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Crimcast is a virtual resource devoted to critical conversations about criminology and criminal justice issues. Our blogposts, twitter feeds, podcasts and other content provide an overview of trends, research, commentary and events of interest to criminal justice practitioners, academics and the general public. CrimCast is sponsored by The Center for Crime and Popular Culture, St. Francis College, Brooklyn, NY.

Filtering by Tag: research

Female Terrorists in the United States

Staci Strobl

Crimcast sat down with Dr. Alessandra L. Gonzalez, Princeton University post-doctorate researcher, to discuss her latest work, "How Women Engage Homegrown Terrorism" (with Joshua D.  Freilich, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and Steven M. Chermak, Michigan State University) on female terrorists in the United States, published in Feminist Criminology (Volume 9, 2014).  Using the United States Extremist Crime Database (ECDB) Study data of homicides by far-right extremists and arsons and bombings by environmental and animal rights extremists, their analysis reveal the importance of relationships to women’s involvement in terrorism and that recruitment and opportunity differ by ideology. 

Tell us about the U. S. Extremist Crime Database (ECDB) and how it was developed.  It’s a great resource for analysis of terrorist offenders across known cases.

Drs. Freilich and Chermak created the ECDB study in 2005. Since then, the ECDB has been funded by a series of grants from the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate’s University Program Division; and Resilient Systems Division, both directly and through the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START). 

The ECDB is an open source relational database that tracks violent and financial crimes by political extremists in the United States. It codes hundreds of attributes related to violent criminal incidents or financial criminal schemes, the perpetrators of these acts, their victims and targets, and the organizations and groups involved, as well as the quality of the open source information found on the case.

The research findings include that the women terrorists studied never act as lone wolves.  They also tend to be influenced by female friends or relatives to commit acts of violence-- not just male friends/lovers/husbands. This is also a new contribution to our understanding of women extremist offenders.  Did the data provide information, or can you speculate about, why these trends are occurring?  

The use of a gendered lens with which to understand pathways to homegrown radicalization sheds light on the important nuances of inter-personal relationships and social networks that have not been counted so centrally in previous terrorism studies. An inter-disciplinary approach to the study of women in terrorism points out the importance of mediating social networks on creating opportunities for motivated perpetrators.

However, there were differences by ideology and crime type and this is reflected in the social networks that enabled women to participate in either far-right extremist crimes (homicides) or eco-terrorist crimes (arsons and bombings). Similar to male terrorists, females are affected by group-level effects such as the structure of the group and methods of operation. For example, we observe that several of the victims of far-right extremists in the United States were killed not as a result of ideological forethought but more as “presented opportunities,” the unintended casualties of unstructured time by aimless youth. Several of the far-right females were homeless and on the street (four, all non-extremists). This lends evidence to view homeless females as more vulnerable to being co-opted into violent crimes although they do not believe in the ideology. Five out of 14 of the extremist perpetrators were involved in inter-gang violence or racial homicides to earn prestige within the gang. This makes the case of ideologically motivated females interesting because it might more closely approximate patterns for gang involvement. 

Of the three eco-terrorist bombings, one woman was involved with three other men and all were students at the same university, and the other two women involved in a separate incident were sisters. All three women involved with bombings had male accomplices and were ideologically motivated. Of the eco-terrorist arson incidents, seven women were repeat offenders, and five were involved in multiple offenses together. Women were not lone-wolf arsonists, and where multiple offenses occurred, there tended to be more than one female involved. So again, the story of relationships is important although it is unclear how these relationships were forged except for 




common interest activity groups on campus or as relatives of activists.

The data also shows that anti-abortion terrorists are overwhelmingly male.  What do you think this finding brings to frameworks for feminist criminology?

Interestingly, there were no anti-abortion victims or targets where women were involved, as opposed to various incidents where men were perpetrators of anti-abortion violent crime. We know that social relationships were essential to female involvement, and it is interesting that we found three mothers who were extremists and two other women who were expectant mothers at the time of the incident. It is possible that gender and social networks trump violent action against anti-abortion ideology so that we do not see women participate in these crimes. However, further research should continue to analyze the pathways for men who get involved in radical action in anti-abortion terrorist crimes because their involvement is just as important to understanding the lack of female involvement.

