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Gender Identity and Victimization in the US Research Paper

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Updated: Jun 30th, 2021

Literature Review and Data Exploration

The issue of gender identity in the context of the topic of victimization has recently become a subject for discussing in relation to the criminal justice system of the United States. Gender identity is viewed in the scholarly literature as an individual’s perception and vision of his or her gender that cannot be related to this individual’s sex or the qualities of a physical body.1 From this perspective, it is assumed that people can perceive or identify themselves as not only males and females, but also as having both genders or neither of these ones. This complex nature of the gender identity issue often leads to prejudice and controversies in the criminal justice system, as it is discussed in the literature on the topic. The purpose of this section is to provide the review of the literature on the subject of gender identity in the criminal justice system of the United States related to the experiences of certain individuals and the problem of victimization.

Gender-related victimization is presented in the recent literature with reference to covering several topics. They include experiences of persons having lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ) orientations and identity; experiences of women and perceptions of them as potential victims; perceptions of men as potential criminals and offenders. According to the research by Langenderfer-Magruder et al., experiences of LGBTQ people in the criminal justice system are understudied, and more attention should be paid to examining this topic with the focus on the aspect of victimization.2 The reason is in changes of prisms through which these individuals’ experiences are discussed today. In the 1970s, the representatives of the LGBTQ community were often viewed as offenders, especially with reference to the roles of gay males. However, the current discourse is different, and LGBTQ people are often reported to be victims. The behaviors of LGBTQ persons are not discussed as deviant anymore, and police profiling has changed in this context.3 Thus, they often become victims of hate crimes, or they take roles of victims in prisons even when being criminals.

The topic of hate crimes is directly connected with the issues of gender identity and victimization in the modern literature. As it is stated by Morash, hate-motivated violence is often a cause of attacking and offending representatives of the LGBTQ community.4 Thus, they are perceived by researchers and representatives of the criminal justice system as a vulnerable population. Rates of crimes conducted against LGBTQ individuals are high in spite of tendencies to change the public opinion regarding this minority group and address social prejudice.5 One more topic for discussing in this context is the situation when anti-LGBTQ prejudice is typical of the representatives of the criminal justice system, and victimization is promoted by the police or other authorities. The problem is that the cases of police officers’ violence against LGBTQ people are underreported.

One more side of victimization associated with gender identity and discussed in the literature is related to the vulnerable position of women. Researchers state that women are traditionally viewed in society as weaker than men, and females become victims of beating, sexual violence, domestic violence, or rape because their victimization is assumed in society where males are associated with dominance and aggression.6 Statistics and reports support the idea that women become victims of males’ violence in spite of their social status, but there are also some correlations identified by researchers regarding this aspect.7 Representatives of the lower social class tend to demonstrate more aggressive or violent behaviors related to the gender identity issue.8 Thus, these individuals can act aggressively not only in relation to women but also LGBTQ individuals and even children. In addition, the financial status of a woman can also influence her victimization as successful women interacting with unemployed men often become victims of abuse.9

Femininity connected with the female gender is often viewed as the representation of weakness, and this aspect can provoke aggressive actions of individuals who regard themselves as dominant persons. Researchers state that this behavior can be oriented not only to women but also to gay persons and transgender people who view themselves in association with the female gender. As a result, researchers conclude that, in the context of the idea of victimization based on the aspect of gender, potential victims are individuals who associate themselves with women and femininity in general.10 Still, while referring to LGBTQ people, the nature of aggression or violence against these persons can be more complex, and wider reasons for hatred can be determined. From this perspective, there are two prisms identified in the literature that are related to gender and that influence victimization: masculinity and femininity.

Victimization associated with gender identity can also be discussed from the perspective of men who are usually viewed as aggressors in the case of sexual or domestic violence among other types of abuse. However, researchers state that male victims of violence often find themselves in even more vulnerable positions than females do because of the gender identity issue, the idea of masculinity, and social stigmatization against weak men. As a result, men can become indirect victims of gender stereotypes in situations when they are actually victims of violence or a hate crime, for example. Researchers also state that those males who become victims of other males’ aggression can also orient their own violent actions to women.11 Similar situations are often observed when males are brought up in a community or a family where men are dominant and aggressive, and women are dependent and weak.

The review of the literature on the topic of gender identity and victimization allows for indicating certain trends in the scholarly discussion of the problem. Referring to different sources, it is possible to state that the female gender and the aspect of femininity are traditionally associated with the idea of victimization. Thus, women often become victims of gender-related violence and aggression, and they are assumed to be victims and viewed as having this role in society in general and in the criminal justice system in particular. LGBTQ individuals are also discussed today as victims in most cases in contrast to the situation observed in the twentieth century. On the contrary, males usually perform the roles of aggressors or abusers, and they tend to accentuate their masculinity. However, when males are victims of gender-related crimes, they hesitate to ask for support because of social prejudice and stereotypes. Furthermore, risks of discrimination based on gender-related biases are also high even in the criminal justice system, and this aspect influences individuals’ choice of services to use when they experience abuse.

