The Treatment of Women Murderers Essay Example Pdf

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‘Female defendants are processed within the criminal justice system in accordance with the crimes which they committed and the extent to which the commission of the act and its nature deviate from appropriate female behaviour’ - Susan Edwards, Women on Trial (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1984) p.213. Critically discuss the above statement, with particular reference to women who kill. It is abundantly clear that there is a contrast in the way the criminal justice system treats male and female defendants. Great importance is placed on the extent to which the female perpetrators act deviates from what is considered ‘appropriate female behaviour.’ The same cannot be said for men, when a male commits homicide there is no generic gendered stereotype that causes this crime to be surprising for the prosecution, or that provides the male with an exclusive list of qualities which he is presumed to possess. Considering women as “perpetrators of violence is a relatively rare phenomenon,”[1] whereas when a man commits a crime one could suggest that the act is taken prima facie by the court and is not engulfed by a deeper context and a requirement for further explanation, as is the case with women, especially those who kill. It is due to this apparent need by the criminal justice system to delve further into the reasoning behind an act of homicide committed by a female, that I aim to explore the fact that the extent to which a female deviates from the gender appropriate stereotype affects the way she is processed within the criminal justice system. Recent statistics show that the number of “women in prison or on parole has increased threefold.”[2]It has been proposed that the “increase in female offending seen in recent years is attributable to women adopting more masculine traits and behaviours.”[3]There is an ample amount of evidence that masculinity “is a salient aspect of the criminal stereotype.”[4]However, I believe that the traditional female stereotype is a somewhat archaic notion as societal progression has engendered equality for women. Traditionally there was a clear archetype of what a woman should be and how she should act. Hilaire Barnett stated that “women are the bearers of children, the nurturers of children, the homemakers and (unpaid) home keepers.”[5] One could question whether this is entirely relevant in today’s society; women are now more self sufficient and independent from men and many choose to pursue a career before having a family. Thus, I pose the idea that this equality should be carried through to the courtroom. Although the feminist movement has been successful in creating equal perceptions of women and men, it is clear that this equality has not fully transgressed into the court room. It is apparent that in order for a woman to benefit from a more lenient sentence they must adhere to gender appropriate behaviour. Sharon Hays stated that “motherhood is the ultimate fulfilment of a woman; it is a natural and necessary experience for all women.”[6] The fact that women are ‘supposed’ to have a caring and nurturing persona makes it all the more shocking within the criminal justice system when they commit a crime, especially murder. Whereas a man is sentenced based on the act itself, it appears that a woman is sentenced based on the extent to which her act deviates from what is deemed appropriate for a female, almost as if the woman’s character and her conformity to appropriate feminine behaviour is on trial rather than her criminal actions. One could view it as rather arbitrary that women who fit the gendered ideal a treated more leniently than those who do not. This is prominent in the cases of Ana Cardona and Maria Perez. These women did not fit the typical female stereotype and the prosecution highlighted this. During the sentencing of Maria Perez, the prosecution “attempted to defeminise her by highlighting her lesbian sexual orientation, portraying her dress and demeanour as manly.”[7] Ana Cardona was also perceived as having a more masculine appearance, it is clear that a woman’s correspondence with feminine traits plays an important role in the prosecution and judgement of their guilt. The discrepancy in the way female defendants are processed within the criminal justice system as opposed to men can be observed by looking at the judges sentencing remarks in the case of R v Philpott, Mairead Philpott and Paul Moseley.[8] Upon reading the judgment of Michael Philpott in comparison with his wife Mairead Philpott it is clear that the judges have varying focuses whilst sentencing the male and female defendants. During the sentencing of Michael Philpott the judges focused on his “callous selfishness”[9] of the crime itself and labelled him a “disturbingly dangerous man.”[10] Whereas upon delivering the judgment to Mairead the judges concentrated on her role as a mother and how she could possibly put her children through the traumatic ordeal and how frightened the children must have been. Traditionally and stereotypically a women should be seen as a homemaker and loving and doting mother who places her children above anything, the prosecution placed emphasis on Mairead’s deviation from the gendered ideal by stating “you put Michael Philpott above your children and as a result they have died.”[11]These sentencing remarks depict the stark difference in how men and women are assumed to act. Although the crimes were the same from the two defendants a further emphasis of guilt was placed on Mairead due to her apparent failure as a mother. As aforementioned, the extent to which a female defendant deviates from what is believed to be appropriate female behaviour plays an important role in the prosecution. This can be observed through scrutiny of legal discourse within the courtroom which undoubtedly “participates in this construction of sexual difference, producing fixed notions of the sexed body.”