Finding Their Voices: Listening to Battered Women Who've Killed

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9781560726180: Finding Their Voices: Listening to Battered Women Who've Killed
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Violence against women is not a new phenomenon in American society, but it has only recently received public attention. In the 1960s, the women's movement brought many changes in the areas of law and social policy; prominent among them was the psychological and legal community's articulation and examination of issues surrounding domestic violence. In the years that have followed, the term "battered woman" has become an accepted descriptive label for a woman who experiences abuse within an intimate relationship.

Recently, wife abuse has become a "hot topic;" talk shows and journalists are now focusing on battered women and their sensational stories of violence. The trial of O. J. Simpson brought the issue into the living rooms of America. As a result, a certain group of battered women, those who have killed their abusers, are rapidly gaining recognition. Changes in the law, highlighted by battered women's self-defense and clemency cases, reflect an assumption by judges, legislators, and members of the general public that the "crimes" committed by these women should be viewed differently than other offenses. Recent legal defense of battered women who have killed has centered on the battered woman syndrome.

The few studies that exist on battered women who have killed focus on what psychologists, attorneys, and academics have to say about their conduct. To date, there has been no study of how the women perceive themselves and their actions, and how they feel about the labels that have been applied to them. The voices of women who have killed their abusers must be brought into this debate. The life stories of these women can inform the theory used to describe them, illuminating disjunctions between the battered woman syndrome and their own explanations for their actions. By revealing the social and legal constraints that have shaped the women's behavior, these stories indicate factors that society and the criminal justice system should consider when pronouncing judgment on battered women and their "crimes." In examining the stories of four of these women, a theory emerges that contradicts the passive, helpless implications of the syndrome theory and portrays these women, correctly, as survivors of life-threatening circumstances. Viewed in this light, these women's "crimes" may be considered within the realm of justified self-defense.

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Amy Lou Busch
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