Field Work: Interviews and Observation

Interviews and observations are discussed as primary sources in research because they provide the first-hand information regarding a particular phenomenon. In order to collect primary data on the topic of gender identity and victimization, it was necessary to plan and conduct interviews with a female person who is a victim of domestic violence and with a person who works in a crisis center in one of the US cities and has the experience of working in the criminal justice system. Furthermore, observations in this crisis center were also planned and approved for the purpose of this project by the crisis center managers.

During the first step in collecting data, it was necessary to identify the person for an interview session. M. is a middle-aged married woman who has two daughters. She does not conceal the fact that her first husband was an abuser, and she needed the help of police officers and specialists from the crisis center in order to be protected from domestic violence. M. voluntarily agreed to participate in the interview sessions and answer the questions from the list provided to her in advance. The questions formulated for the semi-structured interview with M. as a victim of domestic violence included the following ones among others: “How could your gender influence perceptions and attitudes of police officers and service providers when you needed assistance?”, “Were you assumed to be a victim in your intimate relationships?”

While answering the questions, M. informed that she was assumed to be a victim of domestic violence from her first words when she called the police. Thus, police officers and service providers regarded M. as a victim and her first husband as an offender prior to discussing the aspects of the case. M. received all the required support and assistance from service providers, but she stated that her gender was assumed as female and her position was viewed as vulnerable without focusing on these aspects. Therefore, her sex influenced other people’s perceptions of her role in the case.

The other interview was conducted with N., a middle-aged man, who previously worked in the criminal justice system and currently obtains an administrative position in a crisis center that provides services and assistance for victims of domestic violence. The questions prepared for the semi-structured interview with this individual included the following ones: “Are there any differences in perceiving and treating representatives of different genders as victims in the criminal justice system of the United States?”, “Are there any differences in treating the representatives of the LGBTQ community?”, “Are there any differences in treating the victims of domestic violence depending on gender identity?”

Providing the answers to these and other questions, N. stated that women are primarily perceived as victims in the criminal justice system of the United States, and this stereotype also affects perceiving males as potential offenders. While discussing who is a potential criminal in this or that case and choosing between a woman and a man, experts are inclined to discuss men as potential offenders, abusers, or criminals. Females are traditionally associated with the role of a victim. Working with the representatives of the LGBTQ community, some specialists from the criminal justice system can experience difficulties because they lack training in this sphere and demonstrate prejudice.

In the crisis center, the percentage of LGBTQ people who ask for assistance and support is significantly low in comparison to the rate of domestic violence in the discussed city. Thus, LGBTQ individuals tend to have limited access to support and help because of their fears to disclose their gender identity or social status with reference to their position of a victim or an offender. N. also noted that all individuals asking for assistance in the crisis center are perceived as victims or persons in need without dependence on their gender identity, and counselors are trained to provide professional help.

During three-day observations, the researcher visited the crisis center, observed clients who agreed to participate in the project with the focus on protecting their confidentiality, and made notes. The majority of clients were females who reported domestic violence and rape caused by their husbands, partners, and boyfriends. It is important to note that they identified themselves with the female gender. Women reported the cases of beating, assaults, rape, psychological abuse, and hounding. Many of them reported being victims of abuse in the past, and some of them stated that they were victims of their fathers’ violence or witnessed their fathers’ violent attitudes toward mothers. The majority of these women stated that they received adequate support in the crisis center, and service providers were tactful and attentive in treating them. The representatives of the LGBTQ community did not ask for assistance in the crisis center during these three days of observations, or they did not agree to participate in the project, and the researcher did not have access to their data.

The communication with service providers in the service center allows for stating that typical victims of domestic violence are women, and the percentage of men who ask for assistance is low. However, these statistics reported by the employees in the crisis center cover only cases related to intimate partners’ violence and abuse, and the cases when young men become victims of their relatives’ violence are not included. However, as it is stated by the service providers, such cases are frequent in spite of the fact that they are not actively discussed or addressed in society. These individuals reported that the key focus is on perceiving females as potential victims of domestic violence because of stereotypes spread in society, but many women reported that, in the past, both they and their brothers became victims of violence at home. Still, some kind of stigmatization does not allow males and LGBTQ people to ask for assistance and reveal their roles of victims.

