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Gender, Social Networks, and Residential Burglary

NCJ Number
Criminology Volume: 41 Issue: 3 Dated: August 2003 Pages: 813-840
Date Published
August 2003
27 pages

To understand how the gendered social networks characteristic of streetlife influence male and female participation in, and accomplishment of, residential burglary, this federally supported study explored how gender structures residential burglary networks, opportunities, and meanings using in-depth interview data to make direct comparisons between male and female offenders.


Previous research established that residential burglary is a prototypically social offense, shaped by ongoing relationships and interactions set in the broader world of streetlife. Residential burglars typically offend in groups, routinely use inside information gathered during their daily rounds to select potential targets, and frequently dispose of stolen goods through established networks. Given the highly social nature of residential burglary, the potential role played by gender in shaping the commission of the offense has received little research attention. This paper examined how gender structures women’s and men’s perceptions and expectations of their co-offenders, especially focusing on how female offenders negotiate the patriarchal perceptions of their male co-offenders. The paper attempted to expand the understanding of these important processes. Data were drawn from a larger sample of 105 active residential burglars, 18 females and 87 males. The study sample consisted of all 18 female offenders and 36 of the male offenders who were recruited in the early 1990's on the streets of St. Louis, MO. Study findings demonstrate that residential burglary is a significantly gender-stratified offense; the processes of initiation, commission, and potential desistance are heavily structured by gender norms. Women engaged in residential burglaries do not confront all of the gender issues that females face in violent offending, especially with respect to face-to-face impression management with targets, but they do have to negotiate male-dominated networks and landscapes in accomplishing their crimes. Gender is seen as playing the strongest role in shaping opportunity and the events leading up to residential burglaries, such as information gathering, while playing a lesser, but still important, role in molding actual offense commission. Once women successfully gain access to residential burglary networks, they tend to adopt accomplishment strategies very similar to male counterparts and co-offenders. In addition, women in the sample had to be mindful of their position within female-dominated domestic networks. This study expresses how gender stereotypes are expressed, reinforced, and exploited within streetlife social networks, and how these networks shape the lived experience of men and women engaged in residential burglary. References

Date Published: August 1, 2003