The cost of masculine crime

Men are, by a huge margin, the sex responsible for violent, sexual and other serious crime. The economic cost of this ‘masculine excess’ in delinquency is staggering - to say nothing of its emotional toll. Why is the social shaping of masculinity not an urgent policy issue?

Cynthia Cockburn Ann Oakley
8 March 2013

Read this article in French

Some months ago we wrote a piece in the Guardian on the costs to UK society of masculine criminality. Our article drew an avalanche of negative comment, mainly from men dismissing it as ‘man-hating’ and/or ‘man-baiting’. We return to the issue here, inviting a reasoned discussion. Anti-social acts that harm well-being – from speed driving to calculated murder - are overwhelmingly performed by men. The human and emotional costs of what we will call this ‘masculine excess’ in criminality are very great. But some of the economic and social costs to society can be estimated. They merit a serious policy response. 

Government statistics and reports on crime pay much attention to the type of offence and to the victim of crime. One has to dig deep among the many tables to find figures disaggregated to show sex of offender – yet when uncovered the figures are startling. Take simple ‘criminality’. Of the one-third of a million people in England and Wales found guilty of an indictable offence in the 12 months ending June 2012, 85% were men. The more violent the crime, the more men predominate. From a unique table deep in the quarterly Ministry of Justice Criminal Justice Statistics Bulletin for England and Wales we learn that males were 88% of those found guilty of violence against the person, and more than 98% of those committing sexual offences. 

Scale down to the mundane level of non-violent wrong-doing and the gender pattern, while less extreme, persists. Take ‘theft and handling stolen goods’, a crime commonly attributed to women: men still predominate as 79% of offenders. Of ‘penalty notices for disorder’ issued in England and Wales, 76% were served on men; and men were 83% of those ticked off by police in ‘reprimands and warnings’.  Of the 21,645 ASBOs (anti-social behaviour orders) issued in 2011, 86% went to males. And the gendering of indiscipline is already there in school, where boys are four out of five of pupils receiving exclusion orders.

Yet there is apparently little concern among policy-makers about this masculine excess of anti-social behaviour. A substantial Home Office Statistical Bulletin titled Homicides, Firearm Offences and Intimate Violence 2010/11, makes no mention of sex of offender in any of its 61 tables. A casual one-liner in the text observes that 90% of those convicted of homicide were male. There is no further comment. The Office for National Statistics bulletin on Violent Crime And Sexual Offences stresses sex of victim and age of offender, but again slips in only a single reference to sex of offender. Yes, 86% are male. A publication on Knife Crime Statistics prepared for Members of Parliament opens with the words, ‘The issue of knife related crime continues to be high on the political agenda due to a series of tragic knife related incidents’. However, while the analysis and accompanying tables tell us much about the victims, we are left to guess the gender of the knife-attackers. The merest hint is given by the author who lets slip a male pronoun, stating, “It is an offence…for a person to have with him in any public place any offensive weapon” (our italics). 

The Ministry of Justice estimates the average cost to society of handling incidents in the various different categories of crime. Up in the violent stratosphere where men are in the ninety-percents, a homicide case is said to incur a cost of £1.7 million; a sexual offence £36,952; a serious wounding £25,747. Down there in ‘theft’ (where women do their shop-lifting) the cost to society is a mere £763 per packet of panty-hose. How much of the ‘costs of crime’ would be saved if men behaved like women? Unfortunately in the Ministry of Justice statistics the category of crime is not specified in terms enabling cross reference to the Home Office figures. But we can hazard an estimate. A Home Office report published in 2005 estimated the total cost of crime against individuals and households in England and Wales per twelve-month period as £36.2 billion.  Violent crime accounts for nearly three-quarters of the total cost of crime (viz. £27 billion a year) and men are habitually around 88% of offenders. This generates a rough figure for the cost of males’ violent crimes of £24 billion a year. Using the same calculation, women’s violent crime costs some £3 billion a year. The difference between these two figures, £21 billion, we can term the ‘masculine excess’. This calculation is for violent crime only. If we factor in a rough estimate for the other categories of crime, a further £6 billion might be added to the masculine excess. 

