1: Introduction: Denying Oppression a Future 1 – Gender, the State and Feminist Praxis

The introduction to the collection begins by outlining the aims of the book – broadly, to document a series of feminist interventions into criminology; to discuss injustice as a feminist issue; and to promote responses built on feminist praxis. It examines where we are currently in relation to issues outlined forty years ago by seminal feminist texts including Dobash and Dobash’s Violence Against Wives: A Case against the Patriarchy (1979). To do this, the chapter addresses what can be achieved through feminist praxis and traces significant theoretical and methodological developments. Next, the chapter considers a number of persistent issues with the process of gendered victimization through an exploration of prevailing cultural norms, contemporary regimes of truth and the enduring role of the state. Finally, the chapter attempts to map the ground for resistance and consider the (necessarily limited) harms towards women and girls which the collection discusses, and the vision of justice articulated, indeed demanded, by the contributors.

It is over 40 years since the publication in paperback of the seminal, feminist text Violence against Wives: A Case against the Patriarchy (Dobash and Dobash, 1979). Alongside other important feminist-inspired texts produced in the 1970s, Violence against Wives contributed to a critical, feminist praxis through its analysis of power, men’s violence, gender relations and the state. The book provided a feminist-based, analytical framework for addressing three key areas: the historical context of male dominance and the prevailing cultural norms which uphold and maintain the dominant social order; the realities of interpersonal violence and the systematic loss of power experienced by women at an institutional level, in this instance, the institution of marriage; and the incompetent response of state support systems for women in need which were underpinned by victim-blaming narratives. The text concluded by warning that unless the legal, political, economic and family structures which pervade every aspect of cultural life were challenged and disassembled, the systemic subordination of women and the endemic nature of violent practices against them would continue.

In 2022, all of these arguments remain depressingly familiar. While there are many causes for celebration with regard to feminist gains made over the last 40 years, these are neither secure nor protected. Rampant, toxic masculinity and violent, structural power relations such as ‘race’, ethnicity, nationality, sexuality, faith, socio-economic status and disability, bind together enduring and remorseless acts of violence against women and children, perpetrated at individual, institutional and state levels. Against a backdrop of a global health pandemic, an urgent movement for racial justice, Brexit, the decimation of the public sector through the onslaught of austerity, and the continued role of state institutions in policing and punishing vulnerable women, and in reinforcing patriarchal social relations, the future looks bleak.

However, we appear to be at a critical juncture in relation to the ongoing disruption of accepted academic narrative, popular common sense and political complacency around particular gendered social issues. In breaking the silence around sexual harassment and abuse, various disclosures and different campaigns have sought to frame men’s violence as an issue that is pervasive, overlooked and ignored. Recently, the tireless work of survivors and activists, in particular, have succeeded in exposing the continuum of violence (Kelly, 1988) faced by women and children in a range of contexts – the home, state institutions, the sporting arena, the entertainment industry, the education system and aid agencies, for example – and, importantly, they have done so on an international scale, penetrating dominant cultural and political discourses as well as the public consciousness. The centrality of the White voice in the #MeToo era has also been subject to analysis and rightly positioned as an enduring practice, which will no longer be tolerated (Phipps, 2019).

Discussions of permissive spaces and themes of (re)victimization and the power of silence have also opened up other urgent debates. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill and Nationality and Borders Bill represent a threat to the various gains made through feminist activism and the space in which the exercise of state power can be resisted. Moreover, the treatment and detainment of incarcerated women and the use of punitive and discriminatory immigration controls within the ‘hostile environment’ manufactured by the British state (see Canning, Chapter 7, this volume); the continued control over female bodies through denial of abortion by devolved powers in Northern Ireland (discussed by McDaid and Nelis in Chapter 3 in this volume); and the ongoing inquiry into undercover policing, examining the highly publicized practice of deceiving women into intimate relationships with male police officers (discussed by Jackson and Monk in Chapter 6 in this volume), for example, highlight the distinctly gendered approach state abuses are currently taking. At the same time, they also highlight the distinctly gendered nature of resistance and the inroads that women are making in attempting to hold the state to account.

For these reasons, this is a book concerned with documenting a series of feminist interventions into criminology; examining the injustices discussed in the contributions as feminist issues and outlining responses built on feminist praxis. The argument here is that the complex social structures, multiple and interlocking inequalities, state-defined forms of acceptable femininity, common-sense and state-defined definitions of acceptable, ultimately repressive and regressive, forms of hegemonic masculinity and violent mechanisms of social control, through which these injustices are produced and sustained, require rigorous feminist analysis in order to dispute and displace deeply embedded gender norms and misogynies, many of which have recently come to the fore in public and political discourses. Thus, this book makes the case for continued and revitalized political and structural analysis to make the operations of the state and its institutions clear as a precursor to contesting their workings. The book is designed to contribute to the development of a counter-discourse to resist the politics of gendered subjugation and victimization and document survival strategies in the 21st century.

All of this will be aimed at making a case for extending a feminist criminology which is equipped to contest and dismantle the hetero-patriarchal state, the hegemonic, militarized form of masculinity on which its institutions are based, and the social harms which it produces and maintains. We wish to celebrate the vitality and productivity of five decades worth of feminist work in criminology while extending, rather than repeating, feminist analysis. This edited collection brings together academics and activists seeking to document the politics of feminist interventions and responses to injustices in the criminal justice system (CJS), broadly conceived. It also highlights and challenges the endless capacity of the state to close things down, to cynically incorporate spheres of resistance and contestation and to disentangle the connections we can make within and across the theory–policy–practice nexus. It is designed, therefore, to explore the radical space opened up by feminist interventions into criminology in order to ask key questions about the conceptualization of gender, the complacent state response to women’s victimization and the punitive state response to women’s criminality.

In this introduction, we first sketch out where we are currently in relation to issues outlined 40 years or so ago, addressing what has been achieved by feminist praxis and tracing significant theoretical and methodological developments. Next, we consider what issues still persist through an exploration of prevailing cultural norms, contemporary regimes of truth and the role of the state. Finally, we attempt to map the ground for resistance and consider the (necessarily limited) harms towards women and girls which the collection discusses, and the vision of justice articulated, indeed demanded, by the contributors.

