Popular Science Monthly/Volume 8/January 1876/The Relations of Women to Crime II

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I SHALL, in this paper, consider briefly the sexual and other physical and mental conditions which modify woman's relations to crime. These conditions (B) mainly depend upon—1. Age; 2. Heredity; 3. Physical; and 4. Mental sexual peculiarities. In a former paper of this series,[1] I believe I proved, beyond a doubt, that there are types of mind which are purely the outcome of sex, and which define the mental condition of the sexes. In that paper, criminal statistics were used to assist in establishing the fact of sexual mental differences. Here the method is reversed, and sexual mental traits are employed to explain the known differences in the extent and degree of crime existing among men and women. This will involve the use of some of the facts already considered. While it is true that the social conditions, which we have so briefly analyzed,[2] bear upon woman chiefly because she is as she is, yet they bear also upon the other sex. Many of the sexual conditions we shall study relate to women alone, and, therefore, in their criminal career, exist as a defining force. If, in the ordinary concerns of life, women exhibit mental traits which serve amply to distinguish them, and place limits to their activity, not less in the tabulated histories of crime are the same distinctions and limits found.

1. Age materially influences the extent and degree of crime in both sexes. In relation to physical and functional development, age exists as a defining force. It appears to affect the criminal careers of the sexes in two ways: by permitting such a degree of bodily power to be reached as to render possible criminal acts in different degrees; and, the bodily powers remaining the same, the varying mental conditions produce changes in the force and direction of the criminal impulse. Each period of life, therefore, is characterized by degrees and qualities of crime which belong to it. In other words, certain phases of crime are perpetrated at one period of life in excess of any other period. These remarks do not apply to both sexes equally, for these periods do not correspond either as to age, or in the nature of the offense, the excess of which distinguishes one period from another.

For the purpose of studying the influence of age upon the criminal career of women, I shall analyze the figures of Mr. F. G. P. Neison.[3] The materials embraced in the table of Mr. Neison are for five years, from 1834 to 1839; for, strange to say, the Home-Office returns, since the year last named, to the date of Mr. Nelson's publication, ceased to give the age and sex with reference to classes of crime. In order to simplify the comparison, I shall take the number of male criminals corresponding in age to the female, as the standard of measurement in reference to any given division of crime. Fractions are omitted in reference to both sexes.

At twelve years of age and younger the proportion of females to males is 1 to 6 for crimes against persons, and for crimes against property without violence for the same age the proportion is again 1 to 6. Bearing in mind what has been said in a former chapter,[4] that the ratios of the sexes as to crimes against persons and property are 16 to 100 for the former, and 26 to 100 for the latter, and which also correspond to the difference in strength between the sexes, we see that the element of sexual inequality in strength does not present itself as a factor. In other words, the correspondence in the proportion of the sexes to the two classes of crime represents physical equality, while the difference (1 to 6) is the result of mental sexual traits, which, even at this early age, present themselves. During the next four years the proportion in reference to crimes against persons is nearly double, being 1 to 11; while against property the proportion decreases, being 1 to 5. The average physical strength of the sexes for the second period (twelve to sixteen years) is about equal, so that this sudden proportional increase in crimes against persons in the male sex is the result almost entirely of those qualities which mentally characterize the male. This conclusion is rendered nearly positive by the fact that the maximum is attained by the males in the next five years, sixteen to twenty-one, and is only 1 to 12, during which period it is that the greatest difference in strength between the sexes is developed; yet this difference is represented by an increase of only 1 in the proportion. This agrees with what we know of men, that the development of the passions keeps just in advance of the development of the physical strength, just as the strength declines in advance of the passions. Studying for a moment longer this second period of life (twelve to sixteen) we learn this important fact: that in woman's criminal career it is, proportionally with man, the best period in her life, for at this time also occurs the greatest difference in crimes against property, 1 to 5, the maximal difference in the sexes, as to crimes against persons, being reached at twenty-one years. For the periods following of ten years each, the proportion steadily decreases in the following order, 1 to 9, 1 to 7, until at the decade, between forty and fifty years, we reach again the proportion of childhood (1 to 6). Now, the inference is, not that men grow better and women worse; but that the period of greatest passional intensity has been passed, while in both sexes the will has attained its greatest force. In other words, the period of caution has been reached. This accords with the law that the greatest mental vigor corresponds with structural completion. That this explanation is plausible is shown by the fact that the last decade mentioned is the period in which the proportion between the sexes in crimes against property is more nearly equal, being 1 to 2 and a fraction, and which for former decades steadily held at 1 to 3. There is a further confirmation of this, in the fact that for two periods, fifty to sixty, and sixty and upward, crimes against persons increase among men; the proportion being 1 to 9 and 1 to 10 respectively. That this is not the result of any increase of morality in the other sex, the uniform ratio of the sexes for crimes against property, during the ages last named, renders probable. From the same source we may obtain information which tends to show the truth of the remark made by M. Quetelet, that the proportion of women as to men increases "according to the necessity of the greater publicity before the crime can be perpetrated."[5] In the division of crime called offenses against the currency, we have the conditions favorable to a more even proportion of the sexes. In an offense of this kind the physical equality is not involved. It becomes a question of secrecy, cunning, and shrewdness. These are mental qualities which exist with equal force in the sexes. Consequently in this division of crime for all ages we find a mean proportion of 1 to 2. Expressed in detail the proportion is equal in childhood, 1 to 2 at the next period, and 1 to 3 for the three following, until, at the decade between forty and fifty years, it drops to 1 to 2, and is equal again for the two following periods. The influences which cause equality in the proportions at the two extremes of ages are probably those which produce the same, or nearly the same, results in relation to the other orders of crime.

