Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Women convicted for violent offenses: Adverse childhood experiences, low level of education and poor mental health

Astrid Rossegger1*, Nicole Wetli1, Frank Urbaniok1, Thomas Elbert2, Franca Cortoni3 and Jérôme Endrass1

Author Affiliations

1 Psychiatric/Psychological Service, Criminal Justice System, Canton of Zurich, Feldstrasse 42, Zurich, 8090, Switzerland

2 Department of Psychology, University of Konstanz, Universitätsstraße 10, Konstanz, 78464, Germany

3 École de criminologie, University of Montreal, PO Box 6128, Station Centre-ville, Montréal (Québec), H3C 3J7, Canada

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BMC Psychiatry 2009, 9:81  doi:10.1186/1471-244X-9-81

Published: 22 December 2009



In past years, the female offender population has grown, leading to an increased interest in the characteristics of female offenders. The aim of this study was to assess the prevalence of female violent offending in a Swiss offender population and to compare possible socio-demographic and offense-related gender differences.


Descriptive and bivariate logistic regression analyses were performed for a representative sample of N = 203 violent offenders convicted in Zurich, Switzerland.


7.9% (N = 16) of the sample were female. Significant gender differences were found: Female offenders were more likely to be married, less educated, to have suffered from adverse childhood experiences and to be in poor mental health. Female violent offending was less heterogeneous than male violent offending, in fact there were only three types of violent offenses females were convicted for in our sample: One third were convicted of murder, one third for arson and only one woman was convicted of a sex offense.


The results of our study point toward a gender-specific theory of female offending, as well as toward the importance of developing models for explaining female criminal behavior, which need to be implemented in treatment plans and intervention strategies regarding female offenders.