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Battered Women in the Criminal Justice System: An Analysis of Gender Stereotypes

NCJ Number
Behavioral Sciences and the Law Volume: 8 Issue: 2 Dated: (Spring 1990) Pages: 161-170
P Jenkins; B Davidson
Date Published
10 pages
Battered women charged with killing their abusers present a dilemma to the criminal justice system and must face culturally-held gender myths and stereotypes.
Prosecution may attempt to discredit the defendant for not living up to the "good woman" standard; the defense may counter with an equally distorted portrayal of the woman as the ultra-feminine, passive, helpless victim. A study examined written court records from Louisiana cases between 1975 and 1988 in which the defendant was found or pleaded guilty. All the women claimed to have been battered by their now-deceased partners, but only six court transcripts included evidence of abuse. Five of the six women pleaded self-defense, one temporary insanity; in all six cases and one other, they were portrayed according to the gender stereotype. In the remaining three cases, the women were virtually invisible in the trial process. The article includes exchanges between prosecutor and defendant and concludes that even so-called "successful" defense arguments, when based on gender stereotypes, do not acknowledge a woman's entitlement to defend herself as any man would. Note and 28 references. (Author abstract modified)


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