This analysis of Mr. Nelson's statistics reveals to us a very interesting period in the lives of both sexes—that between forty and fifty years. For all the classes of crime examined, we find the sexes at this period proportionally approaching equality; being in two classes actually at that of childhood. These two classes of crime are those which involve the greatest violence, crimes against persons; and the least, crimes against the currency. For the first, I have already offered a reasonable explanation, that of the period of caution; but, in reference to the latter, we must search further, in order to get at a probable cause. In the last-named offense, we have as a characterizing mental trait the very condition which explains the decrease in the proportion for crimes against persons, and yet at the terminal periods of life we find it obeying the same law. There is one fact which forces itself upon the attention in connection with this; that the first approach to equality in the proportions of the sexes begins suddenly at the term of life between forty and fifty years. This period, for men especially, is that in which the forces engaged in structural repair and waste are in equilibrium. It is one of structural rest, but of functional activity. At no other period in the life of man, therefore, is he physically more competent to meet the demands of his mental life. With women, it is also a period of structural rest, linked to a state of functional completion, so far as the prime motive of sexual life is concerned. It appears reasonable, in view of this, that physical factors be excluded as a probable cause of the phenomenon. But there exist valid reasons for exempting the male sex partly from the operation of the laws affecting this equalization in the proportion of the sexes. These reasons show presumptively that the subtile and obscure laws of crime operate more actively upon the female than the male sex; that, in obedience to these laws, her relations to crime are prolonged into periods of life when men are becoming, to a certain extent, exempt from their operations.