[12] It is “evident that the dialogue in the trial of Rose West maintained the distinction of male and female by problematising atypical female behaviour.”[13] Although West committed the crimes in conjunction with her husband, more focus was placed on her deviant sexuality throughout the hearing. Siobhan Weare depicts that the judge drew seemingly irrelevant attention to the fact that “she possessed a collection of dildos, rubber underwear and pornographic videos”. Weare states that “this collection of sex toys was depicted as solely belonging to Rose, despite the fact that it could have just as easily belonged to both her and her husband.”[14] This information had little legal relevance and the fact the judges placed emphasis on the matter shows that the prosecution wanted to accentuate her sexual depravity, in a way that they did not with Fred. The court drew attention to the ways Rose strayed from what is traditionally ‘acceptable’ for a woman such as her sexual depravity and perversion, instead of purely focusing on the horrific crimes she executed. Even though an aim for sexual equality is at the forefront of society, this does not appear to be the case within the courtroom. From a feminist perspective, one could suggest that the defendants should have been tried in accordance with their crimes and without the further focus on Rose’s sexual endeavours rather than Fred’s purely due to her gender. Women who kill after suffering from domestic violence, namely battered women are of particular relevance when exploring how women are treated in the criminal justice system. It has been suggested that battered women are more readily allowed such a defence if they are seen to be adhering to the female stereotype and feminine traits of helplessness and coercion. Battered Woman Syndrome (BWS) was developed to “help establish the reasonableness of homicide by battered women.”[15]One could propose that women are not treated in accordance with the crimes they commit as if they meet the female stereotype; this gendered ideal could allow them a more lenient sentence. If a women is claiming to have killed due to suffering from domestic abuse , it would be entirely in her favour if she lives up to the traditional female stereotype in order to be granted the defence of BWS. Kathleen Ferraro stated that a woman possessing “assertiveness, strength and an outgoing personality are inconsistent with being a battered woman.”[16] After the Coroners and Justice Act 2009[17] women who use “evidence of BWS to support a plea of diminished responsibility will be labelled as mad.”[18] Equality within the court room could be seen as finally blooming due to ‘loss of control’ being implemented as a new partial defence to murder. Traditionally women were only seen as victims of crime and not perpetrators, thus were rarely sentenced in accordance with the crimes they committed as it was believed that the crime must be the result of a mental issue. However, now the idea exists that women can be perpetrators because they are victims. Those women who show no signs of being a victim within their crime are deemed to be extremely far from the female stereotype and thus are sentenced more harshly. If a woman presents themselves as sufficiently ‘battered’ in court, they are conforming to the feminine ideal of helplessness and that of a victim. It seems rather unjust that in order for a woman to stand a higher chance of being granted the defence of BWS they must fit certain aesthetic and personality criteria. A woman may not naturally fit this ideal but still be a victim of domestic violence who was pushed into committing homicide. Ideally all crimes would be taken based on the actual act; unfortunately this is not case. This is a key difference in the extent to which men and women are sentenced in accordance to their crimes. The Infanticide Act 1938[19] was the result of “a policy decision to promote leniency for women who kill their own children.”[20]As predominant focus when sentencing women is the mental side of the crime, infanticide allows women a defence to the murder of a child due to lack of mental reasoning rather than focusing on the act she actually committed. If a man was to kill a child the same would not be an option. I fully appreciate that there exists a clinically diagnosed mental issue of puerperal psychosis where a woman kills a child. However, many women are able to claim this defence when it is not fully proven that they are suffering from any form of medically diagnosed psychosis. In giving the label of victim to female killers denies their agency “by portraying them as so profoundly victimised that is difficult to regard them as ever having engaged in an intentional act in their lives.”[21] Thus, one could argue that the focus on a woman’s mental capacity allows for them to be treated more leniently within the criminal justice system as opposed to men, who are punished in accordance with the crime they commit without any need to find further explanation. The defences of BWS and Infanticide annotate women as victims or ‘mad’. There is an overemphasis on the mental reasoning of women who commit crime. A woman is painted more as a victim of external influences that caused her to commit a crime rather than a ‘cold blooded killer’. A further explanation as to the reasons women commit crimes is sought. Justice Minister Helen Grant stated that women within the prison populations are “more likely to have been abused as children.”