The EU’s crime agency Europol has launched a campaign showing its “most wanted” women, accused or convicted of serious and organised crimes.
On a dedicated webpage, images of the fugitives are covered with masks that fall away to reveal their identities.
Europol said it wanted to highlight that women were just as capable as men of carrying out serious crimes.
Although women are perpetrators of serious crimes, statistics show the majority globally are committed by men.
A recent study on women in serious crime, commissioned by the British government and published this year, also emphasises that most criminal roles – including senior roles in organised crime groups – are dominated by men.
What is in Europol’s campaign?
Of the 21 fugitives featured on the Crime Has No Gender site, 18 are women and three are men. Each person’s gender is left intentionally ambiguous until their mask is removed.
Among the criminals is Elena Puzyrevich, who trafficked nine young Russian women into Cáceres in Spain and forced them into sex work.
Another, Angelina Sacjuka, is wanted for beating a young woman to death in Riga, Latvia, five years ago.
Claire Georges, a spokeswoman for Europol, said the campaign was an extension of an existing website, EU Most Wanted, launched in 2016. She said the agency aimed to increase its chances of finding the fugitives featured in the campaign.
“We wanted to show that women are just as likely to commit violent crimes as men. Even though the discourse is often around ‘male fugitives’, women can be just as bad,” she said.
She said the agency asked EU member states to submit their most wanted female fugitives. Three states – the UK, Cyprus and Luxembourg – sent men instead.
Are women more responsible for serious crime than we think?
Dr Marian Duggan, an expert in gender and criminology at the University of Kent, told the BBC that Europol was right about there being a stereotype casting men as more likely than women to perpetrate serious and organised crime. But the stereotype existed because it was true, she said.
“Obviously all crimes can be committed of anybody of any gender,” Dr Duggan said. “But while some women do commit serious crimes, they do so far less frequently than men.”
Dr Duggan said gender stereotypes were often exploited by organised criminal groups when carrying out large-scale crimes. Many of the women in Europol’s campaign, for example, have been accused or convicted of sex and drugs trafficking – roles in which Dr Duggan said women “can prove quite useful” to criminal bosses, but where they very rarely act alone.
“For human trafficking, there’s a false sense of security with women, so they might be used to gain the trust or compliance of victims,” she said. “With drugs trafficking, we tend to see women used as decoys or to facilitate the movement of drugs – but not in the very high or powerful roles.”
Equating these crimes to those of the male fugitives listed by Europol, many of whom are wanted for murder, was “disingenuous”, Dr Duggan said.
“I wouldn’t see it as equitable,” she said. “I think (the campaign) will probably be very popular… but I don’t think it will shift the narrative to ‘women are as criminal as men’ because I think most people know that to not be true.”