Category Archives: CJS 339: Women in Criminal Justice

All entries in this category are related to CJS 339: Women in Criminal Justice, a class I took at Illinois State University in the Summer of 2011.

Munchausen Syndrome/Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy and Women in Criminal Justice

The following is a link to a group project I helped with as part of the class Women and Criminal Justice:

Preventing Child Marriage: A Complex Cultural Battle

The following is a mini-paper written for my Women in Criminal Justice class. This is the first time I’ve done any research on–or, to be honest, really been aware of–the problem of child marriage. I didn’t have space to really deal with this in the rich, complex way I would have liked to (limit of 5 pages) … but  I’d love to find some more sources that deal with the cultural difficulties involved with working against child marriage as an institution.


Preventing Child Marriage: A Complex Cultural Battle


This paper argues that child marriage constitutes a significant act of international violence against girls and women and that action is necessary in order to protect girls from the consequences of being married as children. Recently, child marriage and its implications for girls and women have become more visible in the popular press. For example, Essence and National Geographic magazines have both published pieces on the devastating effects of child marriage in the past five years (Amber, 2008; Gorney, 2011). However, child marriage is still largely invisible in that it gets little attention relative to the enormity of its effects. This paper suggests that child marriage is a significant international problem. Specifically, this paper argues that child marriage is a human rights violation targeting girls in three particular ways: Child marriage causes girls to be denied education, it makes girls vulnerable to abuse, and it increases girls’ risk of serious health problems. Further, this paper makes recommendations for actions by international governing bodies to deal with the problem of child marriage.

Describing Child Marriage

Child marriage occurs when a person under age 18 is married (Nour, 2006). Although both boys and girls are married as minors around the globe, child marriage disproportionately affects girls; in Mali, for example, just one underage boy is married for every 72 underage girls who are married (Nour, 2006). Child marriage has recently become more visible on an individual level, largely because of the cases of two Yemeni girls. Arwa Abdu Muhammad Ali, 9, and Nujood Ali, 10, both came forward to accuse their husbands of maltreatment (Worth, 2008). Ali’s courage resulted in a precedent-setting legal case when she was granted a divorce. Such cases aid feminists and activists in describing the individual consequences of child marriage because they help put innocent faces to an otherwise largely invisible institution.

The Contexts of Child Marriages

Child marriages occur most commonly in South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East (UNICEF, 2010). In a 2005 study of women aged 20-24, UNICEF found that the highest incidences of women being married as minors were in Niger, Chad, Mali, Bangeladash, Guinea, and Burkina Faso; all these countries had child-marriage rates of higher than 60 percent (UNICEF, 2005). Appendix A shows a map and a bar chart to help visualize the geography and prevalence of child marriage. However, these figures are estimates. Child marriages are often conducted in secret or at the least are not officially recorded. Scholars report that child marriage is closely connected with human trafficking of minor girls, and investment in covering up this criminal activity further distorts efforts to understand the prevalence of child marriage (Ghosh, 2009; Mikhail, 2002). For example, only 490 cases of child marriage were reported in India for the five-year period preceding 2006, although experts believe “the percentage of under-18 marriages of girls in the country has increased from 34% in 1998–99 to 45.6% in 2005–06” (p. 723). Most sources estimate that around 60 million currently living girls and women are victims of child marriage (Terkel, 2010; UNICEF, 2010).


            This paper argues that three main effects of child marriage are troublesome. Child marriage causes girls to be denied education, makes girls vulnerable to abuse, and increases girls’ risk of serious health problems. It is unsurprising that child marriage disproportionately affects girls; it also disproportionately results in serious life problems for those girls as compared to boys who marry prior to age 18. Child marriage, for girls, “leads towards inadequate socialization, discontinuation of education, physiological and psychological damage to girls due to early and frequent pregnancies, and quite often an early widowhood” (Nagi, 1993, p. 2). Raj, Saggurti, Balaiah, & Silverman (2009) found maternity-related complications including higher incidences of repeat childbirth in under 24 months, unwanted pregnancies, abortions, and sterilization in women who had been married as children. Girl brides also face issues including sexually transmitted infections, HIV/AIDS, and increased chances of cervical cancer (Nour, 2006). In addition, one factor that consistently correlates with child marriage is a low level of education (Nour, 2006). Less education and consistent sex-related health complications both mean that child brides have less opportunity—in terms of fewer resources and more complications—for escape, leaving them extremely vulnerable to all types of abuse.

