For some 20 years, campaigners have argued that courtrooms don’t treat men and woman equally when it comes to domestic violence homicides. According to them, “Judges have been known to express sympathy for men who claim they were nagged or cheated on by female partners, but often appear to have little for women who kill after being raped by their partners or experiencing domestic violence.”
Julie Bindel of The Guardian took a look at this claim, starting her article by juxtaposing two similar cases that are separated by the gender of the murderer. While a woman who killed her husband to protect herself received a life sentence for murder, a man who did the same to his wife was only given a two-year sentence. Bindel then tells the stories of three women who are still suffering from what seem to be unfair rulings.
One theory as to why judges might be more harsh when sentencing women is that male violence is simply more accepted than female violence. While a case involving a male murderer might not be surprising to anyone, a female murderer is much less common, and therefore, a murder committed by a female seems like a more serious crime. As Jezebel commented, there seems to be a view that “a man’s anger is justified, while a woman’s is somehow her own fault.”
Bindel offered her own insight:
“Judges have been known to express sympathy for men who claim they were nagged or cheated on by female partners, but often appear to have little for women who kill after being raped by their partners or experiencing domestic violence. This tends to be because when women who are being regularly beaten by their partners kill, their dominant emotions are usually fear or despair — not exactly a sudden, explosive ‘loss of self-control’.”
Also, I think it’s important to note much of the physical (or emotional) abuse towards women goes unreported. Therefore, when it comes to showing evidence after claiming self-defense, some women may be unprepared. To a court, the claim of self-defense is essentially meaningless without hard evidence. Sadly for women, when fear and manipulation come into play, reporting abuse because more difficult than one might imagine it to be.
While “loss of self-control” isn’t an excuse to kill, self-defense often is. And as Jezebel wisely pointed out, while murderers deserve justice, abuse victims do too. Conclusion: Domestic violence homicide cases need further investigation — and better judges.