My friend Mr. R. L. Dugdale, of New York, in his brilliant study of the natural history of crime,[6] by an analysis of Tables I. and II. of Mr. Nelson,[7] arrives at important facts. In the tables referred to, crime is classified according to age, and percentages are calculated based upon the total population for each age specified. The maximum for male criminals is found in the period of twenty to twenty-five years, with a percentage to the total population of that age of .7702. Between fifty and sixty years the percentage drops to only .1694. The same law holds good for women, but with modified ratios. Comparing the two sexes, the following results are reached: the tendency to crime, as exhibited in its actual commission, for males at all ages until sixty, diminishes at the rate of 33.333 per centum. For females under similar conditions of age, it diminishes at the rate of 25 per centum. Keeping in view the liability to error in a search through the obscure underlying forces which seem to regulate human conduct in the aggregate, it nevertheless appears reasonable to expect an explanation of this phenomenon to lie in the physical rather than the mental conditions of the sexes at the terminal periods of life. In the decade which was above distinguished as that of physical equilibrium, the governing principles seemed to be the expression of mental forces; but, on reaching the sixtieth year of life, the conditions are reversed. While in the former the conditions of waste and repair were equal, in the latter the repair of the physical forces is exceeded by the waste. This is a law which applies equally to both sexes, but with this difference in the result: the occupation and the crimes which belong in such great excess to men are those which require more physical strength than the occupations and crimes which are adapted to the lesser strength of women. Let us take a familiar illustration: after a man at sixty years of age has retired from the scenes of his labor in the mine, or field, or workshop, the wife of the same age, or older, is yet profitably engaged in her lighter domestic duties. She is yet contributing as materially to the comforts of her family as during the more active years of the husband's life. Now, while it is quite evident that we must regard the cause of the sudden more near equality in the proportion of the sexes which presents itself in the period of life between forty and fifty years as due to psychical changes, the evidence is yet stronger that the ratio of the more rapid decrease of male criminals at the more advanced period of fifty to sixty years is due to the cause I have named—the rapid impairment of physical energy peculiar to the period. Since men greatly preponderate in those phases of crime which demand strength, belligerency, and publicity in the perpetration, the conclusion is legitimate that Crime would rapidly decrease at the time of life in which these qualities are wanting, or are impaired. If we examine the relation of men to the orders of crime, in the perpetration of which these qualities are not necessary, and in which strength may be replaced by caution, and belligerency by cunning, as in offenses against the currency, and in the sixth division of Mr. Nelson called "other offenses," embracing the lighter shades of criminal conduct, we shall see that the proportions between the sexes characteristic of earlier ages hold on unchanged through this last period of life.

It will be interesting to return for a moment and examine what are the real proportions of the sexes, during the criminally most active period of life, between twenty-one and thirty years. While we would not expect in this period to find the groundwork laid for criminal conduct, yet it is the term of life, in both sexes, in which the effects of heredity, of early training, assume activity, and give shape and color to the destiny of the individual. What goes before may be called the germ period, and this the period of fruition. The years which precede the meridional term of life are under the influence of structural and intellectual genesis. It is the result of an aggregation of forces tending to a common end. Life has not reached the level of the conflicting emotions, passions, and activities, which at the completion of structure exist so potently. Activity at this period is the expression of simple laws, which lead to a uniform result. Mr. Neison, reasoning purely from statistics, arrives at the same conclusion, that "in the juvenile period of life the tendency to crime is under the influence of more constant laws or elements, and therefore shows less fluctuation than in mature life."[8] The same conclusions hold good at the closing years of life. Youth and old age unite in the degree and quality of crime. The aggregate of crime in general is committed at the earlier part of this intermediate period of both sexes. The crime of this decade of life is more than quadruple that of any other. During this period occur those differences in the tendency to crime between the sexes which affect the total results. During this period, sex powerfully asserts its influence. Sex is no longer existing potentially in incomplete structure; but it is partly the sum of completed structural effort. Psychically, it is emotion, passion, and unconscious cerebral activity. Physically, it is the difference in development and mechanical power. Each of these is a factor in the differences real and apparent in the tendency to crime existing between men and women. There are many other causes, some of the more important of which have already been referred to, and are of social rather than sexual origin. But social factors operate more strongly at this period than at any other. Society in all its phases is made up of the activities of this period of life. Those forces which in their totality express all there is of society, seem to concentrate and coincide with those forces which express all there is of sex, and tend to one period of life common to both men and women.

