Most often, women offender’s pathways to crime are rooted in past trauma associated with family and intimate violence. This study found that nearly 60% of women in state prisons had been physically and sexually abused. Although men also experience traumas at early ages, the emotional dynamics and behavior present themselves differently in adulthood—men often become perpetrators and women remain victims or are in dependent roles with continued abuse. In a study conducted among violent women offenders at New York’s Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, nearly 60% were sexually molested as children.
Large numbers of women offenders also suffer from mental illnesses. In trying to support themselves through prostitution and low-level drug dealing, they eventually become ensnared in the justice system. More than half of women offenders are under the influence of alcohol or other drugs at the time of their offenses. Often women are attempting to self-medicate the pain of trauma or of mental illness.
The pattern of women offender’s lives are often woven from these threads:
- Past trauma,
- Low self-esteem,
- Poor education,
- Restricted opportunities to earn a living and support children,
- Substance abuse,
- Mental illness, and/or
- Financial and/or emotional dependence on men who are involved in crime.
Thus, we see again how child abuse trauma affects another segment of America’s population.
 “National Symposium on Women Offenders,” Office of Justice Programs, December 1999.