When battered women fight back stereotyping can kick in

September 12, 2012

The topic of domestic abuse remains a controversial issue when it comes to determining punishment for battered women who use violence towards their partner. According to a recent study published in Psychology of Women Quarterly, a SAGE Journal, battered women who are seen as engaging in mutual violence and shared substance abuse are often regarded negatively and subject to harsher sentences.

Study Author Elisabeth C. Wells analyzed the reasoning underlying judges' sentencing decisions in 26 domestic homicide and abuse cases from 1974-2006 in Canada. Her analysis focused on two possible lines of reasoning that minimized the threat and extent of violence towards the women in the relationship and that used police evidence to emphasize and ongoing mutual violence. Wells found that a judge's reliance on each line of reasoning was associated with harsher sentencing. She also identified one judge who demonstrated resistance to these stereotyped portrayals of who fight back.

"Judges downgraded acts of previous by using minimizing descriptions and by emphasizing the mutuality of the violence and of substance abuse," wrote the author.

Wells asserted that legal systems need to recognize the complex psychological nature of victim mentality and behavior within domestic abuse cases.

"Typically, women's use of violence within their relationships has been found to be another aspect of their ongoing victimization."

Explore further: 'You're not a victim of domestic violence, are you?'

More information: Find out more by reading the study, "'But Most of All, They Fought Together': Judicial Attributions for Sentences in Convicting Battered Women Who Kill" in Psychology of Women Quarterly. This article is available free for a limited time at: http://pwq.sagepub.com/content/early/2012/07/11/0361684312448932.full.pdf+html

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