2. In this connection it is proper to examine the bearings of women to the hereditary tendency to crime. Recent study of the relations of sex to crime has shown that the hereditary element in the criminal tendency may assume sexual phases. This is exemplified by the law of movement in the direction of the least resistance. The hereditary taint being a fixed factor, it assumes expression in acts which are most in accord with sexual peculiarities. This is nearly equivalent to Dr. Carpenter's theory of special mental aptitudes as giving direction to the force of habit;[9] except that its operation is extended to the hereditary transmissions of mental or physical qualities. It is only in the early middle period of life that, from the nature of things, we would expect to find the criminal tendency under the complete sway of sexual life. The inherited criminal tendency in childhood and early youth finds its outlet in a viciousness common to both sexes, or in the milder forms of crimes against property. This is asserted on general principles. Dr. Carpenter remarks that "this diversity may be in a great part attributed to changes in the physical constitution. Thus, the sexual feeling, which has a most powerful influence on the direction of the thoughts in adolescence, adult age, and middle life, has comparatively little effect at the earlier and later periods."[10] This also accords with Mr. Dugdale's theory of criminal analogues. This theory, in his important work,[11] is mainly brought out in relation to the entailment of crime, and its truth lies in the fact that, in the same family of criminals, while the males are thieves, the females are prostitutes—one the equivalent or analogue of the other. The same family, in the two extremes of life, childhood and old age, exhibits pauperism as either the reality or promise of a criminal career. From the fact that pauperism exists as a parasite upon productive society, and preys upon society to its permanent injury, and makes no return, it will be regarded in this paper as an equivalent to crime against property. When we consider that criminals by entailment are exposed to environments possessing essential qualities in common, it is reasonable to expect that in such crime would conform in a more regular manner to those laws which seem to govern moral conduct, than in those who drift into crime through impulse or misfortune. This, in a general sense, holds true. M. Prosper Despine, in his "Psychologic Naturelle," shows that incendiarism exists in the young of both sexes with the inherited taint, as a characteristic. M. Despine brings out with great force a mental condition of those who inherit crime that gives an additional cause for the operation of the laws of crime with almost undeviating regularity upon this class. This is the total or nearly total absence of the moral sense—moral idiocy—which isolates the offspring of criminal families from the children of untainted birth. By this moral blindness they are distinguished throughout their lives. Thus there are wanting in this class the moral elements which effect or impede the criminal tendency in others. The sense of right or wrong, the sense of shame or disgrace, in no way interferes with the criminal tendency. This is the very condition necessary for the unembarrassed operation of Mr. Dugdale's very probable law of criminal analogues or equivalents. Hence we may say, with almost positive certainty, that the children of both sexes, with the inherited taint, are paupers; that adult life in the male is distinguished by pauperism and crime; that adult life in the female is devoted to prostitution, and that old age brings both sexes again to the state of pauperism. And here again we encounter the phenomenon revealed by an analysis of Mr. Nelson's statistics: the criminal equivalent existing between childhood and senility. It is childhood and old age joining hands, as it were, over the fevered and crime-laden middle life. But, while the moral faculties are absent, the mental powers are perverted to an equal degree. Any one accustomed to closely observe confirmed criminals must be cognizant of the fact that they are not as other men in their habits of mind. What one observes may not be called insanity, in the full meaning of the word, but it appears to be a departure from the standard one forms from mingling with average men. I have noticed this especially with regard to women. From an experience of two years with criminal women undergoing punishment in the Onondaga Penitentiary, I cannot recall an instance in which mental traits were wanting to distinguish them from the average woman. In this class mental peculiarities may be intensified into actual insanity, and the tendency to it exist stronger than in any other class. M. Ribot[12] shows that hereditary crime and insanity are closely connected, and refers to Drs. Ferrus and Lélut, who have established the great frequency of insanity among criminals. Dr. Bruce Thompson, in a recent work,[13] supports this by figures, and proves that twelve per centum of insanity occurs among prisoners, with fifty per centum of recommittals, revealing the strength of the inherited tendency.