Troublingly, child marriage primarily impacts girls from rural and poor families, who may see girl children as an economic burden (Kamal, 2010; Singh & Kapur, 2005). In some cases, families marry their daughters early in hopes that they will have better lives with a husband than the family could provide (Gorney, 2011; Worth, 2008; UNICEF, 2010). Whatever the reason for the prevalence of the underage marriage of girls, child marriage certainly correlates with many different identities. Religion, ethnicity, class, nationality, and other factors affect child marriage, making the issue ripe for third-wave feminist analysis and intervention (Van Wormer & Bartollas, 2010). Feminists should be particularly invested in preventing child marriage since it perpetuates generational cycles of inequity, disempowerment, and poverty, all of which already affect women in greater numbers than men. Indeed, feminists and other scholars have proven that child marriage causes girls to be denied education, makes girls vulnerable to abuse, and increases girls’ risk of serious health problems. Thus, child marriage is a serious category of international violence against girls and women.

            However, establishing this belief cross-culturally—a first step toward preventing child marriage—is not easy. Child marriage is “linked to social and economic expectations … [child marriage is affected by] conflicts and pressures to maintain social and gendered behavioural norms” (Gangoli, McCarry, & Razak, 2009, p. 428). Gangoli, McCarry, & Razak found that the difference between an arranged marriage and a forced marriage is often blurred; girls are socialized into wanting to please their parents and adhere to their home culture, making it extremely difficult for them to refuse an arranged child marriage even if they live in a country where legal help is available to them. The age of consent is also a controversial issue (Bunting, 2005). Further, Gorney’s reporting shows that families often believe that marrying girls protects them from sexual predation because their husband will protect them from rape—at least, he will protect them from rape by men besides himself. In most cases, local cultural resistance to the criminalization of child marriage occurs for many reasons and is extremely strong.

Current Law and Recommendations

International bodies, most notably the United Nations, have expressed disapproval toward child marriage. The UN has opposed child marriage since 1948. “Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that persons must be at ‘full age’ when married and that marriage should be entered into ‘freely’ and with ‘full consent’” (Nour, 2006). Despite this international statement, national legislation has proven difficult to pass even in the United States. Republicans in the House of Representatives successfully blocked the International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act of 2010—even after it passed the Senate—because they believed it would lead to increased abortions (Terkel, 2010). In addition, legal and social policy opposing child marriage meets with overwhelming opposition in countries where child marriage is the cultural norm. In effect, laws against child marriage actually contribute to the invisibility of its victims as they cause child marriages to increasingly take place in secret.

Gaffney-Rhys (2011) argues that, while law is important for establishing understandings about child marriage, national and local social programs are better for preventing it. This paper suggests that social policy is now far more important in working to prevent child marriage than legal policy. Social programs like those discussed by Erulkar & Muthengi (2009) would support awareness and education about child marriage in countries where early marriage is the norm. Such programs could help girls and their families gain access to alternatives in cases where girls are married for protection. Further, aggressive and culturally sensitive social programming would significantly impact the steadiest indicator of child marriage: education. Better education for girls will likely have the result of decreasing the prevalence of child marriage. Finally, at the very least, social programs could provide girls with more knowledge about how to take care of themselves in the instance that they are married and facing health complications or abuse.


This paper argues that child marriage constitutes a substantial act of international violence against girls and women because of its prevalence and its negative consequences for girls’ health and education. In addition, it puts girls at significant risk for physical abuse, including sexual assault. This paper further suggests that privileged organizations and nations such as the U.S. have an obligation to fund and organize social programs to educate girls and their families in affected regions about the dangers of child marriage and about other viable options for girls’ social success. Such programming stands to improve the situation of girls and women on a global scale.




Amber, J. (2008, Nov.). Child brides. Essence, 145-150 and 184-185.

Bunting, A. (2005). Stages of development: Marriage of girls and teens as an international human rights issue. Social & Legal Studies, 14(1), 17-38.

Erulkar, A. S., & Muthengi, E. (2009). Evaluation of Berhane Hewan: A program to delay child marriage in rural Ethiopia. International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 35(1), 6-14.

Gaffney-Rhys, R. (2011). International law as an instrument to combat child marriage. International Journal of Human Rights, 15(3), 359-373.

Gangoli, G., McCarry, M., & Razak, A. Child marriage or forced marriage?: South Asian communities in North East England. Children & Society, 23, 418-429.

Ghosh, B. (2009). Trafficking in women and children in India: nature, dimensions and strategies for prevention. The International Journal of Human Rights, 13(5), 716-738.

Gorney, C. (2011, June). Too young to wed: The secret world of child brides. National Geographic, 219(6), 78-99.

Kamal, S.M.M. (2010). Geographical variations and contextual effecton child marriage in Bangladesh. Pakistan Journal of Women’s Studies, 17(2), 37-57.

Mikhail, S. L. B. (2002). Child marriage and child prostitution: Two forms of sexual exploitation. Gender and Development 10(1), 43-49.

Nagi, B. S. (1993). Child marriage in India: A study of its differential patterns in Rajasthan. New Delhi, India: Mittal Publications.

