Women are twice as likely as men to receive harsher sentences for assault offences when alcohol is a contributory factor, according to a new study.
Researchers found that although being ‘under the influence’ increased, or aggravated, sentencing outcomes across both genders, the rise in severity for female offenders was significantly higher than for male offenders.
The University of Liverpool, which carried out the research, studied data collected as part of the Crown Court Sentencing Survey (CCSS). The CCSS examined more than 30,000 cases heard between the second quarter of 2012 and the end of 2014.
Dr Carly Lightowlers, from the university’s department of sociology, social policy and criminology, said: ‘These findings likely reflect widely held norms and beliefs about both gender and intoxication, which shape views about how ‘deserving’ an individual is of punishment, and thus raise concerns about how intoxication and gender equality shape sentencing practice. At the very least, they suggest intoxication remains a contested sentencing factor, as its influence does not uniformly aggravate male and female offending.’
Using an example of actual bodily harm, the study found the probability of a custodial sentence was lower for women than for men - both when sober and intoxicated.
However, when intoxication was cited as an aggravating factor it did not have the same impact for male and female defendants.
The aggravation – the increase in probability of a custodial sentence – applied by the judge was 13.4% for women, over twice that applied to male defendants (5.7%).
Lightowlers said the findings could be a result of the perception that alcohol consumption and violence go against traditional notions of womanhood, and that these are reinforced when sentences are handed down.
The study, Drunk and Doubly Deviant? The Role of Gender and Intoxication in Sentencing Assault Offences, is published in the British Journal of Criminology.