The two more important inherited criminal traits which reveal sexual types in their development are pauperism and prostitution. Pauperism appears to be as characteristic of the male sex as prostitution is of the female. The ratio of sexes receiving relief is twenty per cent, of men to thirteen per cent, of women, in out-door, and thirteen per cent, of men to 9.5 per cent, of women in almshouse relief. De Marsangy fixes the ratio at seven times more vagabondage among men than women.[14] As a rule, women receive relief—if single—while child-bearing, and if married they follow the condition of the husband; while widows drift back into prostitution. "Thus we find," remarks Mr. Dugdale, "that although the rates of wages are lower for women, charity is much more frequent among men."[15] The above relates to those who are known to receive relief. The hereditary strength of the last-named offense is shown by the Juke family, so carefully studied by Mr. Dugdale—52.4 per cent, of the women following prostitution. If hereditary disease accompanies the entailment of crime, pauperism is a matter of course; the subject rarely attaining the rank of a criminal, except in the most petty of the offenses against property. Pauperism is a condition of effeteness. It represents the dregs which drop downward through the several strata of society. Morally, it is the most negative condition of humanity. The pauper has sunk below the level of crime. He abstains from crime, not by moral restraints, but by inertness. The woman with the same taint has sunk below the level of the active phases of crime. She drifts into harlotry because it is easier than to steal. If disabled, she becomes a pauper, and thus oscillates between the almshouse and the brothel—a passionless, nerveless being, with all the normal energies crushed out under the burden of entailed defects.

3. It is a more difficult matter to trace through the complicated net-work of passions, emotions, and motives, which underlies the degrees and varieties of crime, the purely sexual physical factor. The main difficulty consists in discriminating this from 'the mental sexual differences which may exist as a cause of differentiation in crime. It is essential, if possible, to gain an approximate idea of the limits of these differences. With the present data at command, this can be accomplished only in the most superficial manner. There exists here more than the suspicion of a great law, the operation of which, if fully known, would clear up many of the doubts lingering around this important subject. While the physical differences will serve to explain the varying relations of the sexes to crime in their broader and more superficial aspects, the mental sexual traits will serve to define the differences in motives, tendencies, and innate moral proclivities of the sexes. Instead of being satisfied with the simple explanation, that the extent of man's excess over woman as a criminal represents the excess of woman over man as a moral being, this knowledge would show that this is not a question of comparative morality alone, but one of intellectual equivalents. To study carefully the scope of the moral equivalents of the sexes is to reach the relations of things in their genesis. It is in this way that the relations of the sexes socially, as well as in crime, will be taken out of the realm of sentimentalism and placed upon a basis of fact. Sentimental views of the relationship of women to crime exist so generally, that they act as a force in the way of an unbiased investigation of the subject. Take, for instance, such a writer as M. de Marsangy,[16] whose motive is the serious one of the amelioration of the penal laws in their bearings upon women, who gravely concludes that man has a "nature less noble, less delicate, less perfect than woman," and yet quotes approvingly that, "Das Weib ist Engel oder Teufel." It is this personal bias which has hitherto obscured this subject, and rendered the work of such writers as M. de Marsangy useless for scientific purposes. Fortunately, this style of scientific writing belongs to the French school of both sentiment and morals.

