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Case Study: Female offending

Female offending has attracted a substantial amount of media attention in the recent months (eg Noone & Van Den Broke 2012). In 2009 and 2010, there were 270 incidents of armed robbery involving lone female offenders or exclusively female offender groups. There were an additional 264 incidents that involved mixed gender groups, totalling 534 incidents. Since 2004, female offending has been increasing, with the number incidents perpetrated by exclusively female offenders rising from 93 to 130 in 2010. This equates to a total increase of 40 percent, which although a sizeable percentage increase, reflects only a small number of offenders and a small proportion of all incidents for which offender information was available (see Figure 32).

The following analysis is designed to present a more accurate picture of female offending with regard to armed robbery. It is important to emphasise that in the context of armed robbery, females comprise a very small minority of offenders. The ratio of male to female offenders of armed robbery is approximately 9:1, with males accounting for 90 percent of all armed robbery offenders in 2009 and 2010. However, given the interest in female offending across other categories of violent crime, it is important to understand the patterns and trends related to this sub-population of offenders.

Due to the very small numbers of armed robberies committed by females, the majority of analyses were conducted on aggregated data from 2004 to 2010, yet even with this larger number of contributing cases, some categories contain very small counts that may be prone to high variability.

Figure 32 Female armed robbery offenders, 2004–10

Female armed robbery offenders

a: Percentage of incidents with offender gender information

Note: Excludes incidents without offender information

Source: AIC NARMP incidents 2004–10 [computer file]

Demographic information shows two peaks in offender age for both males and females. Numbers for both were high in the 15 to 17 year age group, with 25 percent of male offenders and 24 percent of female offenders falling into this age category. For males, the second peak occurred in the 20 to 24 year age group (20%). For females, the second peak occurred over both the 20 to 24 years and 25 to 29 years age categories (each 16% of female offenders).

It was noted that the decline in armed robbery offending over the lifetime appeared marginally less steep for female offenders compared with male offenders (see Figure 33). Female cases number far fewer than males and therefore, the seemingly slower desistance from offending over the lifespan may be no more than an artefact of small numbers. If reflecting some actual occurrence, it suggests that female armed robbers might continue in their offending careers slightly longer than men.

Figure 33 Age category and gender of armed robbery offenders, 2004–10 (%)

Age category and gender of armed robbery offenders

Note: Male n=19,211. Female n=2,196. Excludes incidents without offender information

Source: AIC NARMP incidents 2004–10 [computer file]

Figure 34 Gender of individual armed robbery victims by offender gender, 2004–10 (%)

Gender of individual armed robbery victims by offender gender

Note: Female offender n=1,218. Male offender n=7,992. Excludes incidents without offender information. Includes female-only and mixed gender incidents. Based on first victim listed in incidents involving only individual victims

Source: AIC NARMP incidents 2004–10 [computer file]

There was no marked difference between males and females in the type of victim targeted; both groups attacked individuals more frequently than organisational victims—individuals were targeted in 62 percent of incidents involving a male offender and 69 percent involving a female offender. However, while male offenders primarily targeted male victims (77% of incidents involving male offenders saw a male victimised) females victimised males and females in roughly equal proportions (see Figure 34).

A closer examination of the victim and offender demographics in female armed robbery suggests offenders commonly victimise their peers. Although the largest proportion of armed robberies for most offender age categories involved the 18 to 34 year old victim age bracket (see Figure 35), 39 percent of incidents involving exclusively young female offenders aged less than 18 years (n=48) also involved female victims aged less than 18 years. Almost 50 percent of incidents with female offenders (n=64) aged between 18 and 34 years involved victims also in this age bracket. Similarly, females aged 35 to 39 years were the victims in 40 percent of armed robberies perpetrated by women in this same age group.

Male age peers were not targeted in the same proportions by female offenders. As was the case with female victims, the largest proportion of male victims was in the 18 to 34 year age category regardless of offender age category. However, male victims of other ages were not concentrated in those age categories shared with offenders to the same extent as among female victims (see Figure 36).

As already noted, most recent armed robberies were committed by offenders acting alone (see Figure 11) and this is true regardless of gender. Seventy-five percent of all robberies described in NARMP were carried out by women or girls acting alone (n=657) and 69 percent of all male robberies (n=8,331) involved lone robbers. Of the offenders who committed armed robbery in company, women and girls appeared to act in pairs proportionally more often than men and boys (167 pairs, or 76% of females who acted with co-offenders, versus 65% of males, or 2,422 pairs; see Figure 37). However, females co-offended with men in pairs relatively less—among incidents carried out by mixed gender groups, only 55 percent (n=486) were male/female pairs. Of interest, one in five mixed gender armed robberies were carried out by groups of four or five (n=184) compared with female-only groups of four or five, which made up less five percent of exclusively female co-offenders (n=11).

