There was a time when women had no equality in the eyes of the legal system. They could not vote or own property, they could not sign contracts or serve on juries, and they could not even make a will. Employers were legally free to refuse to hire them. Thankfully those days are long gone, thanks to federal legislation and to various rulings by the Supreme Court and other courts. In today’s world, women are formally equal in the eyes of the law, and they enjoy many more legal advantages than was true just a few decades ago.
In the juvenile justice and criminal justice arenas, some gender inequality still exists. Adolescent girls are more likely than boys to get into trouble with juvenile authorities for status offenses like sexual activity or running away from home (Chesney-Lind and Sheldon, 2014). In an opposite form of gender inequality, adult women are less likely than adult men convicted of similar crimes to be incarcerated, as judges and prosecutors evidently believe that women are less threatening than men to society and often have childcare responsibilities.
In another area, women who are victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, and other crimes targeting them as women still find that their allegations of criminal violence are taken less seriously than they should be by police, prosecutors, and judges. This is because many criminal justice professionals still believe that women are somehow to blame for the violence they suffer (Alderden and Ullman, 2012; Visher et al., 2008).
To the extent these professionals continue to hold this belief and to accept other myths surrounding violence against women, the legal system contributes to women’s inequality.