Feminist praxis and intersectional ideas

Carol Smart (1995) famously queried whether criminology had anything to offer those engaged in feminist scholarship and we are unsure whether there was ever a sufficient answer given to this question. What we do know is that feminist thinking and feminist praxis have added much to the general terrain of criminological inquiry and that radical, counter-discursive spaces have been opened up by feminist interventions into the discipline. It is not our intention to thoroughly review the range of developments in feminist criminologies (see Daly, 2010; Carrington, 2018 for contemporary overviews). We acknowledge and celebrate the ground-breaking intrusions made by the convergence of feminist activism and feminist theory into criminology. From a variety of different and distinctive approaches, feminist criminologies have sought to dismantle and rebuild criminological frames of reference and traditional methodologies, making room for women as producers of knowledge and acknowledging and working with the varied relationships women have with victimization, criminalization and social harm.

It is our contention that the way forward for feminist criminology, research and activism, in terms of intervention, contestation and resistance to the injustices outlined in this collection, requires responses which are built on feminist praxis. In practice, this means asking the question, what is this research and knowledge for? For feminist research, and a feminist praxis, the production of knowledge which contributes to the radical transformation of the social world is key. Stanley (1990) suggests the use of the term ‘feminist praxis’ is important for three central reasons. First, it signifies a feminist commitment to ‘a political position in which “knowledge” is not simply defined as “knowledge what” but also as “knowledge for”’ (Stanley, 1990: 15, emphasis in original). Second, a feminist praxis rejects the divide between theory and research. Instead, they are understood as symbiotically related activities which are mutually beneficial in the production of purposeful knowledge. Third, feminist praxis centralizes methodological and epistemological concerns and asserts that the ‘how’ and ‘what’ of research ‘are indissolubly interconnected and that the shape and nature of the “what” will be a product of the “how” of its investigation’ (Stanley, 1990: 15). The approach outlined by Stanley allows for an analysis of issues of power, violence, gender relations and the state as feminist issues. It also values the relationship between theory and method in terms of their connections to the production of purposeful knowledge. Finally, the value in feminist praxis is to move beyond critique and to forge a path forward which intervenes and resists injustices which, as this collection documents, span a range of state institutions.

What Smart (1976) and others were calling for nearly 50 years ago, which remains as pressing and as prescient today, is the adoption of perspectives which understand ‘the different ways in which the state and state apparatus define, respond to, and control men and women and reproduce the dominant social order’ (Monk and Sim, 2017: 8, emphasis in original). To understand the material and ideological conditions under which masculinity and femininity are constructed, maintained and reproduced, and their interaction with intersecting systems of power is fundamental to any progressive critical social theory and, as such, we maintain that a feminist take on criminology, built upon feminist praxis, is essential.

However, to capture and attend to the specificity, variability and multiplicity of women’s experiences of criminal and social (in)justice, feminist criminologies must address cross-cutting regimes of inequality and the effects that these systems of power, and the role of state institutions, have on each other. Appeals, emerging from predominantly Black and racially minoritized women,2 to end the compartmentalization of identity and experience and to understand social divisions as relational, interactive, intermeshed and dynamic gave rise to a broad approach which insisted that historical, cultural, socio-economic, ethnic and racial diversity mattered (Davis, 1983; King, 1988; Mohanty, 1988; Rice, 1990; Crenshaw, 1991).

Referring to what Collins (2000: 18) calls the ‘matrix of domination’, applying an intersectional lens (Crenshaw, 1991) insists that people are characterized by a multitude of social divisions, that these divisions are socially constructed and modified by other systems of power, and that they create specific social locations (hooks, 1992; Burgess-Proctor, 2006). The interplay of hierarchies of power and difference takes place on structural, subjective and discursive levels (Yuval-Davis, 2006) occupying both productive and compounding space. This positions women differently in relation to criminal law, criminal justice and social justice (Spivak, 1990; Carrington, 2018). It is imperative, therefore, that feminists working with questions of justice seek to explore the ways in which ‘race’, ethnicity, social class, age, sexuality and disability impact upon experience and state and institutional discrimination and power. Feminists who work from this perspective would be advocating an intersectional approach to studying gender (Burgess-Proctor, 2006).

Potter suggests that ‘despite the relevance of an intersectional perspective to most questions within criminology, its implementation has remained at the conceptual level’ (Potter, 2015, in Parmar, 2017: 37, emphasis added). Much criminological work on intersectionality and crime has sought to understand how the lived experiences of offenders and victims complicate analyses focusing on ‘race’, class, gender, place or sexuality, rather than exploring how these systems of power work together to produce specific effects. However, some feminist criminologies have adopted versions of an intersectional approach for some time to examine the interlaced impacts of social divisions and how these constructs map onto criminological contexts (see, for example, Carlen, 1983, 1998; Richie, 1996, 2005).

The CJS, and its associated institutions, are an integral part of state apparatus which is able to reinforce, transform and reproduce social inequalities (Daly and Stephens, 1995). To do this ‘the state itself enshrines White supremacy, heteropatriarchy, and transmisogyny into its legal codes – a structure that operates through non-consensual imposition, coercion, and at many times, brute force’ (Whalley and Hackett, 2017: 4). The only way to effectively grapple with the complexities and messiness of these vectors of power, and to contribute to their dismantlement, is to tackle them as co-producing forces and ones which are inscribed into our conceptualizations of social location, privilege and oppression. In the context of women’s treatment by the state, the ‘call to take an intersectional approach is more than an intellectual exercise: it is literally a matter of life and death’ (Paik, 2017: 4). Nonetheless, these discussions remain ‘fairly scarce’ in mainstream debates (Thiara and Gill, 2010: 33). This point is made persuasively by Gill in this collection (Chapter 9). We join her, Potter and others in advocating for an expanded use of an intersectional framework ‘in all forms of inquiry and most certainly in any form of criminology that designates itself as critical’ (Potter, 2013: 316; 2015).