Figure 35 Female offenders and their female victims of armed robbery by age, 2004–10 (%)

Female offenders and their female victims of armed robbery by age

Note: n=352. Excludes incidents without offender information. Based on female-only armed robbery incidents and the first victim listed in incidents involving only individual victims

Source: AIC NARMP incidents 2004–10 [computer file]

Although there is only a small number of armed robberies carried out by women acting in company, these data imply that they co-offended in same-sex pairs more than men, but chose to offend with males rather than only women when that co-offending involved groups of four or more. Nearly half of the incidents involving female pairings also involved young women aged less than 18 years (46% or n=77), whereas the largest percentage of armed robberies involving male pairs involved adults aged 18 to 34 years (44% or n=1,071; also the case for mixed-sex pairs, where 55% or n=269, were aged 18 to 34 years). Around half of armed robberies carried out by mixed sex groups of four or more (n=102 or 55%) and by groups of four or more males (50% or n=260) involved offenders from various age groups, whereas virtually all of the 11 female-only group robberies involved offenders aged less than 18 years (82%).

Female offenders most often used a knife or some other weapon in the commission of robbery. Fifty-six percent of incidents (n=446) between 2004 and 2010 involving only female offenders also involved knives, while 22 percent involved other weapons (see Figure 38). This is similar to male offenders who also most often committed armed robberies with knives (55%, or n=6,065) and other weapons (24%). However, while only three percent (n=377) of male offenders committed robbery using a syringe, 16 percent (n=127) of female armed robbery incidents listed this weapon. Only six percent of exclusively female robberies (n=49) involved firearms compared with 17 percent of male-only incidents (n=1,910). Relative percentage weapon use among mixed gender groups was near identical to that seen among exclusively male groups, again potentially demonstrating that armed robberies may be qualitatively different when involving only women and girls.

Figure 36 Female offenders and their male victims of armed robbery by age, 2004–10 (%)

Female offenders and their male victims of armed robbery by age

Note: n=258. Excludes incidents without offender information. Based on female-only armed robbery incidents and the first victim listed in incidents involving only individual victims

Source: AIC NARMP incidents 2004–10 [computer file]

The offender gender differences could reflect different types of armed robbery engaged in by male and female offenders, where females acting alone or together opt more often for lower yield, potentially more opportunistic offences that employ easy to obtain, lower risk weapons. In 2004, there were 12 incidents of armed robbery involving a female offender armed with some ‘other weapon’ compared with 33 incidents in 2010 (equating to an increase of 175%, see Figure 39; the equivalent increase in the albeit more numerous male ‘other weapon’ offending was 50%). This weapons category encompasses items that are not usually considered weapons per se (such as rocks or broken glass) and this lends some support to the hypothesis that female offenders may be engaging in more opportunistic street robberies.

An examination of the average stolen property values associated with the various gender groups also would seem to offer some support for this notion. More opportunistic offences tend to reap fewer ‘rewards’ for offenders (see Table 6) and on average, female offender armed robberies netted $760, compared with $1,461 for mixed gender incidents. The most lucrative robberies were those committed by males only, which netted an average of $1,659.

Half of female-only armed robberies occurred overnight (49% between 6.00 pm and 6.00 am; n=431). Among male-only incidents, 62 percent (n=7,455) occurred in the night-time hours, with the same percentage seen among mixed gender groups incidents (n=553). Female offenders may be less likely to frequent those less secure locations that facilitate opportunistic attacks during night-time hours, but the implications of this in terms of more or less opportunism are not clear. Unfortunately, as with many of the patterns observed around female offending, the very small number of female of cases considered preclude the examination of multiple variables that might assist in understanding underlying factors.

Figure 37 Number of co-offenders in armed incidents by offender gender, 2004–10 (%)

Number of co-offenders in armed incidents by offender gender

Note: Excludes incidents without offender information

Source: AIC NARMP incidents 2004–10 [computer file]

Figure 38 Weapons used in armed robbery by offender gender, 2004–10 (%)

Weapons used in armed robbery by offender gender

Note: Excludes incidents without weapon and offender information. Based on most serious weapon used in an incident

Source: AIC NARMP incidents 2004–10 [computer file]

Figure 39 Most serious weapon used in incidents involving female offenders by year, 2004–10 (n)

Most serious weapon used in incidents involving female offenders by year

Note: Excludes incidents without weapon and offender information. Based on most serious weapon used in an incident involving only female offenders ie mixed gender incidents have been excluded

