Policing Women: Moral Arguments and the Dilemmas of Criminalization

Naomi R. Cahn, George Washington University Law School


This essay concerns the peculiar dilemmas of criminalization for women. I explain the ways in which women are policed, ranging from the monitoring of motherhood to the criminalization of prostitution. This policing may be through the criminal law, civil law, or more subtly, through cultural attitudes that devalue women's work yet simultaneously encourage women to do that work. Hence, I argue that in order to sensitize, reform, and change the criminal justice system, it is critical to consider women's needs. This essay also pays special attention to the impact of the criminal justice system on children. Specifically, I examine the tension between the interests of children and of women, as well as the role played by the criminal justice system in serving these sometimes conflicting interests.