The most wanted female criminals in Europe include the killer of a British businessman and a human trafficker who helped lure a young girl to England.
Its website displays 21 suspects with their faces obscured by a mask that gradually falls away to reveal their identity. Eighteen are women.
Among those featured are 56-year-old Hilde Van Acker, who remains on the run after being convicted of the murder of British businessman Marcus John Mitchell in Belgium in 1996.
Another is Czech national Iveta Tancošová, 52, who is wanted over the trafficking of a young girl who was beaten, locked in a room and forced to work as a prostitute in the UK. The victim, who had been lured to England with the promise of nursing work, was later sold to Tancosova’s relatives in Ireland.
Europol said the aim of the campaign was to attract as many visitors to its website as possible to increase the chance of fugitives being arrested.
“The female fugitives featured on Europe’s Most Wanted website prove that women are equally as capable of committing serious crimes as men,” the agency said in a statement.
“In recent decades the number of women engaged in criminal activity has increased, although at a slower pace than men.
“The criminals of both genders in this new campaign are all wanted for grave offences like murder, drug trafficking, fraud, theft and trafficking in human beings.”
The three men on the list include James Kelly, a 57-year-old Irishman who is wanted by the UK for drug trafficking. Europol alleges he was part of a group which abducted and tortured a lorry driver who was stopped by customs officials. The driver was beaten with knuckle-dusters, an iron bar and a sledgehammer, burned with a blowtorch and scalded with boiling water.
However the campaign was criticised after a Europol spokesperson suggested women were “just as likely to commit serious crimes” as men.
According to the latest Crime Survey for England and Wales, perpetrators of violent crimes are most likely to be male (74 per cent of incidents).
“Disingenuous is the word,” said Dr Victoria Baines, a former Europol officer. “The statement ‘women are just as likely to commit violent crimes as men’ is wholly inaccurate and requires modification.”
Criminologist Dr Marian Duggan told the BBC: “Obviously all crimes can be committed of anybody of any gender. But while some women do commit serious crimes, they do so far less frequently than men.”
Since the Europol “Most Wanted” website was launched in 2016, a total of 69 featured criminals have been arrested. At least 21 of those were brought to justice as a result of information received from the general public.