The issue how gender and the intersecting elements operate within the (Belgian) youth court remains a relatively unexplored research field. As the youth judge doesn’t exclusively focus on the delinquent or status offense and also takes into account the personality and the background of the minor, each of these elements have a role to play in this specific context. Given the social welfare orientation of the youth justice system, gender and the intersecting elements can affect this practice and create social differences between girls and boys (Bishop, Leiber & Johnson, 2010: 215; Eliaerts, 2001: 372; Platt, 1969: 28; Thomas & Cage, 1977: 237-238; van Mens-Verhulst & Radtke, 2009: 8). The current research tries to fill this gap and puts forward a multidisciplinary approach. It aims at cross-pollinating youth justice and youth criminology on the one hand, and gender and intersectionality on the other hand. It leads to the following central research question: “How does a gendered practice occur within the two studied Dutch-speaking youth courts and what are the characteristics of this practice?
The emphasis is on the presence, construction and problematisation of girls and boys within the youth court practice, from the perspective of the professional actors. Consequently, the youth court practice is researched as a socially constructed reality (cf. Brants, 2013). The data collected from the two youth courts consist of 120 youth court case files, 56 youth court hearings and 10 semi-structured interviews with youth judges (8) and youth public prosecutors (2).
The analysis indicates the subtle and progressive character of a gegenderd youth court practice. At a first, more general level this practice is shaped by the traditional youth protection principles. The qualification of a case and the youth court case file operate as respectively procedural and functional elements that cover the whole functioning of the youth court practice in general. Gender and the intersecting elements operate much more on a second, more subtle level and aren’t explicitly observable. They act as "subtle mechanisms and discourses" (van den Brink, 2011: 25, 51-53) intertwined with the traditional youth protection principles. At this second level the interaction between sex and gender, and other elements such as class, age, religion, sexual orientation, family background, financial situation, school situation, vulnerabilities,… becomes visible. Being a girl or a boy does matter, albeit in interaction with the qualification of a case. Subsequently, the intersection with family dynamics and vulnerabilities across different life domains further affects the construction and problematisation of girls and boys. Worth mentioning is that it is the variation in the combination of these elements that creates these subtleties and differences which occur between and within girls and boys. The intersectional approach of doing gender in the youth court is thus multi-faceted and implies a transcending of the daily court practice. It is shaped by the subtle and complex interplay of these various elements that lead to an almost invisible gegenderd youth court practice.
|Date of Award||18 Mar 2019|
- Vrije Universiteit Brussel
|Supervisor||Jenneke Christiaens (Promotor)|