The mental reflex result of physical strength, as expressed in the criminal act, is more clearly shown in crimes against property attended with violence. Distinguishing it from the other orders of crime—malicious offenses against property, and offenses without violence—we have the motive in the first-mentioned class narrowed to the desire of possession, but so associated with the consciousness of personal strength that it is employed as an agent of the crime. Belligerency, revenge, and other emotions which tend to crime, are absorbed in the order of malicious offenses, and thus the field is left clear, in the class under analysis, for the full play of the physical factor. Omitting ages under sixteen years, as being too nearly equal physically in the sexes, and basing our proportion on the number of criminals of both sexes from that age to twenty-one years, the proportion is 1 woman to 18 men, while for the ten years following it is 1 to 20.[17] This is twice the proportion between the sexes for crimes against persons, and seven times that for crimes against property without violence, for corresponding ages. When we contrast this with the fact that the mean proportion between the sexes for all crimes against property is 1 to 4, and for crimes against the person it is 1 to 6, we may form an idea of the enormous influence of physical strength as a restraint to woman's criminal tendencies. We have, however, to modify this somewhat, by giving more or less value to woman's tendency to avoid those crimes which require publicity in both the planning and perpetration, and which is implied in violent crimes against property; but even giving this trait due weight, the physical factor as exhibited in this order of crime is the one which, more than any other, defines its character. While woman's deficient physical strength, compared to man's, acts so powerfully as an obstacle in the division of crime just considered, it is highly probable that in other offenses it also acts in the same manner, varying in amount, as this quality is necessary to the successful perpetration of the crime. In those crimes in which this factor does not enter, we at once notice that the ratios of the sexes approximate. In adultery, for instance, the proportion of the sexes is about the same.[18] In infanticide, I have already remarked on the ease with which women enter upon a criminal course, when this conforms to the direction of purely sexual qualities; and, undoubtedly, intensity is added by the absence of physical strength as a requisite to the perpetration of the crime. In crimes against the currency, the same near equality in the number of the sexes involved may be noticed, and the fact that the proportions for the most active period of adult life and for childhood and old age are about the same renders it highly probable that this equality is accounted for by the physical strength required for its perpetration being possessed equally by the sexes. In crimes against persons, the influence of this factor can be traced, but not in so marked a manner as in the crimes referred to. In poisoning, for instance, the ratio between the sexes is 91 women to 100 men,[19] and while active mental traits may in part exist as causes for this nearly equal ratio of the sexes, yet the total absence of any need of physical strength must be given due value. Poison is essentially a weapon of weakness. It figures largely in history as the agent of women and politicians. One reason, which probably existed in mediæval days, but which cannot be regarded in modern times, was the difficulty of detection in cases of death by poisoning. It was surrounded by an atmosphere of horrible suspicion, which was never relieved by certainty. It was selected as a political agent by reason of this secrecy, by both sexes, and thus at this period had no sexual qualities. Modern advances in chemistry have rendered poisoning one of the most surely detected of all crimes, and its perpetration has become a characteristic of the weak and cowardly. In some other offenses, as in incendiarism, in which physical strength is as unessential as in poisoning, the ratio between the sexes falls to 34 in 100. Although this is a crime well within the compass of woman's physical abilities, yet it involves other elements, which deter women from its perpetration. Motive, which is the exciting cause of crime and enters largely into the intensity of the tendency, cannot act so powerfully in the latter as the former crime. In order to kill, a stronger motive is required than to burn. Incendiarism requires considerable personal exposure, and danger of immediate detection. Parricide with a ratio of 50 to 100, and wounding of parents with a ratio of 22 to 100 (Quetelet), offer a remarkable contrast to murder and the wounding of strangers, with a ratio taken together of 9 to 100. The necessity of physical strength exists equally in the perpetration of these crimes. The marked difference in ratio, therefore, must be explained by other means. Opportunity and domesticity, already referred to in a former paper, exist largely as the cause of the difference. M. Quetelet, speaking in general terms of the influence of opportunity and domestic habits upon woman's criminal career, remarks: "They can only conceive and execute guilty projects on individuals with whom they are in the greatest intimacy; thus, compared with man, her assassinations are more often in her family than out of it." It would be difficult to present a stronger argument of the influence of woman's social position as a restraint to crime. As we observe in the crimes just referred to, it is not the enormity of the offense which restrains, for we have in parricide twelve times the frequency of murder; it is not weakness, for then parricide, murder, and wounding, should agree in frequency. We are able to trace in this no influence of morality, it is simply the result of the varying degrees of opportunity, domestic life, and mental peculiarities.

  1. Popular Science Monthly, July, 1875.
  2. Popular Science Monthly, November, 1875.
  3. "Contributions to Vital Statistics," table xxix., London, 1857.
  4. Popular Science Monthly, November, 1875.
  5. Loc. cit., p. 90.
  6. "Thirtieth Annual Report of the Prison Association, State of New York," p. 179.
  7. Loc. cit, pp. 303, 304.
  8. Loc. cit., p. 407.
  9. "Principles of Mental Physiology," p. 374.
  10. Loc. cit., p. 365.
  11. "Thirtieth Report," etc., p. 146.
  12. "Heredity," p. 29.
  13. "The Hereditary Nature of Crime."
  14. "Étude sur la Moralité comparée de la Femme et de l'Homme," par M. Bonneville de Marsangy.
  15. Loc. cit., p. 161.
  16. Loc. cit., p. 133.
  17. Neison, loc. cit.
  18. De Marsangy, loc. cit.
  19. Quetelet, loc. cit., p. 91.