Investigating sex differences in, and predictors of, violent and nonviolent offending behaviour

Thornton, Abigail J V (2012) Investigating sex differences in, and predictors of, violent and nonviolent offending behaviour. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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This thesis investigated the generalist or specialist theories of offending by examining the overlap of, sex differences in, and predictors of intimate partner violence (IPV), general violence and nonviolent offending. IPV is typically studied separately from other types of crime as it is perceived to be a specialist type of crime warranting its own research and theories (e.g. Dobash & Dobash, 1992; Hotaling, Straus & Lincoln, 1990; Giles-Sims, 1983). However, generalist theories (e.g. Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1990; Felson, 2002) suggest that crimes stem from the same etiology and share some commonalities: therefore perpetrators are likely to be generalists who perpetrate a variety of crimes rather than specialising solely in one type of crime. Investigating all three offences in one population will inform whether (or not) IPV is a specialist type of crime distinct from other violent and nonviolent crime.
Study 1 assessed women’s violent and nonviolent offending, using data from two online student samples (men and women: n = 344), reporting on being (1) a perpetrator and witness (women), or (2) being a victim and witness (men). A comprehensive measure of general violence, IPV and nonviolent offending was developed. The results provided broad support for the generalist perspective of crime as women were found to be involved in a variety of offences. A similar pattern of offending was supported across data sources.
Study 2 developed the Nonviolent and Violent Offending Behaviour Scale (NVOBS): a psychometrically sound measure of violent and nonviolent offending suitable for use with both male and female participants (using the combined sample from studies 3 and 4). Results suggested five separate subscales (general violence, IPV, drug-related offences, criminal damage, and theft). The results provided support for previous research into sex differences as men were found to perpetrate higher levels of general violence and nonviolent offences than women (supporting evolutionary theories of crime), and women perpetrated significantly more IPV than men (supporting the family conflict theory and not the feminist theory). The interrelatedness of the offence categories in men and women provided broad support for generalist theories of offending.
Studies 3 (116 men; 181 women) and 4 (184 men; 171 women) explored potential predictors of offending behaviour using the NVOBS to examine whether the different forms of offending shared the same underlying correlates. Measures included: personality traits and disorder traits, attachment, anger, self-control and psychopathic traits. The same pattern of results was observed across both studies. Despite the sex differences in general violence and nonviolent offending (Study 2), there were similarities in the predictors of general violence and nonviolent offending for men and women. This supports Campbell’s (1995) theory that women’s offending may just be a muted version of men’s offending and also suggests that there are commonalities between different types of offending: supporting the generalist perspective of crime. The main difference was for IPV, where the predictors for men’s IPV were different to other types of crime and to the predictors for women’s IPV. This indicates that men’s and women’s risk factors for IPV may be different (providing some support for men’s IPV being specialist).
In summary, three key themes can be taken from the research findings: (1) sex differences in offending, and mutuality of IPV, (2) the overlap between offences, and (3) the pattern of correlates and predictors of offending. Conclusions from the thesis are that men and women offenders perpetrate a variety of offences, which is consistent with the theory that criminals tend not to specialise. Limitations, ideas for future research, and original contributions to knowledge are discussed.

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