Cultural norms and contemporary regimes of truth

On 24 November 2020, the ‘Counting Dead Women’ project commemorated UK women and girls killed by men in the previous 12 months, naming them on Twitter, one at a time, every five minutes. It took nine hours to commemorate all those killed. On the same day, the Femicide Census report was also published (Long et al, 2020). The report detailed levels of fatal violence against women across a ten-year period, 2009–18, stating that at least 1,425 women were killed by men in that period (Long et al, 2020: 3). This means that a man killed a woman every three days. Why, given the ostensible increase in economic, social and personal freedoms for women, investment from successive governments through a plethora of initiatives, consistent and vehement campaigning from activists, survivors and the academy, and claims by the police, and other state institutions, that they have changed, has men’s violence against women continued to be exercised fatally at such an alarming and devastating rate? There are, we suggest, a number of answers to this question, many of which remain unresolved and unchanged despite consistent dissenting actions and voices, some of which are covered in the first section of this book by Anette Ballinger (Chapter 2). We wish to concentrate first, here, on one of the issues identified by Dobash and Dobash (1979), which centralizes the role that cultural norms play in the stability and maintenance of the gendered social order. To do this, we examine the ‘regimes of truth’ (Foucault, 1980: 133) which endure with regard to sexual violence.

The reasons, excuses and justifications of the violent man are well known and documented, in academic and activist work, case law and the cultural narratives of victim-blaming. They do not need to be rehearsed in detail here, but they are important in pointing to the longevity of reductive, narrow cultural discourses with which contemporary society can make sense of gendered, sexed and racialized culpability. Despite the transitory and contestable nature of these regulatory tropes, the meaning we attach to social divisions as they intersect and modify each other and as they produce material, symbolic and violent effects, persists.

In December 2018, Grace Millane was murdered. The man convicted of her murder choked her so hard and for so long that she died. He claimed that this was a case of ‘sex games gone wrong’, a term gaining traction as a specific defence to murder and one which takes place against a cultural backdrop of ‘consensual rough sex’ (We Can’t Consent To This, 2020). There is much to learn from the narrative that weaved its way through all elements of this case about prevailing cultural norms and the relentless acts of victim-blaming which circulate around acts of sexual violence and gendered culpability. Ballinger picks this up in this collection, arguing that the case, alongside others, exemplifies the clock ‘turning backwards’ in terms of how we deal with violence against women and the themes of individualization and responsibilization (see also Atkinson, Chapter 5, for a discussion of how these themes produce dominant institutional truths around sexual violence).

Despite the outcome of the trial, systemic misunderstandings around the case and a reliance on tired interpretations may actually serve to reinscribe problematic social attitudes, particularly in a technology-mediated world. A series of discursive manoeuvres (Howe, 2008), which systematically attempt to present a utopian sexual terrain, full of freedom, liberation and choice, masks, a feminist analysis of the case would suggest, a culture-wide obligation for young women to embrace the ‘progressive’ and agency-led sexual demands of the 21st century (Gavey, 2005; Levy, 2005). While this may be true for some, and happily so, the Millane case typifies what we know from years of feminist research and praxis – that many women are forced or coerced into, or acquiesce to, sexual relationships, and still encounter issues when trying to exercise full autonomy over their gendered performance, sexed bodies and subjectivity. At the heart of many women’s relationship to sex, and to gender relations, gender regimes and the gender order, is the normalization of sexed violence.

For Gavey (2019), the trial of Grace Millane’s killer and the unprecedented media coverage that it generated ‘unfolded as a crucible of modern gender and sexual politics’. She continues:

The perils of blame and shame was a key theme in lawyer Ron Mansfield’s speech to introduce the defence evidence. ‘The younger generation,’ he was reported saying, ‘does not adhere to this “pressure on us to appear normal”, and they can teach us about their refusal to accept these old concepts.’ On the surface, his words sound progressive. They resonate with feminist ‘sex positive’ discourse, which calls for women’s rights to sexual pleasure and experimentation without judgement and shame. They fit with queer theory’s critique of the oppressive grip of societal ideas about what is ‘normal’. And they appear to embrace inclusion, as they reject the way that some sexual practices and identities have historically been marginalized and stigmatised. … But this picture of a happy new sexual landscape is woefully blind to the ways it remains shaped by gendered dynamics of power and domination. (Gavey, 2019)

This interpretation by the legal defence team and by several media outlets when ‘reporting’ on the case fundamentally ignores the violence at the centre of this crime and the normalization of violence against women during sex. Thirty-eight per cent of UK women under the age of 40 report being assaulted during otherwise consensual sex (Harte, 2019). These acts of assault include being choked, slapped, gagged and spat on. These acts of violence are presented in dominant discourse as elements of modern sexual culture, that is, until this violence is contested in some way. At this point, established regimes of truth are deployed to dissect appropriate sexual behaviour for women and to undermine women’s experiences. Grace Millane was constructed as having received what she asked for – rough sex, strangulation – and the victim-blaming narratives deployed in both media and legal discourse throughout the trial served to rework old provocation defences to fit contemporary excuses for men who kill women (see also Howe, Chapter 11, this volume). Grace’s case is one which ultimately demonstrates how little we understand, or are willing to understand, about men’s violence against women and how dominant discourses still prevail in the production of common-sense ideas, and in the media’s sensationalist and titillating coverage, of sex, violence and crime.