What is the connection between terrorism by definition having an ideological component, and the article’s assertion that religion did not seem to be a major factor in women’s involvement?  

Although religious ideology can be conflated with other powerful ideological beliefs, in this study, we isolate terrorist ideology from religious identity and belief. This methodological choice is data-driven. Of the female terrorists who engage homegrown terrorism in the United States, there were no open-source data available on their religious beliefs or affiliation. In addition, the women’s far-right and eco-terrorist ideologies did not access religious arguments for their political agendas when justifying their violence. Of course, it is possible for terrorist ideology to act as a substitute for religion for terrorists, but again, we find no data to support this theory.

What else can or has the ECDB been used to analyze?  

There have been many recent publications using ECDB data by my co-authors Joshua Freilich and Steven Chermak, including one in the Journal of Quantitative Criminology. The findings from ECDB data have been pathbreaking regarding the composition, methods, and reach of homegrown terrorism in the United States. However, this was the first publication using ECDB data with a focus on gender. 

What else are you working on these days? 

I have been continuing my research on gender, politics, religion, and deviance. I have a forthcoming article on the study of “Irreligiosity as Social Deviance in a Majority Muslim Context” for the journal Deviant Behavior which again analyzes the influence of gender and ideology on crime and social deviance.


Dr. Alessandra L. González is a Non-Resident Research Fellow at the Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. She received her Ph.D. and M.A. degrees in Sociology from Baylor University and received a B.A. in Sociology and Policy Studies from Rice University. She is the principal investigator of the Islamic Social Attitudes Survey Project (ISAS), a study in conjunction with Baylor’s Institute for Studies in Religion (ISR) on Islamic religiosity and social attitudes, including attitudes about women’s rights in the Arab Gulf region. Her latest book is Islamic Feminism in Kuwait: The Politics and Paradoxes (Palgrave Macmillan Press).

Research: Diary of a Sex Work Researcher in India - Week 1

Nickie Phillips

Dr Sarah Kingston (a Senior Lecturer in Criminology and a sex worker researcher) recently visited India and did some voluntary work in the slums and shared her own research findings at conferences in India.  Read some snippets of her time in India below. Day 1 – 28th December 2013

We arrived in Mumbai after a long journey. Mumbai is an interesting city. I was overwhelmed by the extent and levels of poverty visible on the streets, with thousands of people living in shanty huts, tents, and on the road or pavement. Streets and streets were filled with people living in this way, in some areas with whole communities of shanty huts, commonly known as the slums. At the same time you would often see evidence of wealth in the cars driven through the city.


The amount of pollution was also extensive, with almost every street littered with rubbish of all kinds, and the smog went on for miles and miles as we drove out of Mumbai. The sky was not visible at all. This led me to wonder whether there was widespread concern for the environment and the possible impact of this pollution. I was also surprised by the lack of organisation and order on the roads, there appeared to be no visible road layout or rules, it seemed to be “everyman for himself” as people drove all over the road. The only sense of road rules I observed was the cars beeping their horns to notify other drivers of their presence. The final overwhelming issue that came to my attention, was the density of the population. I have never experienced such a densely populated city, which made me question the ability of sustainment, and also helped me to understand the levels of poverty (how can a city/country economically support the population?), and pollution (the numbers of cars and amount of rubbish, which was often burning, explained the extent of the fog). It was also clear that the city has a lot of history, culture and vibrancy. There were numerous numerous shops and stalls on every street, and many many people everywhere! The city seemed never to stop. I thoroughly enjoyed watching people go about their daily lives.