Source: AIC NARMP incidents 2004–10 [computer file]

When considering all armed robberies contained within NARMP, there were no substantial differences in the types of locations targeted by male and female offenders, consistent with the findings concerning recent armed robberies (see Figure 20). Female robbers most commonly committed offences on the street or footpath (24%, or n=209) followed by retail locations (n=194 or 22%; see Figure 40). Male-only incidents also took place most often in these settings (22% in the street; 20% in retail settings). Marginally smaller proportions of female-only offences involved licensed premises (3%) and service stations (9%) compared with male-only offences that took place in these locations (6% and 12% respectively). Slightly larger percentages of female offender armed robberies were in transport-related (10%) and residential (12%) settings compared with male-only offences (7% and 10% respectively). This again implies that exclusively female armed robbery may be more opportunistic than male-only attacks, with larger proportions taking place in seemingly more accessible, less secure locations. There is also the suggestion that mixed gender groups may be different again, with for example, 16 percent of incidents taking place in residential locations.

Examination of the limited data surrounding the relationship between victim and offender in the small subset of incidents taking place in and around residences shows that around one-quarter of male-only (23%) and mixed gender (25%) incidents in this location involved prior relationships, while among females this figure was 60 percent. When considering all armed robberies in all locations for which relationship information was available, the overwhelming majority involved unknown victims (85% of male-only, 82% of mixed gender and 79% of exclusively female). Residential armed robbery seemed a unique variant of the offence and was perhaps subject to offender motivations not seen in other locations where victims are largely unknown, such as revenge or intimidation (eg see Borzycki 2008), and may be particularly true of some female offenders.

Figure 40 Location of armed robbery incidents by offender gender, 2004–10 (%)

Location of armed robbery incidents by offender gender

Notes: Excludes incidents without location and offender information

Source: AIC NARMP incidents 2004–10 [computer file]

In some respects, incidents involving offenders of both genders mirror male-only attacks (eg weapon use and number of co-offenders), but when considering location, patterns more closely resemble, but are not identical to, exclusively female robberies. The percentage of victimisation of males and females in a subset of locations as a function of the gender of offenders is described in Figure 41. Again, these data suggest that armed robbery involving female offenders may be different to that perpetrated by only males. For example, of those armed robberies carried by females or by mixed gender groups, a larger proportion of males were victimised in residences than were female victims, but the pattern was reversed in male-only incidents.

In summary, female offenders are a small minority of armed robbery perpetrators described in NARMP. They were involved in less than 15 percent of all incidents recorded annually and this has remained virtually unchanged since 2004. The already outlined limitations associated with the NARMP dataset mean strong conclusions are not possible, however, some noteworthy patterns suggested include:

  • Female armed robbers equally targeted male and female individual victims, but males targeted other males in larger proportions.
  • While both sexes most often committed offences alone, greater proportions of females committed offences in pairs when compared with groups of males or mixed gender groups. A smaller percentage of women and girls operated in groups of four or more when compared with both male groups and mixed gender groups.
  • Regardless of gender, all armed robbers used knives and other weapons most often, but there was the suggestion that women used syringes more often and firearms less often than male offenders.
  • Regardless of gender, armed robbery most commonly occurred on the street or footpath or in retail locations, but offences involving only females occurred relatively less frequently in service stations and licensed premised when compared with male and mixed gender groups. Female attacks occurred proportionally more often in residences when compared with exclusively male robberies, but some aspects of the patterns of female offending more resembled that seen among mixed gender groups.

Figure 41 Selected locations of armed robbery incidents for male and female victims by offender gender, 2004–10 (%)

Selected locations of armed robbery incidents for male and female victims by offender gender

Note: Excludes incidents without location and offender information. Based in first victim listed in incidents involving only individual victims. Percentages for victim gender groupings within offender gender do not total 100 because only selected locations shown

Source: AIC NARMP incidents 2004–10 [computer file}

Findings imply that the nature of female armed robbery may be qualitatively different to that involving males only. Female robbery offenders may also operate differently depending on whether they are acting in the company of other females only, or in groups of males and females. When acting without male accomplices, female offenders may be more opportunistic, taking fewer risks than their male counterparts—targeting female victims in higher proportions, targeting softer, less secure locations relatively more often, using more opportunistic weapons like syringes and proportionally fewer firearms (which bring greater risks to the user). When co-offending with males, victim and other incident characteristics more closely resemble that seen in male offending (with the exception of location, and specifically residential settings). This may reflect different motivational factors behind a subset of female offending, but the NARMP dataset is not currently able to examine these more qualitative aspects of armed robbery.

Related links

Armed robbery in Australia 2009–10: National Armed Robbery Monitoring Program report: