Why Female-headed households decrease violent crime


Figure Stolen from Philip:

Conservative pseudointellectuals have been all aflutter about Philip Cohen‘s magisterial takedown of the conservative bullshit argument claiming that female headed households lead to crime. All the  conservatives have left to fall back on is the completely ludicrous argument that the Prison Industrial complex has locked up all of the bad guys, forever, and that is why crime is down. Of course, such crap arguments ignore a huge body of literature showing that incarceration rates are linked to higher rates of crime because of the social disorganization created by having large proportions of people in prison. And, of course, a substantial fraction of the prison population are non-violent drug offenders, not violent criminals.

What Philip misses, and of course the right wing bullshitters could never comprehend, is that something did go on in policing and public policy which reduced the violent crime rate—-and increased the proportion of women heading families—systematic public policy about domestic violence and abuse. What happened in the last three decades? Well, some really smart police chiefs began to realize that the vast majority of murders and a substantial plurality of all violent crime stem from domestic violence. And, domestic violence is almost impossible to deal with if vulnerable family members (women and children, almost always, but also elders) have no where else to go. So, what have we seen? A dramatic proliferation of domestic violence shelters and services, focusing on women and families, but also now increasingly on abused elders. If a woman wants out, she can get help. It isn’t easy. It isn’t perfect. But it’s MUCH better than it was 30-40 years ago when there were no services or legal protections. Indeed, where do we see Philip’s graph on violence turning South? 1994, the first year that the Violence Against Women Act was passed.

Legal protections and policing also played a prominent role. During this same time, spurred by Federal mandates, states and municipalities began to actively engage domestic abuse. Abusers could no longer count on Sheriff Bubba to look the other way, or bring his beaten wife and kids back to the trailer. Family and friends who might have contemplated taking the law into their own hands  to confront abusers (compounding the number of crimes through tit-for-tat violence) now found help in the criminal justice system. Many states enacted mandatory “cooling out” jail time for domestic violence offenders. The effect was profound and immediate. Murder rates and violent crimes plummeted.

Now, women in abusive relationships don’t have to stay with their abuser, and that is what CAUSED the violent crime rate to fall. Breaking the cycle of abusive patriarchy reduces violence.  No abusive relationship, no eventual murder or beating. No abusive husband or boyfriend around? I guess that big shootout at the family thanksgiving won’t happen, will it?  And, if we see his truck pull around the corner, we’re calling the cops, and they’re going to come and take it seriously—it’s their statistics they are worried about, as much as anything. It also doesn’t hurt that gun ownership is also at a historic low, and that younger cohorts are especially less likely to own guns.

Most violent crime has origins in families, and the way to reduce violent crime is to enable people to dislodge violent abusers from their families. And that leaves a nice little peaceful female-headed home. The End. Happy Zappadan!

7 Responses to “Why Female-headed households decrease violent crime”

  1. Philip N. Cohen Says:

    Thanks for pointing that out. If it’s true that the domestic violence movement has reduced violence – which seems seems plausible by the mechanisms you describe – then chalk one up for organized feminism. (This helps counter the male violence caused by emasculating feminists taking away men’s jobs, I guess!)

  2. schmielt Says:

    Interesting. I was expecting some sort of argument about women tending to raise fewer violence-inclined males.

  3. sherkat Says:

    Well, Schmielt, you gotta wonder about that, too! Insofar as violence is learned and promoted in households, maybe taking the violent men out of the equation reduces kids’ embrace of violence as an option. And, Phillip, isn’t it funny that conservatives (who are so scared they have to run around with guns) always assume that violence is about those people, we all know who they are, wanting to take things from “us” because of the feminists!

  4. sherkat Says:

    Oh, and Jesus Fuck, Phillip! Check out where your graph has the violence rate going down…..1994….the year of first passage of the Violence Against Women Act…..

  5. JCB Says:

    I’m not criminologist, and I really liked the Philip Cohen articles linked to, and I think the mechanism you proposed is theoretically plausible, but if a lot of this is caused by things like the 1994 Violence Against Women Act, shouldn’t we see a faster decline in female as opposed to male victimization in violent crimes?

    Like I said, I don’t know the literature and in two minutes on Google Scholar I came across Linda Mill’s “Mandatory Arrest and Prosecution Policies for Domestic Violence” (1998) and skimmed it which suggests that these laws do usually have measurable, positive effect. But just looking at the simplest data, I don’t see women’s homicide victimization declining faster than men’s (I see the opposite): http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/homicide/gender.cfm and men and women seem to have roughly the same decline in overall violent crime victimization: http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/glance/tables/vsxtab.cfm (I graphed the numbers here: http://imgur.com/y9tEE). If the argument is a “children see, children do argument”, that’s one thing, but from this simple simple data, I don’t see any increasing gender difference in vicitimization since the early 90′s which leads me to to think that maybe the changing laws on violence against women haven’t had as strong a *direct* effect on overall violent crimes rates as much as maybe some other factors (reduced gun ownership, a more settled drug market, Roe v. Wade, locking all the poor people up, whatever) have.

    • sherkat Says:

      Nor should it simply be women. That is the point, and why the VAWA is so important from a policing perspective (or a moral one….). It isn’t just women being saved. It’s the boyfriend, brother, son, father, friend, or whoever might wind up caught in the cycle of violence created by the patriarchal subjugation of women advocated by asshats like Bradley Wilcox.

      • JCB Says:

        Just glancing at the research (and I mean, really glancing), there seems to be slightly mixed but general positive effects from the increase in police interventions, but it’s just not to the scale that you’re suggesting. Like, look at this as just one example (it’s a summary of a couple of studies): The results tend to be on that level: successful, but modestly successful (I looked at the abstract for articles, too, but again, I’m really glancing here), Most of the studies seem to be about men who enter the legal system, not the difference between the men in the 70′s who were told to quiet down and the men in the 90′s and after who are (hopefully) more likely to be at least arrested.

        Is there a big study out there that I’m missing that connects the changes in policy towards domestic violence to a large drop in overall violent crime rates? According to wiki,”by 2005, 23 states and the District of Columbia had enacted mandatory arrest for domestic assault” and also, separately, changes in policing strategies like the “Duluth Model” have been widely adopted by local police departments and countless womens shelters have opened up across the country (but unevenly), so presumably this should be a hypothesis that can be tested with instrumental variables or something, right?

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