General Strain Theory and the Maple Case
The General Strain Theory (GST) developed by Robert Agnew has been confirmed to be capable of explaining criminogenic behaviors among both youths and adults. The theory is centered on the applicability of strain or stressful conditions in explaining the rationale behind criminal behavior. In his article written for Asian Journal of Criminology Agnew (2015) describes in detail some of the key features of the theory and how relevant they are when it comes to explaining criminal behavior. It must be noted that there are a number of similarities between the work of Agnew and works of such authors as Eitle and Eitle, and Matthews. The theory and the accompanied readings, when applied to the case of Gurjinder Dhaliwal, affirm the argument that crimes arise due to the presence of various preconditioning factors. This essay explores the extent to which the theory finds application in Dhaliwal’s case and how deductions may be made on the case following the GST.
GST and the Dhaliwal’s Case
According to the study made by Agnew (2015), the General Strain Theory entails the assertion that people engage in delinquent behaviors due to the presence of certain stressors or strain with which they are unable to cope. Such people find illegal ways of coping with stress when they either see no legal alternatives or understand that social and economic sanctions for infringement will be minimal. Strain in this case refers to such events as inability to accomplish desirable goals in one’s life, negative treatment from others, and loss of valuable possessions, etc. In the present case, the main drivers of the crime might have been generated by the relationship between Dhaliwal and Maple. The fact that Maple had already decided to break up with Dhaliwal was the most probable cause of strain in the perpetrator’s life. Furthermore, all efforts to get Maple back seemed futile to Dhaliwal after she had refused to get their relationship back on track despite countless text messages with threats and blandishments sent to her and her male friends by the perpetrator. Given that Dhaliwal could find no other reasonable way to reverse the decision made by Maple, he decided to commit the crime in spite of the fact that he had wronged her first.
That being said, Dhaliwal’s case of strain presents key features that Agnew associates with the GST. The first one implies that the strain which eventually results in crime is objective. This feature is related to the cases when, for instance, people experience break-ups for the reasons that are not their own fault and do not react with animosity. This simply shows the objectivity of the strain in terms of individual responses to the straining factors. Apart from this, the strain may be both experienced and anticipated. When Dhaliwal failed to establish a contact with Maple and realized that she would never be his girlfriend anymore, he started experiencing the effects of strain more clearly. As a result, negative emotions got hold of him.
Therefore, Agnew asserts that strains may be a source of negative emotions. The strains that result in such emotion as anger, depression and frustration are more likely to lead to criminogenic actions. In the case of Dhaliwal, the fore occurrences in the relationship between Maple and Dhaliwal exacerbated the problem. Thus, the break-up with Maple made Dhaliwal feel anger and contempt for her. These feelings could have resulted in the observed actions by the perpetrator. From Agnew’s perspective, when a perpetrator cannot find suitable legal procedures for dealing with the experienced strain he/she may get engaged in criminal actions. Therefore, the offence severity and progression of intensity of criminal actions of a perpetrator may indicate a probable search for legal means before finally resorting to crime. The perpetrator started harassing the victim by sending her countless messages with blandishments and threats. While this may sound irritating, such actions may have been an indication of his efforts to solve the issues between the two of them. After that Dhaliwal proceeded by making threats against Maple’s male friends, which was a much more criminally aligned act as compared to the previous actions. This eventually led to the murder of the victim (for this crime the perpetrator would be sentenced to 21 years in prison). A criminal action, according to Agnew (2015), comes about when the pressure of negative emotions compromises one’s ability to do the right thing. While Agnew argues that those who resort to criminal acts have often been unable to find resources for legal means of dealing with the experienced strains, the Dhaliwal’s case illustrates that at times the resources for legal means may not provide an incentive to act legally. The best way to avoid the crime would have been to the support of Dhaliwal’s like Gursimar Bedi. The friends could have helped Dhaliwal to get through the hard times and come to terms with the break-up. Instead, Dhaliwal ended up asking one of his friends to assist him in the murder of his ex-girlfriend. Being described as a control freak who tolerates no dissent, Dhaliwal probably coerced his friend to assist him rather than convinced him to do so voluntarily.
