a startling transformation: separated or
divorced women were most likely to be victimized, over twice as frequently as separated/
divorced men (see Gartner and Doob 1996: 95). To omit critical considerations of the
political construction of victimization, as many risk and governmentality theorists do,
can be a major impediment in understanding the structure and ideology of womens
relationship to risk.
Moreover, the search for adequate solutions for women in the form of policy responses
that are workable within the community and in the criminal justice system has not only
been hindered by the lack of historical recognition of these problems, thereby ignoring
the links between the past and present treatment of women, but also by the belief that it is
womens problem rather than societys responsibility to reduce their fear of crime and
prevent further victimization. The social control of women through messages which
place the responsibility for being safe squarely on womens shoulders means that when
they are victimized, they are partly to blame for their victimization because they did not
take enough care to protect themselves. Nowhere has this been more evident that in rape
trials where male judges and defence counsel have suggested that being associated with a
range of different factors led the defendant to ask for it. These factors can include but
are not limited to being homeless, collecting social security, having an abortion, having
sex with a boyfriend, lack of marital status (being single), or being a drug addict (Lees
1997: 645). In trying to determine the credibility of the victim, rape trials are notorious
for engaging in a process which all but blames the victim for her own demise, whether it is
related to the fact that the victim did not adequately anticipate the danger she found
herself in, or whether she did not take proper precautions and made the wrong choice.
As well, the sexual harassment of women in the workplace serves to remind women of
their vulnerability should they choose to take a greater role in public life. Ideologies
constructed around what constitutes sexual harassment and the limited effectiveness of
the law in remedying the problem remind women that in a patriarchal culture, attempts
to address power imbalances between the genders are fraught with inconsistencies and
double-edged solutions (Schulhofer 1998).
The idea that risk is, therefore, a neutral concept is increasingly less sustainable for two
reasons. First, risk, as it pertains to risk taking, is gendered in the types of activity or risky
behaviour women choose to engage in. Taking risks for women as a means of taking
control of their lives involves managing the risks of sex-related activitiesa terrain where
women are required to carefully negotiate the structurally imposed line between the
good and bad woman, the madonna and whore image, the virtuous woman and the fallen
woman. A risky sexual encounter is not just about fearing pregnancy or violence from
ones sex partner, it is also tied to fears about maintaining the perception that one took
care to guard against an unwanted pregnancy or an attack (Stanko 1997: 489). Second,
the concept is also gendered in discussions of how women prevent risks. The vast amount
of research about the way in which women negotiate and manage their potential risk of
victimization highlights how for many women, avoiding the risky other is about
avoiding victimization from men. As Stanko (1997: 492) remarks, risk is not about
modernity and the ontological insecurity people experience, for women it is about
misogyny and the continued perpetration of womens oppression through fear of crime
and blame for their situation. That crime surveys and critiques of modernity cannot fully
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capture why women express high levels of vulnerability about being victimized is a
critique about the way in which risk has been conceptualized (Sparks 1992; Stanko 1997).
Stanko (1997: 487) argues that the concept of risk has been distorted by criminological
writings that fail to understand how risk is part of the way in which womens subjectivities
are produced. The relational insecurity women experience with men is a routine feature
of what it means to be female. Womens daily engagement in the process of self-policing
or self-governance is borne out of knowing that the consequences of not doing so is not
just the potential threat of violence from men, but also the possibility of being negatively
labelled or medicalized for transgressing the boundaries of permissible conduct (Boyd
1999: 336; Chunn and Menzies 1998).
A closer examination of how the concept of risk is understood in criminological
writings points to the political nature of its formulation. First, risk assessments in
criminology are embedded predominantly in the discourse of criminal victimization,
thus representing a departure from traditional understandings of risk that saw the
concept as a reference to an examination of probabilities (Short 1984; Dake 1992;
Walklate 1997). Since risk management is wedded to the avoidance of criminal victimization, it is incapable of talking about risk-taking activities because the concept is
coupled with the idea of danger rather than probability (Walklate 1997). As a result,
risk taking is seen in criminological writings as pathological or aberrant behaviour.
Douglas (1992) argues that risk aversion is not the only rational behaviour and to suggest
this is the case is a reflection of deep cultural biases at work. Second, the concern with the
management of risk in criminology through risk assessments is focused on street level
crimes and has largely ignored white-collar crimes, corporate crimes or crimes in the
home. Risk theorists like Mary Douglas (1992) contend that constructions of risks are
socially and culturally mediated, therefore, risk perceptions are always partial and the
product of politically negotiated outcomes. Questions around which risks warrants the
most concern by policymakers or public interest groups is strongly influenced by
distinctive sets of beliefs and values (Dake 1992). In this context, the identification,
assessment and management of particular forms of behaviour or persons as risky
provides a lens through which we can understand how certain risk perceptions
contribute to maintaining a particular way of life (Pratkanis et al. 1989).
Given the narrow framework criminology has assigned to the concept of risk, it comes
as no surprise that criminological discussions of women and risk have overlooked how
the assessment of risk is gendered despite the fact that public discourse about criminal
victimization is significantly gendered (Owen 1995). Furthermore, in failing to
acknowledge that the primary onus is placed on women to avoid risks and be safe in both
public and private spheres, mainstream criminology continues to marginalize and
ignore the impact of crime on women.

Conclusion
A recognition of risk as gendered relies on acknowledging that there can be no essential
notion of risk; that risk is variable; risk itself is of more than one type. Our argument is
that gender is one important constitutive determinant of how risk is negotiated and
understood. Risk is gendered on a continuum both in the sense of empirical potential
harm and the recognition and definition of that harm. Women, it may be argued, are
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required to engage in instrumental risk in order to interact socially, work, cohabitate with
a man etc. However, this does not signal womens victimhood but rather their agency in
flouting potential dangers in the general pursuit of material subsistence. Equally,
working-class and black men will engage in instrumental risks such as coal mining or
property crime because they need to, notwithstanding that the act itself may also be
exciting (Katz 1988). Thus, the exercise of risk above and beyond that required for
material subsistence and engagement with industrial capitalism, we suggest, is a sign of
how risk is mediated by conditions of gender, race and class.
The need to escape from the mundanity of life through the exercise of individual risk
taking is an impulse most often associated with a lack of generalized risk susceptibility in
everyday social relations. It is to be expected that most sky-divers should be middle-class
white males. Unnecessary staged risks, that is non-instrumental or indulgent individual
risks, are almost exclusively the purview of the privileged. Those who by their standing
seek not relief from what Simmel called the umwelt, that little movable bubble around
us that carries with it consciousness of risk and a general sense of wariness (Young 1999:
1678), but rather seek thrills specifically because they may lack the umwelts significant
presence. They seek to slum outside their upper/middle-class, gendered and racial fortifications, both symbolic and physical, that insulate them from these everyday urban risks.
Those that engage in non-instrumental risks typically need not navigate drive-by death,
the risk of being buried in a mine shaft, unwanted touching, and public and private
incivilities of every sort.
We are thus giving recognition to the multi-faceted nature of risk by arguing that risk
does not exist in any absolute sense, which is not to suggest it does not exist in a real sense.
What we are saying is that gender intersecting with race and class conditions the very
definition and practice of risk. Gender is an expression of risk because, at its core, it
represents the opposition of women and men both as analytic categories and social
constructs as well as actors in a universe of potential harms.
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