Social Challenges: Gender

The differential needs of girls and women have been well documented over the years, and they are an important consideration for crime prevention policy and programming.

Females at greater risk of victimization

Out of all age groups, female teens between the ages of 15 and 19 experience the most personal victimization,1 including violence at home and on the streets. Teens are also less likely to report these kinds of crimes to police.


Although men and women have similar overall risks of victimization, women are more likely than men to be victims of severe violence. They are also more likely to experience repeated spousal violence, with women between the ages of 25 and 34 experiencing the greatest risk.2

Another particularly vulnerable group are immigrant and visible minority women, according the CCSD research report Nowhere to Turn?. It's not necessarily because this group of women are more likely to experience partner violence, but rather that they are less likely to report it, and they are more likely to have trouble obtaining the appropriate help and services. To remedy this problem, the CCSD collaborated with workers in this field to create a National Network on Partner Violence Against Immigrant and Visible Minority Women. The Network's first newsletter was published in October 2004.

Female offenders

Crime statistics show that men are much more likely than women to be involved in crime, and males far outnumber females in Canadian correctional facilities.

However, in contrast to declines in Canadian crime rates generally, the national rate of violent crime among young girls and women has been increasing steadily since 1992. Female youth are also being given more serious sentences than ever before, like being remanded to custody rather than given community service options.3

Violent activity seems to peak at a younger age for women than it does for men – around age 14 to 15 for girls, compared to age 17 for boys.4 Behind these statistics are social and psychological differences which, in many cases, are key to designing effective crime prevention programs for females.

As many as 31% of aggressive girls suffer from depression and accompanying conditions such as eating disorders or self-mutilating behaviours.5 These characteristics are also common among adult female offenders, and they present a constant challenge for correctional services (see "Report on self-injurious behaviour in the Kingston prison for women" by Jan Heney at ).

Addressing the special needs of at-risk females

A Maclean's article in 2003 reported that aggressive teenaged girls respond much better to programs that are tailored specifically for women.6 Other well-known organizations, such as the United Nations, consistently advocate for crime prevention programs that respond specifically to the needs of girls and women to prevent crime before it happens.7 Although most prevention programs are provided to both boys and girls simultaneously, it is clear that the differing needs of girls must be an integral part of crime prevention policy and planning.

The Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, with 21 local or regional branches, advocates on behalf of the special needs of women offenders, while the John Howard Society addresses the needs of male offenders. These organizations have a wealth of information about the particular circumstances that put women or men into conflict with the law.

The special needs and circumstances of women have also been recognized by the Canadian correctional system, but many challenges still lie ahead (see "The transformation of Federal corrections for women.")

There are also a number of successful projects geared to prevent female victimization.

Situational crime prevention for women

In Montreal, women's groups were part of an effort to conduct safety audits of the public transportation system. New subway stations were then designed in a way which took into account the security concerns and criteria of women. (See "Safe in the City" in Preventing Crime through Social Development Bulletin, No. 6, Winter 2003.)

In Sao Paulo, Brazil, all-female police stations were created to respond to chronic under-reporting of crimes from women who were victims of violence. Female police officers provided the victims with support and effective action regarding their complaints. As a result, the number of women who filed victimization reports increased considerably, and eventually the incidence of reported rape fell by 37% and threats against women fell by 37%.8

For issues of partner abuse in particular, women have gathered together to overcome their vulnerability, while men have come together to address the underlying causes of male violence. (See, for example, "Safe in the City" in Preventing Crime through Social Development Bulletin, No. 6, Winter 2003, and "A special kind of bullying," a web-only article on this crime prevention subsite.)

If your crime prevention project is geared specifically towards girls and women, or pays special attention to the differential needs of girls and women, please see the Front Lines section of this website to share information about your work with others.

Addressing male offenders

A number of crime prevention programs which address the specific triggers of male criminality, often working inter-generationally.

In Quebec, a program called "Growing up healthy with an incarcerated father" provides parenting assistance to incarcerated fathers. Ultimately, the program helps fathers reintegrate into society and improves the children's development. It also helps break the cycle of criminality. American research shows that boys are more apt to develop antisocial and impulsive behaviours when their fathers are put in jail, and children of inmates are five to six times more likely than other children to eventually end up in prison themselves. (See Preventing Crime through Social Development Bulletin, No. 6, for more details.)

At Winnipeg's Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre, a support program for urban Aboriginal teen mothers also offers a 10-week parenting program for young fathers. This is vital, because one American study found that 90% of men aged 19 to 35 in prison had been born to teenaged mothers. "Gang offenders are particularly likely to have been raised by single moms," says Denis Boulanger, who runs the Ma Mawi Centre's parenting program. "Now you see young guys pushing strollers." (See Preventing Crime through Social Development Bulletin, No. 8, for more details.)

In Nova Scotia, the New Leaf program for men charged with spousal abuse found that by the age of 14, the sons often started mirroring their father's behaviour. To counter this, New Leaf adopted a successful mentoring process with the young men, and later started an outreach program for children in Grades 7 and 9.

Interventions to prevent violence against women seem to be especially effective when they involve both men and women. In Antigonish, Nova Scotia, the Rural Healthy Relationships Project conducts school workshops which divide the students into gender groups to discuss the things they like, and don't like, about their gender. The young women learn about personal safety and the healthy expression of boundaries, and the young men "enjoy the chance to break stereotypes as well" says Krista De Coste, a facilitator with the project.

The success of such small-scale projects demonstrates that patterns can indeed be broken. Just as anti-bullying programs have shown that there is nothing natural and inevitable about school-yard bullying, these projects show that there is nothing natural and inevitable about gender roles which cast males as aggressors.

Other Social Challenges

    Social exclusion
    Well-being of Aboriginal People