The description of Dhaliwal as an obsessive and controlling person brings to the fore another important argument made by Agnew. According to Agnew, some traits are more common among those considered to possess criminogenic behaviors (2015). Furthermore, certain characteristics also prevail among those with a high probability of being involved in crime. Such characteristics may include: parental rejection, excessive discipline imposition of children, abusive relations among peers, discrimination, homelessness and marital problems, among many others. Although the victim was not married to the perpetrator, the relationship issues faced by Dhaliwal and Maple were akin to marital problems and, hence, could be considered as such. Agnew also describes these attributes through different perspectives. The experiences that may trigger criminogenic behaviors are linked with a low social control and ineffective suppression of crimes. Moreover, perpetrators usually find such experiences grossly unjust.
When it comes to Dhaliwal’s case, these attributes can be said to fit perfectly. For instance, from the Dhaliwal’s perspective the break-up with Maple was unfair. Despite having been unfaithful numerous times, Dhaliwal did not feel that breaking up with him was a suitable punishment for his actions. This explains the rationale behind his messages to Maple and threats against her male friends. For the strain to become criminogenic, it also had to be in high magnitude. This implies that rejection might have been a trend in Dhaliwal’s life. Although the case description presented in the article by Proctor (2016) does not clearly highlight findings about the past of the perpetrator, it is quite possible that Dhaliwal has previously experienced rejection either from his parents, friends or former girlfriends. It is quite possible that he felt worthless due to yet another break-up that demonstrated his inability to sustain any meaningful relationships. This could have been the emotional driver behind his actions.
Strains that result in criminogenic behaviors may become possible due to low level of social control. In the case under consideration, Maple’s decision to break up with Dhaliwal might not be the only reason why he eventually got engaged in a criminal action. Being a control freak, Dhaliwal was irritated by his inability to control the actions of his ex-girlfriend (whatever he did to to get their relationship back on track, she did not change her mind), which could have become an incentive for illegal action. The perpetrator could have thought that his ex-girlfriend’s inability to to accept him as a boyfriend made her undeserving of any other chance with another person.
It must be noted that Agnew’s general strain theory is supported by a number of other researchers like Shelley Matthews, the author of a well-known article titled as “Self-complexity and Crime: Extending General Strain Theory” (Matthews, 2011). Matthews states that while considering the criminogenic strains, there is a need to consider self-complexity as one of the variables that condition criminogenic behaviors. Self-complexity is defined through the presence of a number of perceived crucial identities and different characteristics of those identities. When the identities are fewer and there is a great overlap in identity characteristics, individuals are more prone to experiments with criminal behaviors (which might have been the reason why Dhaliwal resorted to a criminal action).
The GST describes criminogenic behaviors through the use of varied strains. However, according to Eitle and Eitle (2016), despite the fact that the theory may be suitable for explaining delinquency, it may not be easy to apply practically. At the same time, the GST does not provide ways of dealing with criminal activities among the youths. It must be noted that the decision of the court to sentence Gurjinder Dhaliwal to life in prison for the murder of his ex-girlfriend, Maple Batalia, was justified. However, the perpetrator’s past should have been considered to enable him achieve a holistic restitution and rehabilitation.
Agnew, R. (2015). Using general strain theory to explain crime in Asian societies. Asian Journal of Criminology, 10(2), 131-147. doi:10.1007/s11417-014-9198-2
Eitle, D., & Eitle, T. M. (2016). General strain theory and delinquency. Youth & Society, 48(4), 470-495. doi:10.1177/0044118X13499593
Matthews, S. K. (2011). Self-complexity and crime: Extending general strain theory. Justice Quarterly, 28(6), 863-902. doi:10.1080/07418825.2010.535010
Proctor, J. (2016). Maple Batalia’s killer, Gurjinder Dhaliwal, sentenced to life in prison.
CBS News. Retrieved from