chapter  2
“It all has to do with men:” how abusive romantic relationships impact on female pathways to prison A N NUYTIENS AND JENNEKE CHRISTIAENS
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Introduction Since the end of the 1980s there has been an increasing interest in studying female delinquency, acknowledging the centrality of women offenders’ perspectives. In particular, researchers have been using life histories to contextualize and to understand female crime (cf e.g., Batchelor 2005; Brown 2006; Cardi 2007; Carlen 1988; Girshick 1999; Simpson et al. 2008; Sommers 1996). Life history research on female offenders appears to be particularly prevalent in criminal career studies and research on women in prison. Belknap (2007:71) refers to these studies as “feminist pathways research,” defined as “research that attempts to examine girls’ and women’s [. . .] histories, allowing them, when possible, “voice” in order to understand the link between childhood and adult events and traumas and the likelihood of subsequent offending.” These studies reveal many useful insights into the life histories of female prisoners and their pathways to prison. Women’s lives before imprisonment are characterized by several problems, most notably victimization. The proportion of women who experience mental, sexual or physical abuse in childhood and in adulthood, is (much) higher in female prison samples than in general female populations (Browne et al. 1999; Gelsthorpe 2007; Morgan and Liebling 2007; Sheridan 1996) and much higher than in male prison populations (cf e.g., McClellan et al. 1997; Sheridan 1996). Rates of abuse among female prisoners are estimated to be between 30 and 80 percent (Blackburn et al. 2008; Girshick 1999; Owen 1998; Slotboom et al. 2008; Warren et al. 2002a, 2002b). Further, it is assumed that victimization is linked to the high prevalence of psychological problems such as depression, self-mutilation and PTSD among female prisoners (Belknap and Holsinger 2006; Cook et al. 2005). Alcohol and drug addictions are also more prevalent in female prison populations in comparison to both the general female population (Batchelor 2005; Brown 2006; Girshick 1999; Sheridan 1996) and the male prison population (McClellan et al. 1997; Morgan and Liebling 2007; Snell and Morton 1994). A precarious position on the (regular) job market is also typical of women in prison (Cardi 2007; Slotboom et al. 2008); and, more generally, their labor market positions are much more disadvantageous than those of women in the general population (Gelsthorpe 2007) and those of male prisoners (Snell and Morton 1994).