Gender, Crime, and the Criminal Law Defenses

101 Pages Posted: 24 Oct 2009 Last revised: 1 Dec 2009


Gender is one of the strongest predictors of crime, particularly violent crime. Arrest, self report, and victimization data consistently show that men and boys commit significantly more crime, both serious and not, than women and girls. In addition evidence from the Biosocial Study - one of the country’s largest longitudinal studies of biological, psychological, and sociological predictors of crime - shows that different factors are predictive of crime among females than males. With some exceptions, biological factors were found to be more predictive of crime among females, whereas environmental factors were found to be more predictive of crime among males. These differences between the sexes raise the question of whether the criminal justice system should recognize a gender-based standard for either punishments or defenses. After a detailed look at the results of the Biosocial Study and examination of current gender-based defenses, both biological and cultural, the author concludes that criminal defenses and sentencing should be gender neutral. A policy of specific deterrence based on generalizations about immutable individual characteristics, such as gender, offends society’s notions of justice and promotes faulty stereotypes.

Keywords: gender, gender differences, sex, sex differences, crime, violence, biology, psychology, sociology, environment, prediction, deterrence, stereotypes, criminal justice system, sentencing, immutable characteristics

Suggested Citation

Denno, Deborah W., Gender, Crime, and the Criminal Law Defenses. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Vol. 85, No. 1, pp. 80-180, 1994, Available at SSRN:

Deborah W. Denno (Contact Author)

Fordham University School of Law ( email )

Fordham University School of Law
150 West 62nd Street
New York, NY 10023
United States
212-636-6868 (Phone)
212-636-6899 (Fax)

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