Gender And Crime: Serial Killers

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Within this end of course assessment, I am going to be talking about Gender and Crime. A brief explanation into the differences in male and female criminals, criminological theories including the chivalry thesis. Crime & media in popular culture also falls into the category for this assessment which talks about cultural criminology and representations. The main body of this assessment will fall around the infamous serial killer Aileen Wuornos and how she was represented by the media, popular culture, and society in her portrayal as a psychotic serial killer who prostituted herself and prayed on wealthy men. This assessment will conclude with female criminality portrayals, the evil woman hypothesis and Summarised accordingly with the findings made within the body of this assessment.

Gender & Crime

In 1997 a study was published by Lisa Broidy and Robert Agnew surrounding the questions generally raised with the link between gender & crime. The study applies GST (Agnew’s general strain theory) to the two most common questions asked about gender and crime:

  1. How can we explain the higher rate of crime among males?
  2. How can we explain why females engage in crime? (Broidy & Agnew, 1997)

The authors of the publication suggest that gender differences in different sorts of strain and the reaction to strain helps to understand the overall gap within criminal behaviour. Regarding question number 2, there’s arguments that the several types of strain could lead to female crime under proper circumstances. In this area, general strain theory has a lot in common with various accounts that can explain crime in females in terms of oppression. (Broidy & Agnew, 1997)

Criminological theories on gender & crime

Crime, Media, and popular culture

The analysis of crime, media, and popular culture is arguably one of the most important and satisfyingly enlightening areas of criminological inquiry. (Dowler, 2006)

There is not much doubt that the media has become the centre of attention when producing and filtering ideas of crime for national television. The media’s selective nature on produces televised and readable crime, like, emphasising on the violence and sensationalism and also playing to the fears, both fabricated and real life of both viewers and readers, has produced a very distorted picture of crime and criminality that happens in real life. Furthermore, true crime book genres, has seen a mas growth, with hundreds of titles appearing on shelves every year. All of these are a big contribute to the public’s never ending thirst for knowledge on the weird and most violent crimes. Beyond this, crime related news stories tend to be repetitive with its nature, reporters tend to recycle well known stories that can be used in related stories or new developments within the original story itself. (Dowler, 2006)

The Karla Homolka case provides a really good example of what Soothill and colleagues (Soothill, Pearson, Francis, Peelo and Acklerley 2002; Soothill, Francis, Pearson and Peelo 2004) deem as “mega cases,” which is cases that produces relative longevity with the media because they produce an amazingly strong response with the audience the reporter is writing to. Homolka’s case generated over 1,100 stories and reports in the Toronto Star since 1995. This yielded measure of both the simple mindedness of repeating popular and well understood themes and to draw the audience in, this is a common practice in journalism. (Fleming 1983, 1996, 2006)

Gender and serial murder

Serial killers have been deemed as loners who tend to stalk strangers at night to snatch, torture and sexually assault their victims before evidently killing them. They tend to have nicknames like “Jack the Ripper” or “the Yorkshire Ripper”. (Kozlowska, 2019)

Consider Jane Toppan, a young woman who lived in the US working as a nurse, She killed around 31 people, a lot of them were under her care. Her niche was the use of poison and loved watching her victims die, she was even reported to lie down by their sides as they were losing their lives. Toppan’s modus operandi fits the pattern of a typical female serial killer which was identified by researchers in a paper published in 2015. Women tend to kill people they know, are often care givers and well educated. (Kozlowska, 2019)

Marissa Harrison, psychology professor at Penn State Harrisburg, argues that these gender variances can by explained through evolutionary psychology – that human brains are hardwired through how our ancestors lived within the prehistoric era. According to Marissa’s theory, Male serial killers are hunters, they follow their victims like they did with their prey in nomadic communities. However, female serial killers, are gatherers, according to the article published in the journal Evolutionary Behavioural Sciences. (Kozlowska, 2019)

The paper shows that men and women serial killers do kill differently, it also offers an interesting theory in to why that exactly is. In 2015 a paper published showed that 39% of female serial killers worked in healthcare. They tend to stay in one place and use less violent methods of culling, like poison.

Marissa does state that these are just a generalisation as America’s most famous female serial killer, Aileen Wuornos, who was portrayed in the movie ‘Monster’ in 2003, conducted her killings in more of a similar way to that of a male serial killer. (Kozlowska, 2019)

Aileen Wuornos

Aileen Wuornos was an American serial killer convicted of murdering around 7 people between 1989 – 1990. Her case drew attention from all around the world to issues relating to gender and violence and the legal treatment of acts of self defense by women. Her life became the subject of two documentaries and a film named ‘Monster’ which came out in 2003.