Contemporary regimes of truth, therefore, not only demonstrate a limited level of understanding of these issues, but also, the reproduction of these discourses work to mystify the realities of injustice at the hands of the state and its institutions. Challenging these truths, as Foucault (1977: 13) states, requires ‘a battle about the status of truth and the economic/political role it plays’. This battle for truth is, however, a challenge, given the stubborn persistence of discourses which work to mystify, deny, deflect and responsibilize gendered harms. Over 25 years ago, Lees (1997) and Ussher (1997) identified medical discourses which operate in the legal process to construct women’s bodies in rape trials in ways which cast doubt on their credibility as victims, based on the ‘typical’ bodily signs of rape and the standard of how a ‘reasonable woman’ would respond. Despite several reforms, the Centre for Women’s Justice (CWJ) (2020, 2021), which explored how the CJS responds to women who kill abusive men, found that such discourses are still utilized at trial by medical experts to assess the ‘reasonableness’ of a woman’s belief that she is in danger, despite not being trained in issues of violence against women and girls (VAWG). Further, the CWJ (2021) argued that a hierarchy of expertise is evident in such cases whereby psychiatrists are perceived as the most qualified, regardless of the specialism of the medical expert, such as expertise in trauma and VAWG. This operation maintains the elevation of expert knowledge and the relegation of knowledge predicated on experience (a point also highlighted by Tucker in Chapter 4 in this volume).

For us, consequently, these issues are not separate from the ways in which they are spoken about. Questioning the construction of ideas of masculinity and femininity and the ways in which sex, violence and crime are put into discourse (Foucault, 1980; Howe, 2008) is of central importance to the project of feminist criminology. Thinking critically about ‘common-sense’ ideas around sex and sexuality as they relate to sexual violence is a long-standing feminist concern. Notably, Gavey (2005: 2) highlighted what she terms ‘the cultural scaffolding of rape’, that is, the everyday, taken for granted, normative forms of heterosexuality. She argues that these normalizing dimensions of contemporary heterosex provide the discursive scaffolding that enables rape. This scaffolding is further supported by the abject failure of the CJS to protect women and deliver justice. In 2019–20, police recorded 55,130 rapes which led to 2,102 prosecutions and 1,439 convictions in England and Wales (Topping and Barr, 2020). These are the lowest ever recorded prosecution and conviction statistics since data on rape has been collected. We are, in 2022, effectively facing the decriminalization of rape.

Poststructuralist feminists have developed these arguments on language, discourse and the construction of sexuality in relation to sexual violence. Alcoff (2018: 3) argues that rape cultures produce a discursive formation in which ‘the intelligibility of claims is not by logical argument or evidence, but by frames that set out who can be victimised, who can be accused, which are plausible narratives, and in what contexts rape may be spoken about, even in private spaces’. Discourses, therefore, determine the criteria by which the statement of experiences of sexual violence are interpreted. Feminist work has, however, challenged the normalization of these discourses and shown how these common-sense ideas and claims to truth are, in fact, an exercise of power, reinforcing and regulating the gender order (Bumiller, 1987; Smart, 1989; Lees, 1997; Ussher, 1997). This exercise of power is central to many of the analyses in this collection which document a series of feminist interventions into criminology. For example, some common-sense ideas which have been challenged by feminist thinking and praxis include the victim/offender binary for women (Clarke and Chadwick, 2020; Barr and Hart, Chapter 8, this volume), and the ‘discovery’ of girls’ violence and the enduring fascination with ‘new’ forms of violence encapsulated in the slogan ‘girls gone wild’ (Chesney-Lind and Irwin, 2008; Hodgson, Chapter 12, this volume).

The state and the gendered social order

This collection also seeks to centralize the role of the state and its relationship to a gendered social order, underutilized as a point of analysis in our view. The state’s role in gendered relations has been theorized from different perspectives and, irrespective of the feminist position taken, and the ways in which its varied institutional sites are understood, the state remains a relevant site of analysis for theorizing gender relations and the often-violent maintenance of a hierarchical, gendered social order.

A particularly useful analysis, for us, comes from Connell (1994), who outlined a framework for analysing the interplay of existing power relations in which gender relations are understood as inseparable from the state and its institutions. For Connell, the state is not ‘essentially patriarchal or male … the state is historically patriarchal, patriarchal as a matter of concrete social practices’ (Connell, 1994: 163, emphasis in original). It represents the institutionalization of power relations persisting over time. Importantly, however, it is not the only institutionalization of power, nor does it hold the monopoly on the use of force to regulate gender relations. As Connell points out, feminist work has highlighted the ways in which gender relations are enforced through violence in the home. It is, therefore, appropriate to view the state as just one part of ‘a wider structure of gender relations that embody violence or other means of control’ (Connell, 1994: 520). It is through a conceptualization of the gender order that unequal gender relations can be understood at both the micro and macro levels, in terms of their connections and disjunctions. The violence within interpersonal relationships, for example, is, at times, reflected in the operation of state institutions (Richie, 2012; Connell and Pearse, 2015). This is at times direct, in that it is perpetrated by state actors and agents against women, as seen in the murder of Sarah Everard3 (BBC News, 2021), the handling of the murders of Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman4 (Dodd, 2021), in the range of work carried out by INCITE! (2018) which explores the intersection of gender violence and state violence, and in the information being uncovered by SPYCOPS about the number of women deceived into sexual relationships with undercover police officers (SPYCOPS, 2021).

This violence is also indirect, a result of inaction, negligent policy and practice and a lack of protection for victims of various injustices. This can be seen through the work of INQUEST (2018) on the levels of self-harm and death in women’s prisons, also explored by Atkinson, Monk and Sim in this volume (Chapter 10), in the drop in the prosecution of rape to the lowest ever recorded conviction rates, as already discussed in this chapter, and in relation to the asylum system (Canning, Chapter 7, this volume). Whether directly perpetrated by state actors or as an indirect result of state practices, the effect is the extension of interpersonal violence from the family to the institutional violence of the state, its institutions and practices (Richie, 2012; Davis, 2016).