The data collected with the help of conducting interviews and observations in the crisis center allows for supporting the information gathered with the help of the literature review. The focus on the first-hand experiences and narratives of individuals who were victims in the past or who know how to work the criminal justice system is important to analyze the concepts of gender identity and victimization in this context. The field work allows for concentrating on lived experiences of victims of domestic violence to understand what factors are associated with this problem and how modern crisis centers can address the issue. Furthermore, important observations regarding the status of LGBTQ people in this context and their access to assistance were also discussed.

Critical Review and Recommendations

Gender identity is associated with an individual’s vision of oneself as having and sharing feminine or masculine features and behaviors. Therefore, the ideas regarding masculinity and femininity are directly associated with persons’ gender identity. In most cases, following social norms or traditions, it is expected that males will behave with the focus on their masculinity, and females will behave with the focus on their femininity.12 These gender roles are also associated with a different level of victimization that is typical for perceiving men and women as victims or vulnerable individuals. The question of LGBTQ people’s gender identity and their victimization is even more complex. The purpose of this section is to present the critical review and analysis of the problem of gender identity and victimization in the context of the criminal justice system and provide the recommendations for improving the situation in the American society with reference to available community resources and programs.

The analysis of the secondary literature and first-hand data indicates that women become victims of gender-oriented violence or become perceived as victims in more cases than it is in the situation with men who are traditionally associated with a powerful position and masculinity. While discussing victimization associated with the female gender identity, it is possible to state that women are always at risk of experiencing domestic violence, rape, sexual assaults, and sexual harassment in the workplace among other forms of abuse. Thus, their femininity is associated with the position of a victim, and this position is recognized in society with reference to the reactions of representatives of the criminal justice system to the cases of domestic violence or rape.13 As a result, it is possible to speak about the problem existing in society that is related with the idea that women are highly victimized and unprotected because of their gender.

The opposite side of this problem is the association of the male gender with masculinity that can receive such reverted forms as hypermasculinity and then hostile masculinity oriented against women. There are several consequences of this issue discussed in the literature and accentuated in primary sources. The first consequence is that men can emphasize their masculinity in cases when they feel weak with the help of violence. Moreover, men can avoid asking for help in cases when they become victims of violence because of social visions concerning masculinity. Thus, following social stereotypes regarding gender identity, men often choose to accentuate their masculine features and behaviors to avoid the role of a victim. On the contrary, in most criminal cases, males act as offenders, they are inclined to conduct hate crimes, and their behaviors can demonstrate dominance and aggression.14 Recognizing these aspects of gender identity, the representatives of the criminal justice system also tend to judge males referring to their dominant gender position.

The analysis of secondary and primary data also shows that LGBTQ people are victimized in many cases because of their gender identity. The rate of hate crimes against LGBTQ individuals is high, and the reason is that their sexual orientation, gender identity, behavior, and appearance do not adhere to the public’s expectations and socially accepted gender roles. One more important fact revealed with reference to the analysis of primary and secondary sources, that men perform the role of an aggressor not only in case of attacking women but also in case of acting against LGBTQ people. However, in contrast to women, LGBTQ individuals often choose not to ask for help and support because they believe their identity can affect people’s attitudes to them when speaking about not only the criminal justice system but also crisis centers. The problem is that LGBTQ people can be discriminated when asking for support because of certain biases spread in society.15 Consequently, the issue of the sexual orientation victimization is also typical of the American society as well as the issue of female victimization.

Referring to the analysis of the issue, it is possible to propose some recommendations for the improvement of the situation. The first main step is the improvement of the legal framework regarding crimes associated with domestic violence, sexual orientation or gender hate, sexual assaults, and other gender-oriented crimes. It is important for federal and state legislators to cooperate in order to develop an effective regulatory system to accentuate the responsibility for gender-based crimes and prevent such actions. In this context, it is also necessary to develop public or community campaigns in order to improve the image of women and LGBTQ people in society, shifting the focus from viewing them as victims to presenting them as independent powerful actors. In this case, it will be possible to prevent violence and crimes provoked by perceptions of women and LGBTQ individuals and their victimization. Thus, these recommendations are related to the legal and social spheres, and their realization requires the cooperation of federal and state authorities and legislators.

Another set of recommendations is oriented at improving services that are provided in communities in order to help the victims of domestic violence or sexual assaults. Currently, certain community resources and specific programs are available in the selected region in order to address the issue of gender-oriented violence. These resources include a crisis center, a hotline for victims of domestic violence, shelters for women in need and their children, and a counseling service for victims of hate and aggression. These services are sponsored by the state and local governments, non-government organizations, charity organizations, and some private companies and entrepreneurs. It is important to note that the work of these organizations and resources is mainly directed toward assisting women, and the problem is that LGBTQ people remain uncovered by these services in many cases. Another problem is that many members of the community do not know about available resources, and they feel unprotected in their difficult life situations.

