A BOOK REVIEWER
A BOOK FOR REVIEW
THE NEW SOCIAL WORKER ONLINE
Female Offenders and Victims
by Donna Cavalluzzi, Elmhurst Hospital Center
Offenders and Victims,
by Katherine van Wormer. (2001). Springer Publishing Company,
New York, 392 pp., $49.95.
Female Offenders and Victims brings to life a compelling account
of women in the United States prison system. Part I of this book,
Victimization to Empowerment, details the history
of how women for generations have been victimized by the social
control of men. The author details why women have been led down
the pathway to crime, and how we as individuals in corroboration
with society can help empower women to regain control over their
own lives. Katherine van Wormer reminds us of the old cliché
history repeats itself. In essence, those who can
hold their own will do so, and those who cannot will we be subject
to their prey. Van Wormer gives an eye-opening look at how institutions
who lead this country, punish women of color in poverty.
van Wormer opens
her first chapter with the statement, Where there is no
dream people will perish. All of us at one time or another
have been victim to societys failure to meet our needs.
This book is an excellent readable tool for social work students,
professionals, and lawmakers to gain a comprehensive understanding
that the criminal justice system is not about justice at all,
but about the punitive approaches that keep women stagnant, revictimized,
and without hope for a future. The violence perpetrated by men
toward young girls and women is a major focus of this book and
is a continued epidemic in society today. While crime rates are
down, incarceration rates for women are up. van Wormer speaks
to how early childhood trauma such as physical and sexual abusecompounded
by being female, poor, and a minoritywill undoubtedly create
a woman with low self-esteem who will predictably have a severe
mistrust of the people in society. We see how drug addiction
is used to self-medicate oneself from a painful existence and
to numb the post-traumatic stress from the early trauma these
The author comments
on how the media plays a significant factor in showing women
as failures and highlights only those who have done wrong and
are repeat offenders. She presents the question, How do
you promote strength in the very structure that was proposed
to intimidate and control? She shows how the treatment
relationship helps the victim build a sense of empowerment.
The basic social work tenets of using the clients language,
reframing, validating, breaking down of illogical thoughts, and
collaborating instead of dictating help victims see they can
take control and make good choices with their lives with the
workers support. Review of trauma with the victim gives
them new understanding of the damaged self they see. Moving toward
acceptance of their life situations helps victims take control
and find new ways of adapting.
Most women are
incarcerated as a result of mandatory drug sentencing laws.Prison
conditions are inhumane, with medical and mental health services
being severely inadequate and questionable. Custodial oversight
by male guards doing strip and pat searches is a violation of
human rights. Females from poor inner city life are forced to
deal early and on a regular basis with problems of abuse, drugs,
pregnancy, and rough treatment by authorities. Their children
are likely to carry on the tradition.
Male guards reenact
the same brutal treatment these women have received on the outside.
The author shows how sometimes prison life provides a respite
from a traumatizing and harsh world. Gangs and prison subcultures
offer family type relationships as well as protection. Many women
are inclined to choose romantic partners who appear familiar
to them, those who are abusive, controlling, and law breaking.
The compulsion to repeat patterns we have learned from our families
is common to us all, and these patterns cannot be broken when
there is no one to support and show us a better way.
van Wormer tells
the reader not all is lost and there is reason to be hopeful.
Many prisons and jails are showing greater sensitivity to the
special needs of women. Although social work schools have been
teaching a supportive and strengths perspective approach as a
treatment model, van Wormer brings the reader a new dimension
to the framework. She reinforces looking at the solution to the
problem. Efforts to build and enhance personal power in people
who feel powerless are the basic components of the strengths
perspective. It is through the victims self-awareness,
reevaluation, and societal support that the damage will be repaired
Donna Cavalluzzi, CSW, Domestic Violence Coordinator, Elmhurst
Hospital Center, Elmhurst, NY.
© 2001, 2002
White Hat Communications