Centralizing the role of the state and its relationship to the coercive maintenance and reproduction of a gendered social order, requires an analysis of the state’s response to behaviours in both public and private. As Susan Edwards noted, there is a ‘clear existence of a public/private divide in law, which organises and ratifies a different level of response to similar conduct in two terrains, including a different level of police response and priorities’ (Edwards, 1989: 4). The Femicide Census report states that in 47 per cent of men’s fatal violence against women, men used a sharp instrument as a weapon to kill (Long et al, 2020: 34). That is, 675 women were killed by being (repeatedly) struck by some sort of weapon and these women were seven times more likely to be killed in their own home than any outdoor or public area (Long et al, 2020: 34). The emphasis placed on the use of weapons in public space has shaped the law and order agenda, concentrating on the causes, prevention and punishment of conflict, crime and public, often racialized, disorder (Grimshaw and Ford, 2018; Williams and Clarke, 2018), at the expense of acknowledging and foregrounding weapons as the most frequent method of violence in femicides. What concerns us here, through an intersectional feminist lens, is that issues of private order are edged out of the debate. The maintenance and regulation of public order remains at the heart of the state and the phallocentric legal system’s response to issues of criminal justice. This disjuncture is significant for several reasons.

First, this example brings into sharp focus Edwards’ (1989) point about differential responses to similar conduct which takes place either in the full glare of public surveillance or the silence of the domesticized sphere. Drawing a state-led distinction here between the public and the private sphere is crucial to reinscribing women’s place in the home, and, in turn, their place in the social order. One fundamental way of maintaining this ideology is by underutilizing the criminal law and criminal justice protections for women who are abused by men known to them (Hanmer et al, 1989; Naffine, 2003). Another way is to punish women who are seen to be disorderly, rather than necessarily law-breaking, in public (Chadwick and Little, 1987), an argument developed by Jackson and Monk in Chapter 6 of this collection.

Second, these different responses clearly delineate issues which are considered to be ‘law and order issues’. A preoccupation with anti-social behaviour and violence in the public sphere and the state’s woeful response to men’s violence against women perpetrated predominantly in the private sphere, indicates that only certain forms of aggression are criminalized and discriminates between acceptable (private) and unacceptable (public) forms of violence (Radford, 1989; Naffine, 2003). Sitting outside of the dominant focus of law and order, the institution of the family, a well-established gender regime and one which acts as a collective site for the production of specific gendered behaviours and relations (Connell, 2009; Morris, 2009), is left largely unregulated by criminal law or state intervention (Naffine, 2003). To treat men’s violence against women as a serious social harm and to afford women safety and protection in the private order of the family and the home, would serve to undermine the public social order that the state is so keen to uphold. We need to analyse the structural conditions under which certain forms of violence are sanctioned and unpick the proximity of these sanctioned acts to the stabilization of the social order (discussed further by Canning in Chapter 7 of this volume).

However, calls for more serious approaches to men’s violence against women come alongside feminist calls for anti-carceral approaches, fewer police and less imprisonment. The issue of VAWG forces us to confront the intricacies and penological contradictions of these complex ideas. As we discuss further in this chapter, these arguments can be made simultaneously, with immediate reform to current systems (see Howe, Chapter 11, this volume) as a necessary part of the move towards more radical structural change towards what Carlen (1990), and many of this book’s contributors, refer to as a ‘woman [and girl] wise penology’.

Challenging state power, seeking justice

Given the operation of power through criminal justice and state institutions, some feminists have engaged with the state, its institutions and practices, to different extents, in order to challenge the operation and exercise of patriarchal power. Feminists have been able to achieve reforms to policy and legislation, particularly in relation to sexual violence and violence against women. Notwithstanding this range of reforms, as Ballinger (2009) asserted, such changes have done little, if anything, to reduce the extent of sexual violence. She argues that when the failures of the state to respond to sexual violence are conceptualized as a ‘“legitimacy deficit” … that the law is faulty and in need of reform’, they are removed from ‘the structural context of the heteropatriarchal social order which feminists have identified as being responsible for gendered violence in the first place’ (Ballinger, 2009: 4). The social context and the power of the law, which make gendered violence routine, Ballinger (2009) argues, remains effectively unchanged.

Lees (1997: 175) also noted the ‘profound scepticism’ of researching state institutions, particularly the legal system, due to the fact that too much is conceded when the state is engaged with. Rather than an acceptance of the significance of the law, Smart (1989) argues for a resistance to the law, as a system of knowledge which is juridogenic in nature and is enhanced by its extension into new modes of regulation and disciplinary mechanisms, a point picked up by Atkinson in Chapter 5. Ultimately, rather than focusing on reform, the law should be challenged on the grounds that it has the ‘power to define and disqualify’ (Smart, 1989: 164). Feminism’s focus on the power of the law should, therefore, be to redefine law’s ‘truth’ (Foucault, 2000), through the development and articulation of feminist knowledge, a focus which this collection seeks to address. Feminist use of the law and criminal justice institutions, as an avenue for intervention and seeking justice, is explored in Chapters 9 and 11 by Gill and Howe respectively, in relation to sexual abuse against British South Asian women and defences to intimate partner femicide.

It could be argued that through legal and policy reforms, campaigns against violence against women have achieved ‘sufficient social validation … [and] won mainstream legitimization’ (Richie, 2012: 65). For Richie (2012), however, this validation has been achieved through a softening of the radical politics of anti-violence, grassroots movements. That is a move from identifying sexual violence as a result of gender inequality in both public and private spheres, ‘rooted in the politics of patriarchy’ (Richie, 2012: 68), to a movement which has been institutionalized and co-opted. Reforms which result from such softened anti-violence politics, moreover, do little for the most marginalized women who often bear the brunt of hostile social policies which stigmatize and compound the impacts of men’s violence (Richie, 2012). A feminist conceptualization of justice is therefore required, which not only highlights the organization of the social world as one in which women experience disproportionate levels of violence, but also recognizes that deferring to traditional institutional responses, ‘places women on the margins (poor, black, trans, disabled) in danger’ (Olufemi, 2020: 111–12).

As such, it is important to state what is meant, in this collection, by ‘justice’, particularly as we begin to make the case for a feminist criminology which is equipped to contest and dismantle the historically hetero-patriarchal state and the social harms it produces and maintains. It is not the remit of this collection to focus only on justice which is state-sanctioned. Indeed, as already noted, and as will be detailed in many of the chapters to follow, the CJS does not offer safety and justice to women and girls. For those who are harmed by misogyny and patriarchal structures, the CJS can be a site of secondary victimization and trauma. Rather than a focus, then, on criminal justice only, we propose a way of moving forward which challenges harm more widely and broadens our perception of justice.