Therefore, certain recommendations should be formulated in order to improve the work of available services for victims of gender-oriented violence in the community. Firstly, it is necessary to improve the public’s awareness regarding the availability of crisis centers, hotlines, shelters, and other services for victims of aggression and violence. For this purpose, it is important to spread brochures and use television, radio, newspaper, and online advertisements, as well as posters, in order to inform the public about available services and provide them with phone numbers and addresses. Victims of domestic violence or other type of aggression can be unaware of any kind of such services because they have not used them previously, and such aspects are usually not discussed with relatives and friends openly. Secondly, all proposed services should address the following requirements: the provision of safety, confidentiality, psychological, health, and material support, unbiased attitude, counseling, and legal aid.

Bibliography

Avdibegovic, Esmina, Maja Brkic, and Osman Sinanovic. “Emotional Profile of Women Victims of Domestic Violence.” Materia Socio-Medica 29, no. 2 (2017): 109-113.

Blondeel, Karel, Sofia de Vasconcelos, Claudia García-Moreno, Rob Stephenson, Marleen Temmerman, and Igor Toskin. “Violence Motivated by Perception of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity: A Systematic Review.” Bulletin of the World Health Organization 96, no. 1 (2018): 29-41.

Gefter, Julia R., Brian A. Rood, Sarah E. Valentine, Sarah M. Bankoff, and David W. Pantalone. “Why Does It Happen? Explanations for Men’s Violence against Women by Women with Interpersonal Victimization Histories.” Journal of Gender Studies 26, no. 2 (2017): 133-150.

Langenderfer-Magruder, Lisa, N. Eugene Walls, Shanna K. Kattari, Darren L. Whitfield, and Daniel Ramos. “Sexual Victimization and Subsequent Police Reporting by Gender Identity among Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Adults.” Violence and Victims 31, no. 2 (2016): 320-331.

Morash, Merry. Understanding Gender, Crime, and Justice. Thousand Oaks: SAGE, 2006.

National Sexual Violence Resource Center. National Sexual Violence Resource Center. Web.

Southall, Ashley. The New York Times, 2017. Web.

Stemple, Lara, and Ilan H. Meyer. “The Sexual Victimization of Men in America: New Data Challenge Old Assumptions.” American Journal of Public Health 104, no. 6 (2014): e19-e26.

Tur-Prats, Ana. Barcelona Graduate School of Economics. 2018. Web.

Footnotes

  1. Merry Morash, Understanding Gender, Crime, and Justice (Thousand Oaks: SAGE, 2006), 67.
  2. Lisa Langenderfer-Magruder et al., “Sexual Victimization and Subsequent Police Reporting by Gender Identity among Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Adults,” Violence and Victims 31, no. 2 (2016): 321.
  3. National Sexual Violence Resource Center, “Sexual Violence and Individuals Who are Identified as LGBTQ,” National Sexual Violence Resource Center, Web.
  4. Morash, Understanding Gender, Crime, and Justice, 90-92.
  5. Ashley Southall, “New York City Police Training Lags on Transgender Rules, Report Says,” The New York Times, Web.
  6. Julia R. Gefter et al., “Why Does It Happen? Explanations for Men’s Violence against Women by Women with Interpersonal Victimization Histories,” Journal of Gender Studies 26, no. 2 (2017): 133-134.
  7. Karel Blondeel et al., “Violence Motivated by Perception of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity: A Systematic Review,” Bulletin of the World Health Organization 96, no. 1 (2018): 30.
  8. Ana Tur-Prats, “Unemployment and Intimate-Partner Violence: A Gender-Identity Approach,” Barcelona Graduate School of Economics, Web.
  9. Ibid., 2-5.
  10. Blondeel et al., “Violence Motivated by Perception of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity,” 31.
  11. Lara Stemple and Ilan H. Meyer, “The Sexual Victimization of Men in America: New Data Challenge Old Assumptions,” American Journal of Public Health 104, no. 6 (2014): e20-e21.
  12. Morash, Understanding Gender, Crime, and Justice, 90-95.
  13. Esmina Avdibegovic, Maja Brkic, and Osman Sinanovic, “Emotional Profile of Women Victims of Domestic Violence,” Materia Socio-Medica 29, no. 2 (2017): 109-110.
  14. Stemple and Meyer, “The Sexual Victimization of Men in America,” e22.
  15. Langenderfer-Magruder et al., “Sexual Victimization and Subsequent Police Reporting,” 322.
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