Women in the justice system: evidence review

A review of quantitative evidence, drawn from a range of statistical data sources across the justice system in Scotland, comparing findings for women against those for men.

This document is part of a collection

1. Introduction

This paper presents a review of quantitative evidence on women in the justice system. Drawn from a range of data sources, its aim is to provide analysis that compares the position for women and men on several justice-related topics. These broadly include (i) experiences of crime, (ii) perceptions of crime and aspects of the justice system in Scotland and (iii) people's interactions with different elements of the justice system when they come into contact with it. A review of how the workforce of Scotland's main justice bodies is split between women and men is also provided in Chapter 5.

Information is presented to focus on how findings for women differ to those for men and, where available, how these have changed over time.

As highlighted above, the paper is organised into the following areas:

  • Experiences of victimisation
  • Perceptions of crime, safety, the police and the justice system
  • Patterns of offending and the justice system response
  • Justice workforce

1.1 Data sources and quality

This paper looks mainly at Official and National Statistics produced by the Scottish Government, Justice Analytical Services. This includes survey-based evidence (from the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey (SCJS) and the Scottish Victimisation Telephone Survey (SVTS)) and statistics produced from administrative systems in Scotland. Some additional ad-hoc analysis of these statistics (developed for the purpose of this paper) is also presented, along with data from justice partners on the composition of their workforce.

Most of the findings presented in this paper are for people aged 16 and over, therefore experiences of children are excluded from this review. One exception is the data on emergency hospital admissions as a result of an assault by sharp object (published by Public Health Scotland), which are based on people aged 15 and over.

Throughout this document references are made to women and men and females and males. These terms reflect the narrative used within the sources that have provided analysis for this evidence review paper. Further information on these sources, including links to the latest publications is provided in the Annex.

It should be noted that the SCJS and SVTS findings are based on a sample of respondents which is designed to be representative of all private residential households across Scotland. They do not provide information on individuals living in institutions or communal residences, such as prisons and hospitals, military bases, student accommodations and those without a fixed address.

Because of sampling variation, changes in estimates from the SCJS and SVTS between population sub-groups (e.g. women vs. men) may occur by chance. Variations in the estimates are only presented when the differences are statistically significant at the 95% confidence level. Where no statistically significant difference has been found between two estimates, this is described as showing 'no difference' (or equivalent). It should be noted that due to the smaller sample size of the SVTS compared to the SCJS[4], the SVTS is more limited in its ability to produce detailed breakdowns on the characteristics of crime and to detect differences between population sub-groups. The smaller sample size also reduces the precision of the estimates.

A similar standard statistical test approach is used when looking at differences from other data sources presented here (e.g. hate crime data) whereby random samples of police recorded crimes have been reviewed to study their characteristics, including demographic information.

1.2 Limitations and evidence gaps

It is important to highlight that these findings do not take into consideration the set of unique circumstances faced by individual women and men in the justice system. The results are drawn from survey and administrative data, and present averaged outcomes for women and men.

While this paper explores differences between women and men from a range of statistical data sources, it should be noted that these statistics do not explain any intersectionality across the multiple reasons which can influence an individual's experience of the justice system. For example, there may be several factors (e.g. age, socio-economic background or education) behind why a woman perceives crime and experiences the justice system differently to a man. These statistics do not themselves explain why differences may exist between women and men and these differences should not be taken as direct effects. Social research and other qualitative evidence can provide further context for this.

SCJS evidence on experiences of civil law issues is presented in this paper, however, there is limited availability of specific information on women and men from civil justice statistics. Therefore most of the data presented here relates to experiences of the criminal justice system.

Whilst some information on repeat victimisation is available from the SCJS and SVTS, and information on history of domestic abuse for both victim and accused is available from the police recorded domestic abuse incidents statistics, there is a lack of complete evidence on the characteristics (e.g. woman or man) of those involved.

1.3 Impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Two national lockdowns and other restrictions on movement and social gatherings due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic have been in effect throughout 2020-21.

Some of the statistics presented in this paper refer to this year and may have been influenced to some extent by the effects of the pandemic. Findings for the SVTS are from interviews conducted between September and October 2020, and report experiences and perceptions of crime during the pandemic.

When changes to previous years are detected in the findings, these are stated in the narrative. However it is not possible to quantify how much (if any) of these changes are due to COVID-19 related restrictions. Some of the statistics presented are entirely unaffected by COVID-19, as they relate to previous reporting years (e.g. SCJS and hate crime data).


Email: Justice_Analysts@gov.scot

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