The concept of social harm emerged from a critique of criminology which was developed by Hillyard and colleagues (2004). The authors contended that the discipline of criminology is problematic in its perpetuation of the myth of crime, which has no ontological reality and focuses its downward gaze on (often petty) crimes of the powerless. Criminology’s focus, moreover, excludes state and corporate harm, legitimates the expansion of crime control and reinforces hegemonic power relations. Providing a new lens through which to view injustices, the authors argued for a move from the study of crime to the study of harm including: physical harms, financial/economic harms, emotional and psychological harms and cultural safety (for a consolidation and development of this typology of harms see Canning and Tombs, 2021, which adds harms of recognition and autonomy harms). In terms of an ontological basis for a social harm or zemiological approach, Pemberton (2015: 9) defines harms ‘as specific events or instances where human flourishing is demonstrably compromised’. This theoretical framework takes into account the wider structural inequalities created by patriarchal, neoliberal, neo-colonial, heteronormative, ableist structures. Feminist studies of social harm both explicitly and implicitly apply these concepts when intersectionality is at the forefront of their investigations.

This does not mean, however, that all feminist studies are concerned with social harm. In particular, ‘carceral feminism’ which relies only on the structures of the carceral state to achieve justice can be critiqued. Phipps (2020: 46) argues that carceral feminism ‘pays little or no attention to the people of colour and working-class white people who tend to be the targets of punitive state systems and community retribution’. As Watts (2018) has argued, the carceral shadow of the prison continues into the prisoner re-entry industry, and into carceral devolution in schools, welfare agencies and even supermarkets. As such, carceral feminism can increase women’s experiences of harm in a number of ways. From the 1970s onwards, a movement led by Black feminists produced activist organizations which called for solutions to, and analysis of, both interpersonal and state violence. As McNaul (2021) sets out, this led to activist collaboration with the anti-prison movement to provide strategies for addressing violence experienced by women and LGBTQI people which provide safety and accountability. This collaboration continues to influence activist organizations in the US and beyond, for example in the Black Lives Matter movement and in Britain and Ireland, in the response to sexual violence and the violence of austerity as challenged by groups such as Sisters Uncut, Women in Prison, Alliance for Choice and Reclaim the Agenda (McNaul, 2021).

How, then, are just futures envisaged by anti-carceral approaches? Inspired by the work of anti-carceral Black feminists, Marc Lamont-Hill (2020) set out the possibility of anti-carceral futures in a recent examination of the role of policing and protest in the COVID-19 pandemic and the unfolding of the Movement for Black Lives in the US, and around the world. He argues:

[W]e must ask challenging questions about the sources of the various forms of unsafety and harm we experience. We must also develop proactive measures to mitigate the harm we experience in our neighbourhoods. Investment in mental health, conflict resolution, violence interruption – not to mention food, clothing, shelter, education and living-wage jobs – are the starting point for addressing and preventing the various forms of suffering experienced by the vulnerable. (Lamont-Hill, 2020: 115)

To this, we add calls for properly funded domestic and sexual violence services, which the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty have found ‘not fit for purpose’ (Alston, 2018: 142), an end to the ‘hostile environment’, equal access to abortion services across Britain, Ireland and beyond, high-quality childcare, decriminalization of sex work and drug use, and abolishing the politics of, and policies around, austerity in all its forms. McNaul (2021) calls for ‘transformative justice’ which supports and encourages recovery from interpersonal, cultural and institutional violence, building on the success of intersectional, feminist activism.

In addition to the need for a recognition of harm, beyond the category of crime, a reconceptualization of justice, which centralizes the person who has experienced injustice, and reflects the broad range of intersecting harms experienced by many is vital. Expanding our understanding of justice, beyond a punitive, reactive, carceral framework, means considering approaches which foreground prevention and offer a diversity of options for those who have been harmed. These options should reflect the harms experienced and offer the ability to take control of the process of justice seeking, a point which is imperative for those who have often had their decision-making capacities violated. One way in which this can be conceptualized is through expanding the discourse of justice to reflect the broad range of harms which result from injustices perpetrated at structural, subjective and discursive levels.

Discussing justice for those who have experienced sexual violence, McGlynn and Westmarland (2019: 179) developed the term ‘kaleidoscopic justice’ whereby justice is not solely understood through a ‘linear, dichotomous and incident-based’ (McGlynn and Westmarland, 2019: 181) criminal justice conceptualization in which justice is achieved, or not. Instead, kaleidoscopic justice reflects the fact that justice is ‘a constantly shifting pattern … is constantly refracted through new experiences or understandings … and is an ever-evolving, nuanced lived experience’ (McGlynn and Westmarland, 2019: 179). Justice is, moreover, understood as a collective pursuit and relates to ‘consequences, recognition, dignity, voice, prevention and connectedness’.

Given the evidence, documented in this collection and elsewhere, which demonstrates the harms of the CJS, and state institutions more broadly, the principles of kaleidoscopic justice can be used to inform policies and practices which respond to those who have been harmed. McGlynn and Westmarland (2019) do highlight the harms of the CJS, and recognize this is not a suitable option for all, however, in recognition of the need to challenge the operation of state power, and the state’s role in the perpetration and perpetuation of a multitude of harms, commitment to radical, transformative change to the operation of state institutions is also crucial. Therefore, beyond reforms to improve the current situation, it is key that these are undertaken alongside a broader commitment to radical, transformative change in society and its institutions.

As McGlynn and Westmarland (2019) and others note, justice ultimately equates to the prevention of harm. The safety and protection of women and girls from harms experienced at multiple levels, in public and private, is the goal. Taken together, the contributions to this collection evidence the need, as Sim (2020) highlights, to challenge dominant discourses of safety and protection and to make the connections between harms experienced by a range of marginalized groups. Overall, it is essential that harm and (in)justice are considered beyond limited, individualized and punitive frameworks in order to challenge the brutal and persistent maintenance of the dominant social order, outlined by Dobash and Dobash (1979) over 40 years ago.