Day 2 - 29th December

We travelled to Ahmednagar in the morning; it was a long 6 hour drive. On the journey we saw people urinating by the roadside. We also began seeing feral cows, goats, dogs and cats throughout towns and villages. They seemed to be an accepted part of daily lives, as cars merely drove round them. We arrived in Ahmednagar in the evening and took time to have a quick look round the nearby buildings. Nilsa and I visited the nursery, the children were having dinner. They greeted us huge smiles and a great deal of warmth. I was surprised how happy these children were and how welcoming of strangers. I was also surprised by the facilities of our rooms and the hospitality provided by the project. We ate dinner in the new food hall at around 8pm. I had expected that during the visit that we would not eat much during our stay, because of the levels of poverty, however I was surprised by the amount of food. The food was spicy, all vegetarian, but extremely tasty.  We attempted to have an early night, however none of us managed to get a good night’s sleep, with dogs barking, car and train horns, people arguing and others snoring. Disrupted sleep continued throughout our stay, and many of the team felt tired on many occasions.

Day 4-31st Dec 2013

New Years Eve - Today was the first day that we worked with children and young people. I led on sports with Grace and Darren. The children were such good fun, well mannered, respectful and I was amazed that they tidied up and packed away any toys that they used. I played hopscotch with them, giving biscuits as prizes the for child who scored the highest by throwing the “coin”. In the afternoon we got the children to decorate their own masks for NYE. The children were so enthusiastic and creative, and again I was surprised at how considerate and helpful they were with other children.  The NYE party was manic, the children loved to dance and the project´s children put on performances which we brilliant. We all danced with the children and were taught some traditional Indian dance moves.

Day 5 – 1st Jan 2014

The morning began with a talk from Milind about the project. He informed us how the project began from the work of Giresh, when at the age of 20 he saw a naked woman on the road side and no one was helping her. Later that day, he discovered that the woman was a prostitute and that her pimps were punishing her, stripped her naked, put chillies in her vagina and threw her by the roadside. It was this incident which inspired him. He began taking home the children of sex workers with the support of his family. Through charity support he bought the land of Snelalaya and 20 years later we were visiting the project. Milind told us a bit about the people they worked with, many of the children are the children of sex workers who are unable to support them. The project also supports babies from Sex Workers and put some of them up for adoption. 20-30% of sex workers that they work with are from the slums, others are unwed mothers who have been disowned by their families and who find themselves homeless, with no income and as a result they often find themselves working in brothels to support themselves. Millind claimed that only 10% of sex workers do so freely for economic gain and are un-coerced, those considered higher class sex workers. The cost of sex equates to £10, with sex workers generally selling to up to 25 men per day. He also said that they women were often controlled by pimps, who hated the project because it would often empower sex workers to take control of their money. The project also had outreach offices in most red-light areas, providing access to services for sex workers, both male and female. Later in the day we went on a tour of the whole grounds of the project and met many of the children in their dormitories. I was shocked to see that the children had hardly any possessions and lived in dorms of up to 40 young people. They greeted us as ever with big smiles and happy faces as they showed us their rooms and facilities. The rooms were generally overcrowded and the facilities basic. I don’t recall seeing any clothes or event storage for clothes, the project and the children are clearly in need of support.

In the evening we went to the theatre to watch children from another branch of the project perform. The disabled children and adults performed music and dance routines, which were very good. After the show we went for a meal at a local nearby restaurant with Milind. The food was gorgeous authentic quisine, but the toilets were rather unpleasant! with only a hole in the floor and excrement from other people littering the floor tiles. At our table, Miliind asked a group of men on the next table to move, as he overheard them making comments about us, and how they were going to take pictures. I asked him why they wanted to take pictures and he replied because of our skin colour. I guess with us being in a rural area, seeing people who looked so different was intriguing for local Indians.

Day 6 – 2nd January 2014

Today I travelled to the University of Pune to present a paper at the International Conference on Diversity, Margins and Dialogue: Local, National & Transnational Cultures. When I arrived I was surprised that Pune was much cleaner than Mumbai. The university was on large grounds, surrounded by lovely gardens. The university buildings were somewhat dated, but it did have the basic teaching facilities; computers, projectors, seats with attached desks, WIFI in teaching rooms.