Nour N. (2006). Health consequences of child marriage in Africa. Emerging Infectious Diseases 12(11). Retrieved from

Raj, A., Saggurti, N., Balaiah, D., & Silverman, J.G. (2009). Prevalence of child marriage and its effect on fertility and fertility-control outcomes of young women in India: A cross-sectional, observational study. Lancet, 373(9678), 1883-1889.

Singh, K., & Kapur, D. (2005). Law, violence, and the girl child. Health and Human Rights 5(2), 8-29.

Terkel, A. (2010). House Republicans block child marriage prevention act. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from

UNICEF. (2005). Early marriage: A harmful traditional practice. Retrieved from

UNICEF. (2010, Sept. 23). Child protection from violence, exploitation, and abuse: Child marriage. Retrieved from

Van Wormer, K. S., & Bartollas, C. (2010). Theoretical perspectives on women and the criminal justice aystem (3rd ed., pp. 3-26). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

Worth, R. F. (2008, June 29). Tiny voices defy child marriage in Yemen.  The New York Times. Retrieved from


Women in Criminal Justice Article Review: Somvadee and Morash

Somvadee, C., & Morash, M. (2008). Dynamics of sexual harassment for policewomen working alongside men. Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management, 31(3), 485-498

1.      Main Thesis: Somvadee and Marsh identified that many policewomen report being sexually harassed even if they do not identify it as such; they also found that policewomen were concerned about male colleagues’ beliefs about whether women could “do the job.”

2.      Body of Evidence: Somvadee and Morash asked 121 U.S. policewomen working in county, city, state, and campus offices to fill out the Sexual Experience Questionnaire. A total of 117 women responded, with most of these women being White (71.8%) and a significant percentage (22.2%) being African American. Most women had college degrees, and the mean age of respondents was 35.6 years. Many respondents did patrol and detective work while some worked in jails and as administrators. Most planned a career in police work. The authors found that most women (90.6%) reported at least one SEQ behavior, although only 58.2 percent believed they had been sexually harassed. The policewomen were most bothered by situations in which men thought women less capable of doing the job; for example, women were upset when given less important or low-risk tasks, and one women reported a male colleague suggesting she had been hired because she was a female and an ethnic minority (p. 491). Women also reported significant inappropriate sexual jokes and remarks, but they often described these activities as practices that defined an “in group.” Many respondents believed such activities allowed them to be part of the in group. In connection to this, women mostly reported that their male colleagues would respond positively if confronted about their inappropriate behavior. The authors make several observations about their data, including discussing other studies that support the idea that more developed procedures for handling sexual harassment are empowering for policewomen (p. 493). The authors note that their findings are not generalizable, but that they are consistent with the results of other similar studies. They end by suggesting how police organizations can improve by considering the implications of unrecognized sexual harassment.

3.      Conclusions: Somvadee and Morash conclude that police organizations and researchers should be more aware of how policewomen may be socialized into male-constructed workplaces, as suggested by women’s beliefs that tolerating or participating in sexual joking made them part of the “in group.” The authors also suggest that future research consider whether those atmospheres in which sexual harassment is most prevalent are not reported on because women simply do not work in such places. Finally, Somvadee and Morash argue for increased attention to hearing women’s complaints about sexual harassment when they occur.

4.      My Conclusions: This article reports on a relatively straightforward survey and draws some important conclusions from the data collected. As a women who has participated in behavior designed to make me part of an “in group,” I was fascinated to read about how this social behavior is still considered sexual harassment. I was also concerned about the lack of attention given to the women who refused to participate in the study based on concerns over anonymity. This situation certainly seems to connect to the authors’ findings that reporting of sexual harassment is problematic because it can exacerbate the problem. I would have liked to see more discussion of this implication in connection with the women who opted out.

Women in Criminal Justice Article Review: Bagley and Merlo

Bagley, K., & Merlo, A. V. (2006). Regulating and controlling women’s bodies. In A. V. Merlo & J. M. Pollock (Eds.), Women, law, and social control (2 ed., pp. 64-87). Boston: Pearson Allyn Bacon.

1.      Main Thesis: Bagley and Merlo argue that official control over women’s bodies—particularly during pregnancy—has increased significantly in the last decade. However, they say, this increased control has been for punitive purposes; it has not resulted in better care or programming for women, pregnant or otherwise.