The gendered spectre of COVID-19

While writing and editing this book, COVID-19 took hold across the world, ushering in a global health pandemic which resulted in deaths on a mass scale, collective trauma and grief, new ways of being and a variety of measures taken by nation states to control and contain the virus, including what has come to be known as ‘lockdown’ in Britain and Ireland. Although data demonstrates that men die of COVID-19 at a higher rate (Mallapaty, 2020), the other silent killers in this crisis, not documented in the official, government statistics, are rooted in structural inequalities, brought to bear on marginalized groups through political and ideological decisions which pre-date the virus (Cooper and Whyte, 2017). At the same time, several modes of privilege and power have served to shift risk onto others. Women have performed more paid work on the frontline of the pandemic (Summers, 2021). The structural conditions and operation of systemic racism have also resulted in a disproportionate number of Black and Minority Ethnic people dying or becoming seriously ill from COVID-19 (Haque et al, 2020). Here, applying an intersectional lens to an analysis of those unduly affected by the disease is vitally important if we also wish to capture the wider implications of unequal power distribution (Haque et al, 2020).

Women have been impacted by the crisis in numerous ways. Existing issues have been exacerbated by COVID-19 and by the restrictions implemented to tackle the spread of the virus. The home is a notoriously unsafe space for many women. Levels of violence against women and girls increased as a result of lockdown measures globally (Sri et al, 2021). In the UK, within the first month of lockdown from March 2020, 16 women and girls were killed, a rate three times higher than the same period in 2019 (Taub and Bradley, 2020). Frontline services have experienced a rising demand for refuge space and support services during the pandemic citing a myriad of issues including an increase in domestic abuse, further restrictions to accessing support, additional barriers to leaving an abusive situation, increased abuse towards children and post-relationship abuse (Davldge, 2020). Black and minoritized women experienced an increase in interpersonal violence exacerbated by the heightened structural discrimination rampant throughout the pandemic (Banga and Roy, 2020). Similarly, the impact of COVID-19 on disabled women calls for a centralization of their experiences, in a landscape where access to health, medical and social care is restricted (Davldge, 2020). The decision not to undertake large-scale early release measures and radically reduce the prison population in the wake of COVID-19 has had devastating and deadly impact across the CJS (INQUEST, 2021). Short scrutiny visits by the Prisons Inspectorate (HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, 2020) highlighted the catastrophic impact of lockdown measures on the women’s prison estate including reduced time out of cells, suspension of education, withdrawal of a range of interventions including reduced mental health support, suspension of family visits, and delays to the rollout of virtual visiting, which meant some women had not seen their children for months. These have no doubt contributed to the increase on the already high levels of self-harm in women’s prisons with INQUEST (2021) noting a 13 per cent increase in the year to December 2020 on the previous year, and further increases in the first quarter of 2021.

The disproportionate impact of COVID-19 has also seeped through into other aspects of home and work life. Women are more likely to have taken on the home schooling of their children; have been dealt an unequal distribution of parenting responsibilities (Adams-Prassl et al, 2020); considered leaving or have left their work outside of the home (Topping, 2020); and faced redundancy and risk to employment going forward (Topping, 2021). This has been noted in academia with women publishing far less in lockdown than their male counterparts (Andersen et al, 2020). Certainly, as an all-woman editorial team we have faced our own challenges in completing this book. Deadlines passed as we worked, studied and parented at home (and finished a PhD in isolation!), separated from family, friends, colleagues and each other and grappling with the profound changes to our lives as feminist academics. The reactivation of prescribed gender roles in the home during lockdown deserves attention, and most certainly lockdown conditions had an impact on the longevity of writing this collection, for us, and many of the contributing authors. The chapters that make up this collection, consequently, span a three-year period (2019–21), an unavoidable outcome of being thrown into a global health crisis and one that deserves documenting for posterity reasons if nothing else.

Moving forward, the pandemic has exacerbated gender inequalities in almost all senses, rolling back gains made through feminist praxis and activism in recent years. Long-term consequences of the pandemic are estimated to effect women disproportionately in a range of areas, including employment, wage earnings, the gender pay gap, employment rights, maternity discrimination, childcare accessibility, and victimization (Topping, 2020). As such, the material and symbolic effects of COVID-19 are ripe for feminist analysis.

It is our assertion that the conditions under which we have had to live and work during the pandemic will undoubtedly shape and revise the feminist tools (Ahmed, 2017) with which we can contest and challenge the state’s gendered strategy of discipline, punishment and control. While we do not have the space to sufficiently consider what a feminist criminology will look like in the age of COVID-19, and many of the contributions to this collection pre-date the pandemic, the prospect of our lives being radically changed on a number of different levels does raise significant questions for feminist theory and practice. We hope that feminists, including those who work with questions of injustice with the central aim of holding the state to account, can continue to produce ways of knowing that enable us to move forward in this new era, and that the terrain that we outline here will be useful in this period of adaptation. Despite the uncertain political, social and economic landscape left by the onslaught of COVID-19, this new decade is an energetic and creative time for feminist thought and praxis across the social sciences.

Structure of the collection

This book is divided into three parts. This introduction sits alongside Chapter 2 (Anette Ballinger) and, taken together, these chapters discuss the continuities across contemporary and long-standing concerns around the brutal exercise of patriarchal state power and injustice. Ballinger revisits her pertinent question from her seminal piece ‘Gender, power and the state: Same as it ever was?’ (2009). The chapter foregrounds an understanding of all knowledge as politically situated and interrogates how regulatory state apparatuses across Britain and Ireland contribute to experiences of gendered injustice. Drawing upon arguments which seek to explain the state’s material and ideological interventions into maintaining and reproducing a hetero-patriarchal social order, these two chapters contribute towards our aim to extend critical, feminist, intersectional analysis through the concepts of feminist epistemology and feminist praxis, illustrating their usefulness as theoretical, methodological and political models for the 21st century.

