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When Victims Become Defendants: Battered Women Charged With Crimes (From Women, Crime, and Criminal Justice: Original Feminist Readings, P 232-242, 2001, Claire Renzetti and Lynne Goodstein, eds. -- See NCJ-197570)

NCJ Number
Sue Osthoff
Date Published
11 pages
This chapter examines the dispositions of cases of battered women charged with crimes, including the murder of their abusive partners.
After years of mental and physical abuse, a battered woman may assault or kill her abusive partner. A battered woman may also be coerced into crime by an abusive partner or may be unable to protect her children from abuse by her batterer. Under such conditions, the criminal justice system that often ignored her pleas for assistance may now vigorously prosecute her as a criminal. Although there is a popular perception that battered women who kill their abusers are generally acquitted, the data indicate that the vast majority of such women are convicted or take a plea. The country's jails and prisons are filled with women who have been battered, and many are serving long prison sentences. When battered women are charged with crimes, many jurors, and even some defense attorneys, believe that the woman should have, and could have, just left the relationship, which would have avoided the circumstances that led to the crime. In reality, leaving an abuser is the most dangerous time for many battered women, and may be the precipitating factor that leads to the defensive killing of the abuser. Persistent myths and misconceptions about battered women and their experiences persist, and they influence decision-makers in the criminal justice system. New educational, advocacy, and legal efforts are required to counter the many problems that battered-women defendants continue to face. 7 notes, 37 references, and 3 discussion questions


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