on findingsStudent entries

Gender Disparity in Political Crimes: Revealing tPP’s Strengths and Limitations


This continues our series of student reflections and analysis authored by our research team.


Taking a step back from coding further cases for the dataset, tPP’s researchers wanted to take the time to answer some of the questions which had arisen around the trends we identified over months researching and coding prosecutions of political crimes. For some of us, our questions involved whether we could possibly confirm or correct- now with the compiled statistical evidence- the hypotheses and apparent observations we came to make along the way.

There are few trends and correlations between the variables in tPP’s database as blatant as the gender disparity across defendants prosecuted for acts of political violence and other crimes. To those coding cases for tPP, it had always been apparent that there were far more male than female defendants, however with a sample set of 1,193 coded cases in the temporarily finalized database, I was able to run the numbers and confirm that observation.

In attempting to find why only 7.38% of the defendants in tPP’s database were female, I pursued two possible explanations. The first is the explanation which tPP’s data is capable of and in fact designed to answer: could there be certain variables which are “prerequisites” to women committing political violence, or conditions which are vital factors for women to commit such acts, but not for men to do so? If such a condition exists, strong positive correlations between cases having both female defendants and being coded positively for the predictor variable- stronger correlations than exist between male defendants and the predictor variable- ought to exist.

My further research into this possibility examines the correlations between women’s engagement in political crimes and a number of variables of association  tPP codes for, including the co-defendant, group affiliation, and ideological affiliation variables. These three variables are descriptive of cooperative as opposed to independent engagement in political crimes, with the condition of cooperation seeming to be the common “prerequisite” for female engagement. This analysis revealed for example that only 15.91% of female defendants as opposed to 32.85% of male defendants did not have any co-defendants. Similarly, only 6.82% of the female defendants had neither a co-defendant nor a group affiliation, making their actions truly independent, as opposed to 14.57% of men in the database. Thus, it does seem to support the hypothesis that women more often than men participate in cooperative political violence or crimes, making them less likely to act independently or as a “lone wolf”, and therefore making their engagement in such acts less common.

However, it is important to remember that there is a second, much researched explanation- that women are charged and prosecuted less than men for these sorts of crimes, regardless of the rate at which they engage in them- that tPP’s data is not designed to answer. This is due to the very nature of tPP’s goal, simply put to “[e]xamine how political violence is prosecuted in the United States”, and due to the fact that the decision to include cases requires that the defendant have been indicted with a felony crime in the first place (Loadenthal 2018). However, there is plenty of scholarship on the matter to provide insight into the gender disparity that tPP’s database exemplifies.

For example, a recent publication undertaking a similar gendered analysis of political violence argued that “politics and states project masculine power and privilege, with the result that men occupy the dominant social position in politics and women and marginalized men are subordinate” (Ortbals and Poloni-Staudinger 2018). This is the sort of sociological lens which lends itself to understanding why there are so far fewer women in tPP’s database. Because, as a result of this phenomenon, men may more often be perceived as acting with agency, as perpetrators of political crimes, and women may be perceived both by prosecutors and the public as victims or somehow unwilling, unable, or uninvolved, resulting in fewer indictments (Ortbals and Poloni-Staudinger 2018).

Thus this interesting gender disparity may demonstrate both a strength and a limitation of tPP’s database, not by error but rather by design. Regardless, it similarly demonstrates the usefulness of consulting external scholarship which complements and further sheds light on the project’s findings.

– Kayla Groneck


Sources Cited:

Loadenthal, Michael. 2018. “About TPP.” The Terrorism Prosecution Project (blog). 2018. https://theprosecutionproject.org/about-tpp/.

Ortbals, Candice, and Lori Poloni-Staudinger. 2018. “How Gender Intersects with Political Violence and Terrorism.” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics, February. https://doi.org/10.1093/acrefore/9780190228637.013.308.

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