The second part of the book explores the relationship between state practice and feminist praxis. The third part presents a critical analysis of the role of the CJS in patriarchal structures of domination and subjugation and their relationship with feminist praxis. In both parts, the authors all support the arguments for intersectional feminist justice, based on the myriad of case studies and theoretical perspectives examined. Justice in all cases is interrogated from a feminist perspective. Yet, as is to be expected in an edited collection, there is no one-size-fits-all solution offered to the multitude of gendered harms examined. In a number of chapters, the harms of the CJS itself are expounded upon, for example Jackson and Monk in Chapter 6 examine police as both perpetrators of violence and ineffective protectors. Howe (in Chapter 11) considers the (mostly) historical injustices perpetuated by the provocation defence of infidelity in the context of femicide. Hodgson and Barr and Hart (Chapters 12 and 8) respectively examine the harms faced by criminalized girls and women. Self-harm and the deaths of women in prison are critically examined by Atkinson, Monk and Sim in Chapter 10. In both Gill and McDaid and Nelis’ chapters (9 and 3) the neglect of attention by the state to harms experienced by certain groups of women – British South Asian Women experiencing sexual abuse and Irish women seeking abortions, including in the six counties of Northern Ireland, is critiqued. Similarly, the neglect of state attention to the gendered aspects of child sexual abuse is examined by Tucker in Chapter 4. Harm producing aspects of state institutions are examined in Chapter 5, in Atkinson’s exploration of sexual violence against women university students and the ‘truth’ that is constructed about this violence. Canning also explores intersectional experiences of harm in Chapter 7, highlighting the myriad forms of patriarchal and racist harms experienced by women (often survivors of sexual violence) seeking asylum in the North West of England.

Again, as would be expected from a diverse range of feminist researchers, there are a variety of theoretical, methodological and activist implications for achieving justice. Some of the chapters take an explicitly anti-carceral or abolitionist approach to achieving gendered justice. Barr and Hart, for example, examine the theoretical and practical implications of developing a feminist desistance which is intersectional and anti-carceral in nature. Hodgson proposes the development of a ‘girl-wise penology’ which directly challenges the harms of the carceral state particularly faced by criminal justice involved girls. Atkinson, Monk and Sim also return to Pat Carlen’s (1990) call for a ‘woman wise penology’ built on an ‘open-ended feminist jurisprudence’ as key steps leading eventually to ‘the virtual abolition of women’s imprisonment’ (Carlen, 1990: 9 cited in Atkinson, Monk and Sim, Chapter 10, this volume).

A number of other chapters also situate justice beyond the realms of the CJS, in particular noting how state institutions, which appear to have reformed and focused on justice, must be continuously challenged from an avowedly feminist perspective. Canning presents a six-point proposal for those working on women’s right to asylum, which includes a recognition of the asylum system as something which is not broken but is working as it is intended to, in a harmful way. McDaid and Nelis note that decriminalization of abortion in Ireland has not automatically meant comprehensive provision of abortion access, and, they argue, attention must be paid, and challenge must be given, to the continued denial of bodily autonomy rights. Tucker highlights how intersectional feminist interventions into child sexual abuse have been marginalized and subjugated by official discourse despite heightened public awareness of the issue. Atkinson points to the institutional failings of universities in responding to sexual violence and outlines a framework, based on feminist praxis, for placing victim- and survivor-led responses at the centre of interventions. Jackson and Monk simply call for policing to always be considered as a feminist issue.

Gill examines the potential of reform to policing to encourage the reporting of sexual abuse among South Asian women. What is needed, Gill contends, is a ‘multi-layered, intersectional and integrated approach’ to understanding how social and cultural difference affects gendered violence, and how it is responded to by the police, in relation to Black and racially minoritized women. Howe celebrates the success of feminist interventions to reform the legal system by ending provocation defences of infidelity for wife-killers. As she persuasively argues, this must surely count as a resounding success for a feminist reform movement determined to stop men getting away with murder. In both chapters, the need for immediate intersectional reform is clear in the absence of community justice alternatives. Moderate tools can nonetheless achieve radical aims. As Bree Carlton (2018) has maintained, anti-carceral feminist approaches to justice can be informed by feminist reforms, even to the CJS. Carlton (2018) rejects the simplistic dualism of reform and abolition, particularly in the seeking, demanding and implementing of feminist justice. These chapters have at their heart a resistance to gendered violence, whether this violence is interpersonal, symbolic or is perpetrated by the state. On this note, ‘reformist strategies … within a broader vision striving for social and structural change rather than just penal change is the only way forward’ (Carlton, 2018: 302). This argument is reflected across the chapters in this collection which call for immediate feminist intervention to radically change the socially harmful systems of patriarchal power at all levels of a gender divided society.

Ultimately, in the 21st century, against the current tumultuous economic, political, ideological and cultural backdrop, and the desperate and traumatic impact of this backdrop on women and girls across a range of different social arenas, the contributions to this collection explore contemporary research areas and consider new directions in feminist research, theory, policy and practice in order to present a feminist criminology for this century. It seeks, in its own way, to contribute to a socially just and safe world for women and girls.



The chapter title is paraphrased from Susan Brownmiller’s classic text Against Our Will (1975: 454).


The chapters in this collection utilize varying terminology to denote ethnicity and ‘race’. While we, as editors, utilize the term Black and racially minoritized women where relevant, we also reproduce the original terminology used in sources when this is what we are directly referring to and when data has been collected through use of this terminology. Other contributors use different language which reflects, as specifically as possible, the ethnicity, ‘race’ and processes of minoritization imposed on the people being referred to.


The case is explained further by Jackson and Monk, Chapter 6 in this collection.


The Metropolitan Police failed the family of Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman when they did not follow their missing person’s policies. Two Metropolitan Police officers are also facing criminal charges over taking photos at the scene where the sisters’ bodies were found murdered. See Dodd (2021) for more details.


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