My paper was presented alongside a researcher, Anjali Pathak. Her research had focused on a particular tribe, which was an illegal colony on Indian land, and some of its women would sell sex. The expectation was that women would be married and sell sex to support their families. Young girls were brought up to understand that this would be their role within the family unit. It was a fascinating paper and made me reflect upon how the socio-cultural context can often inform how, when, where and why sex work takes place. I was also intrigued to discover, that despite the author suggesting that it constituted violence against women, which feeds into radical feminist arguments that women can never truly engage in prostitution by choice, that the vast majority of the women had complete control over their income and finances. We could argue on the one hand that these women´s choices were not their own, in that they were often subtly coerced by their families or that they felt that they had to undertake such work. Notions of choice in this context seem somewhat blurred by these socio-cultural constraints/context. Yet on the other, we all are in some way constrained by our own circumstances and backgrounds. Whether we are born into a wealthy or poor family, where we live and the people we liaise with can also shape or constrain our lives. How can any of us say that they choices we make are fully “our own”?  Also, often their husbands also worked, but the level of income from prostitution often exceeded that of their husbands. Many people make employment decisions based on economics, so why is there often a mis-understanding of the choices some women make when they sell sex for money? As I suggested in my paper, sex, as with many other issues, is seen as having a specific value in society and there are often expectations on how, when, where and who with it should be practised. How do those who practice sex for these “appropriate” reasons really know that this decision is fully their own, when we live in a society that shapes our notions of sex and sexuality?

Day 7 – 3rd January 2014

Today was the second day of the conference and I spoke with a number of academic staff from Indian universities about prostitution in India. They told me about how some caste are expected to be prostitutes and that their families bring up their daughters with the explicit expectation they will sell sex to support their families. Again, I was intrigued by the contrasting experiences of some Indian women, both within India and internationally. The acceptance and expectation of the family, whilst at the same time experiencing stigma externally I imagine would be a difficult to manage. In the UK, sex workers often try to hide and conceal their sex working activities from their families because of the stigma afforded to prostitution. Sex workers often fear of the repercussions and have in some instances been subject to violence from family members who believe their family has been dishonoured in some way. Although in the UK families of sex workers may be financially supported by the profits of selling sex, unlike in parts of India the knowledge and encouragement of family members is absent for most.

After spending the day at the conference, I travelled back to the project in the late afternoon. As ever the journey was interesting, with cars driving all over the very bumpy and uneven roads. I was surprised to see roadwork being undertaken on very busy main arterial routes with no signage to indicate that people were in the road working ahead. Seeing oxen pulling carts and trailers often reminded me of how Britain’s agricultural past would have been very similar, whereas today we rely heavily on machinery and vehicles. I often felt empathy towards the animals that in some instances looked emaciated and worked in extreme heats. Although at the time of my visit it was winter in India, the summer I was informed was often unbearable and I wondered how the animals coped with such temperature rises.


By Dr Sarah Kingston.  View her staff profile here

Leading Criminologists commissioned to look at relationships between poverty and crime for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation

Nickie Phillips

Professor Colin Webster and Dr Sarah Kingston from the Criminology Group and the new Centre for Applied Social Research at Leeds Met have reviewed evidence about the benefits of reducing crime by reducing poverty.


wealth & poverty







As well as looking at the links how poverty and crime influence one another they have been asked by JRF to explore what contributions policies to prevent and reduce crime might make to their anti-poverty programme. The review is one of a comprehensive series of reviews, consultations and workshops to gather ideas and evidence; and commission analysis, research and modelling. The programme aims to reduce poverty across the four nations of the UK, creating costed, evidence-based anti-poverty strategies by 2016 that it is hoped will have a positive impact on the people affected.

In gathering knowledge and evidence about the interaction of poverty and crime,Prof Webster and Dr Kingston make explicit the direct and indirect influences and causes of this relationship, which have often remained implicit and unclear in much criminological research and crime policy, denying us access to the triggers and mechanisms that account for the ways poverty and crime are linked.


Image courtesy of freedigital - Stuart Miles