We can put another item on masculinity’s bill – the cost of keeping a large number of men in prison. Ministry of Justice figures for the population ‘in custody’ in England and Wales at a recent date (30 September 2012) show a total of 86,457 individuals, 95% of them males. This is not untypical - statistics over several years show men to be rather consistently nineteen out of twenty of the total prison population. The cost per prison place is calculated to be £39,573 per annum. If men were to commit offences resulting in a prison sentence at the same rate as women, the total prison population would fall to a tenth of its present size, with a saving to the exchequer of just over £3 billion a year. If we add these three provisional figures together (£21 billion, £6 billion and £3 billion), we arrive at a nicely rounded £30 billion masculine excesses of crime costs for the year 2012. To put the matter in proportion…during that year the nation’s public sector net borrowing, the deficit currently bringing the Exchequer to its knees, came in at a figure not much more than four times this - £125.7 billion.

Curiously, a concern with ‘gender equality’ obscures these facts. In order to fulfil the ‘equality’ provision in the 1991 Criminal Justice Act; the Ministry of Justice publishes annual reports titled Women and the Criminal Justice System. These focus exclusively on women, reproducing the already well-rehearsed statistics of women as victims, suspects, defendants and prison inmates. It generates some interesting and poignant facts. For instance we learn that the rate at which female prisoners self-harm during their term in prison is ten times higher than is the case for men. But where ‘gender’ is interpreted as ‘women’, men remain in the shadows. A comparable analysis of Men and the Criminal Justice System might just be explosive enough to spark a policy response. 

As it is, a concern with ‘gender equality’ may even require women to foot the bill for male crime. Consider motoring. Men drive more than women and are responsible for the majority of driving offences. In the twelve months ending June 2012, 94% of indictable motoring offences were committed by men. A man is three-and-a-half times more likely than a woman to be in court for reckless driving. All this is very well known to those who make the actuarial calculations on which insurance premiums are based, so that women have traditionally paid less than men for their car insurance. Last year however the European Court of Justice deemed this a contravention of gender equality law, directing insurers to treat men and women drivers identically, despite their hugely different risk rates. As a result, women’s premiums have seen an average hike of 14%, while men’s have fallen by an average of almost 5%.

Year after year, we fail to connect the huge burden of masculine anti-social behaviour with the social and economic system of which it is part. Where is the search for reasons and remedies? Instead of joining the dots, and drawing a conclusion, we treat every piece of breaking news as a shocking new scandal, a special case. Jimmy Savile is exposed, along with other male celebrity paedophiles. The policy response, ready and waiting, is ‘we need better child protection’. Nobody thinks to ask, ‘what is it with men and power?’ A school massacre grabs the headlines. It is taken for granted the perpetrator will be a male. But the policy response is ‘tighten gun control’. Not, ‘what is it with men and guns?’ Almost always in such accounts of violent crime the man as male, the man as masculine, remains a shadowy figure behind the text. He is never brought into the spotlight. We do not hear him questioned. We do not hear him answer.

We need to probe more deeply into why and how our culture produces men and boys with a propensity for anti-social and violent behaviour. It can’t be blamed on the Y chromosome. Genes have little effect unless and until they are activated by the growing individual’s social environment. And our environment is an unhealthy, unequal society which not only allows a violence-prone masculinity to flourish but positively fosters it, in upbringing, schooling, sport, entertainment and media – to say nothing of military training. The male body is knowingly developed as a force of coercion. The ideal man is shaped as a character in whom the softer emotions are repressed, in favour of combativeness, risk-taking and a readiness for violence. Femininity is produced in a complementary mode, contrasted with masculinity, but compliant in a system ruled by qualities and values deemed masculine. This emphatic gendering process may benefit patriarchy, capitalism and the nation state, but it severely harms women, children – and men. Everyone has a human interest in a radical transformation of gender relations. And now.



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