Aileen’s start in life was not a great one. Her parents separated before she was born and shortly after that, her father spent a lot of time in various mental hospitals for child molestation. At the age of 4, Wuornos and her brother were sent to live with their grandparents. When she was a teenager she spent some time at home for unmarried mothers before dropping out of school and becoming a prostitute.

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In 1974 she was sent to prison for driving under the influence and for firing a gun from a moving vehicle. She was arrested and charged various times for crimes including check forgery, armed robbery, and auto theft.

By the end of 1980 she was a drifter and in 1989-1990, whilst posing as a prostitute hitchhiker, she killed 7 middle aged male motorists who had picked her up and left their bodies along the Florida and southern Georgia highways.

Wuornos was arrested in the early months of 1991, she admitted killing the 7 men put protested that she only acted in self defense when the men assaulted her. Wuornos had supporters who viewed the killer as a strong independent woman, they even branded her a heroic figure for being able to defend herself against male aggression.

She was convicted and sentenced to death for one of the murders in 1992 and she later pleaded guilty to 3 more of the murders.

Aileen Wuornos kept herself defense claim, speaking publicly ‘I’m supposed to die because I’m a prostitute? No, I don’t think so. I was out prostituting, and I was dealing with hundreds and hundreds of guys. You got a jerk that’s going to come along and try to rape me? I am going to fight. I believe everybody has a right to self-defend themselves.’ – Aileen Wuornos.

Aileen Wuornos was executed via lethal injection.

Mental health issues

From the contents of Wuornos’ biography, some of her criminal activities conducted and violent behaviours shown in her youth could be contributed by factors like the abuse she was succumbed to in her early childhood, and also the neglect she received from the bad parenting techniques inflicting by her grandfather as a research conducted on Wuornos through an interview found that Aileen’s grandfather was both physically and emotionally abusive towards Wuornos. He often beat her up then called her insulting names like a whore (Myers, Gooch & Meloy, 2005).

In a study carried out by Knutson et al. (2004), it points out that, deficient parenting, more towards neglectful parenting was a major predictor for the growth of anti-social behaviour for children and teenagers/young adults in their later life.

Furthermore, with the combined factor of the abusive parenting mixed with the natural aggressive nature Aileen possesses, it made her even more prone to the growth of exhibiting anti-social behaviour. According to relatives of Wuornos, she has various different behavioural problems going back from as far as childhood, she has a really bad, short temper which caused her to get into fights with people all the time. She also stole from family and friends and exhibited property destruction behaviour when she set her home and the girls toilet in her school on fire. (Myers, Gooch, & Meloy, 2005)

According to studies conducted by Andershed, Narusyte, Lichtenstein, and Neiderhiser (2007); Schaffer, Clark, and Jeglic (2009); Shek and Ma (1997), the use of bad parenting could heighten the growth of anti-social behaviour in children, especially when they exhibit signs of an aggressive nature.

Biological Factors

As mentioned in Wuornos’ biography, her biological father was a psychopath, so there is a possibility that Aileen could of inherited some psychopathic traits of her father, things like lack of remorse and empathy, poor behaviour control, which can be a factor in her causes for committing her more serious crimes, as according to Blonigen, Hicks, Kreuger, and Iacono (2008); Brogaard (2012); Hicks, Veaidyanathan, and Patrick (2010), psychopathic traits can be genetically inherited and predisposed to the child of a psychopath. In the study which was conducted by Gooch, Myers, and Meloy (2005), Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist Revised was employed by the researchers so they could assess Wuornos, the generated results from the PCLR indicated that Wuornos’ tendency of becoming a psychopath was significantly high as she ticked a high amount of numbered criteria within the checklist, like, pathological lying, lack of remorse, conning, need for stimulation, impulsivity, parasitic life and promiscuous sexual behaviour.

Furthermore, in an interview which was performed by Gooch, Myers, and Meloy, the researchers found Wuornos’ mother to be an alcoholic. Hence why there is a possible chance that Wuornos may have suffered from central nervous system damage of dysfunction due to alcohol exposure whilst in the womb, this may have been a contribute to Wuornos’ aggressive nature.

As stated by Pinel (2004), prenatal alcohol exposure can cause neurological damage to a baby once born, and the occurrence of disorders such as difficulty to communicate and/or understand each other as well as lack of impulse control can happen. In summary of this, by looking at the case of Wuornos from a biological perspective, there is a chance that these factors could be a major contribution towards her criminal behaviour.

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Gender And Crime: Serial Killers. (2022, Jun 09). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 14, 2024, from
“Gender And Crime: Serial Killers.” Edubirdie, 09 Jun. 2022,
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