2.      Body of Evidence: After outlining their argument that women’s bodies are disproportionately singled out for public/official control, the authors discuss ways in which this occurs. They highlight several cases in which pregnant women were prosecuted based on their status as pregnant. For example, Regina McKnight is serving a 12-year sentence for the death of her fetus, despite the fact that there is no evidence her cocaine use killed it and despite the fact that a third-trimester abortion would have resulted in a maximum sentence of two years (p. 67-68). Clearly, the intention of such a sentence is to increase regulation and control of women, not to protect fetuses. The authors provide several other examples and introduce the idea of the slippery slope, asking, “to what standard of care should pregnant women be held? Should pregnant women stop drinking coffee, stop riding motorcycles, play doubles rather than singles tennis …?” (p. 69). The authors state that reproductive laws—including coercive contraception laws—have disproportionately targeted crack cocaine users (over other types of drug users), poor women, and women of color. Next, the authors give extended detail about how women are affected by HIV/AIDS. They discuss the gap in quality of care given to white women versus black women, who are disproportionately affected by AIDS due to a number of social causes, and the ethical issues surrounding mandatory testing of pregnant women and/or their newborns. Finally, the authors point out that rehabilitation and support services for AIDS-affected and substance-addicted pregnant women are more likely to produce social reform than continued punitive legislation.

3.      Conclusions: The authors argue that it is unfair to punish women for offenses resulting from a flawed system that women are unequipped to deal with. Rather than focus on increased control of pregnancy, they advocate the establishment of sex-abuse prevention programs (because women who have been abused are more likely to be HIV-positive and/or drug users), awareness and rehabilitation programs, and programs to help women become good mothers. The authors push for refocusing on the mother instead of focusing only on the fetus.

4.      My Conclusions: I enjoyed this chapter’s focus on legal precedent as reflective of social beliefs about control of pregnancy. This topic relates to my research, in which I’ve discovered that some states have tried to pass coercive legislation requiring women to view an ultrasound before obtaining an abortion; I suspect that this law, like those Bagley and Merlo discuss, will disproportionately affect particular populations. My one trifle with this chapter is that I think it does not discuss enough the agency that women do have. That is, while I believe that our flawed cultural/social/legal system produces much of the “crime” described herein, I also think that we must recognize women’s ability to make and take responsibility for their choices.

Women in Criminal Justice Article Review: Snyder, Gabbard, May, and Zulcis

Snyder, C. S., Gabbard, W. J., May, J. D., & Zulcis, N. (2006). On the battleground of women’s bodies: Mass rape in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Journal of Women and Social Work, 21(2), 184-195.

1.      Main Thesis: Snyder, Gabbard, May, and Zulcis argue that we should consider the social and cultural patterns that allow war rape to occur. Using the Bosnian conflict as an example, the authors suggest that women experience war rape as a complex situation involving not only sex, but also ethnicity, age, race, class, religion, nationality, and more. They suggest that attention to this complexity can shape future policy to prevent and/or prosecute war rape.

2.      Body of Evidence: This article begins by providing a detailed history of how women’s fates and fortunes have been intertwined with and dependent upon national narratives and social initiatives in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the former Yugoslavia. The authors document the history of wartime rape, going all the way back to the Roman rape of the Sabines (p. 185). The authors dispute arguments suggesting that war rape is biologically based. Next, the authors discuss feminist responses to wartime rape—which suggest that rape is an expression of male hatred toward women—as well as documenting gender roles and relations and the uprising of feminism in Yugoslavia prior to the Bosnian conflict. The collision of feminism and nationalism resulted in a splintering of the feminist movement; nationalism led to “discourse that conflated images of mothers with the nation itself” (p. 188). This, in turn, allowed public policy to turn toward reproductive control, which paved the way for cultural understandings of war rape as a way for males to demoralize the enemy while propagating their own nationality/bloodline and preventing the enemy from reproducing—a form of ethnic cleansing. The authors state that most rapes were perpetrated by Serbian men against Muslim women and that between 25,000 and 50,000 women were raped; however, many would not admit to being raped because of the social consequences, which included shaming their men (p. 189). Finally, the authors argue that the “Bosnian conflict signaled the end of the invisibility of women who are raped in war” (p.191). For the first time, war rape was classified by the United Nations as a crime against humanity on par with torture and murder.

3.      Conclusions: Snyder, Gabbard, May, and Zulcis conclude by pointing out that the fracturing of the women’s movement was one of the first signs of the wars of succession in Yugoslavia. As such, women and feminists are uniquely placed to prevent such atrocities. The authors suggest that war rape victimizes entire cultures as well as individual women. They argue that we are obligated to consider the complex nature of war rape as a crime that implicates such characteristics as ethnicity, nationality, and religion in addition to gender and sex.

4.      My Conclusions: This article was shocking. It also was detailed and well researched. I appreciated the attention to social and cultural logics supporting war rape. In addition, I heartily agree with the third-wave nature of the authors’ argument about considering the intersectionalities of identity involved in war rape. However, I disagree with the authors’ contention that women and feminists are uniquely obligated to fight this type of violence. Certainly women and feminists should be part of the fight, but we already have many burdens to bear, and I submit that men—who still make up the vast majority of all militaries worldwide—actually have greater potential to make changes in time to prevent imminent cases of war rape. I wish the authors had called men to action as well.