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Dr Felia Allum
University of Bath
Major Research Fellowship

Women, crime and culture: transnational organised crime as an equal opportunity industry

Until now, research into transnational organised crime groups has concentrated on their male participants. Felia Allum is redressing the balance by analysing the presence, activities and influence of women within these groups

Nigerian sex workers in Castel Volturno, Italy, 2016
Nigerian sex workers in Castel Volturno, Italy, 2016. Photo: Giovanni Izzo.

Transnational organised crime groups (TOCGs), like terrorist cells, have a huge influence on contemporary society, whether through their illicit traffics, money laundering techniques or random victims. Both are, unfortunately, features of the twenty-first century. And, yet we still have very little detailed evidence-based analysis of TOGCs’ illegal or legal activities, their recruitment methods, or their multifaceted accomplices across Europe. Many of the existing studies concentrate purely on the male participants within these para-state organisations, ignoring the role of women. As a result, there is a lack of understanding of women’s true involvement. It is time to shift our focus and to examine their presence, activities and influence.

The aim of this research project is to look at the roles women play in different TOCGs, European, African and Asian. Often, their roles appear contradictory: are they active agents, neutral accomplices or passive victims? Are they managers, financial advisers or simple companions? If the latter, are they then leaders or victims? Are they included or excluded? Feminine or masculine? Violent or passive? Further, how fundamental are women to the success of TOCGs? 

In order to clarify these aspects of women’s involvement I will consider the following questions. Why does this gender gap exist? Why do these gender contradictions exist? Why do gender constraints persist over time and space? Why these particular gender differences and this type of stratification in TOCGs? Why does gender still matter and make a difference in TOCGs? Have law enforcement agencies underestimated women’s roles?

I hope my approach will provide the basis for a new and ground-breaking conceptual framework for understanding the roles of women in TOCGs in a global context. As a woman researcher and using a biographical and autobiographical approach, I want to listen to women and their stories to understand their criminal experiences, involvement and pasts. I will collect the cultural and intersubjective life stories and narratives of TOCGs women in order to reconstruct their involvement and participation between 1990 and 2018 and so answer my research questions.

This study will combine the analysis of historical documents (papers from court cases; newspaper and other reports) with the first-hand accounts of women involved in TOCGs viewed through a cultural lens. I will analyse the women’s experience from a variety of angles – bottom up and top down, insider and outsider, formal and informal – to decipher their life stories, motivations, strategic choices and life paths, in order to understand more fully their role within TOCGs.

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