[22] Traditional criminological theory “historically tended to view women as driven to crime because of biological influences, whereas men were viewed as turning to crime due to economic or sociological forces.” [23] This insistence on delivering excuses for women who commit crimes and especially women who kill, so long as they meet the female stereotype denies women from being solely sentenced in accordance with the crime they committed in the same way that male perpetrators are. Females who commit homicide are “described with respect to personality style and behaviour patterns.”[24]However, in the society in which we live one could suggest that “men and women are equally likely to suffer from complex mental issues.”[25]The Freudian notion that “men are rational”[26] and that “women are driven by their biological constitutions”[27] is obviously outdated. Evidence suggests that legally this is not as willingly acknowledged as defences relating to mental issues are more associated with women. In the 21st century men and women are deemed more or less equally in mental and physical capabilities, a higher level of equality exists within the work place and within relationships than ever before. Thus, I believe that the criminal justice system is perhaps a little backward in its placement of women in respect to them committing crimes; one could propose that it is almost obsolete to suggest that women cannot be the perpetrators of crime. Women are leaving the antiquated notion and definition of ‘femininity’ behind, such as that of a ‘homemaker’ and ‘nurturer’. However, the way women are treated by the criminal justice system is discrepant to how the rest of society views them. It is an inarguable statistical truth that more men commit crimes than women, yet it is clear from the plethora of cases that support my argument that the court sentences women in an entirely different way than it does men, to the extent that they are not sentenced in accordance with the crime that was committed. However, are sentenced in accordance with how closely they match the traditional gendered stereotype. Helen Gavin stated that “women who kill multiple times are guilty not just of serial murder, but of being women who step outside of the persona that society creates for them.”[28]The current system benefits those women who fit this stereotypical female persona. For those women who do not meet the desired criteria or expectations are sentenced more harshly. This ‘double deviance’ of firstly deviating from the law in committing the crime and secondly deviating from the female stereotype, could end in double jeopardy for the defendant. Within the criminal justice system “aberrant femininity is constructed as evil.”[29]However, instead of focusing on the fact that a woman has not acted in the ‘correct’ womanly way, the focus should be shifted to ensure women are sentenced in accordance with the crime they have committed, not punished more harshly or conversely more leniently simply because they are a women. As explored, gender plays an astoundingly critical role within the criminal justice system. Instead of being sentenced in accordance with the perpetrated crime, one agrees with latter half of Susan Edwards statement that a woman is sentenced in regards to the extent of which her crime deviates from “appropriate female behaviour.”[30] During the sentencing of women who do not fit the gender stereotype focus is placed on seemingly irrelevant matters of their identity and/or sexual orientation and how this deviates from what is considered acceptable of a woman. If the prosecution successfully portray a woman as “an ‘anti mother’, as sexually predatory, or as domineering is unlikely to receive mercy, only the wrath of the criminal justice system.”[31] One suggests a lack of absurdity in proposing that women are just as capable of committing homicide as men. Throughout sentencing a woman’s mental state is discussed to a much higher extent than mens, describing women as ‘neurotic’ and ‘mad’ for committing crimes is old-fashioned, the equality that women enjoy in today’s society should transpire into the courtroom, thus ensuring they are sentenced in accordance with their crimes. Word Count: 2,500 Bibliography: Demody Leonard E. (2002) ‘Convicted Survivors: the Imprisonment of Battered Women Who Kill’ Net Library p.9 Winter J. (2002) ‘The Truth Will Out? The Role of Judicial Advocacy and Gender in Verdict Construction’ Social and Legal Studies p. 358 Gavin H. (2013) ‘Evil or Insane? The Female Serial Killer and her Doubly Deviant Femininity’ University of Huddersfield Repository p. 13 Belknapp J. (2006) ‘The invisible Woman: Gender Crime and Justice’ Wadsworth Publishing Co Inc p. 26 Cole K. E. (1968) ‘Women Who Kill, A Sociopsychological Study’ Arch Gen Psychiatry p. 1 Weare S. (2013) ‘“The Mad”, “The Bad”, “The Victim”: Gendered Constructions of Women Who Kill Within the Criminal Justice System’ Laws p. 338 Oggle R and Maier –Katkin D. (1993) ‘A Rationale for Infanticide Law’ Criminal Law Review p. 903 Ward C, Flowe H and Humphries J. (2012) ‘The Effects of Masculinity and Suspect Gender on Perceptions of Guilt’ Applied Cognitive Psychology p. 482 Barnett H. (1998) ‘Introduction to Feminist Jurisprudence’ Cavendish Publishing Limited p. 43 Chesney-Lind M and Pasko L J. (2004) ‘The Female Offender: Girls, Women and Crime’ Sage Publications p. 139 Edwards S. (1984) ‘Women on Trial’ Manchester University Press p. 213 Websites: Fogg A. (2013) ‘Yes – Reduce Prison Sentences But Not Just For Women’ http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/mar/26/prison-changes-women Date accessed 3rd January 2015 R v Philpott, Philpott and Moseley, Sentencing Remarks, http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/JCO/Documents/Judgments/r-v-philpott-philpott-and-mosley-sentencing-remarks.pdf Date accessed 2nd January 2015
[1] Siobhan Weare, ‘ “The Mad”, “The Bad”, “The Victim”: Gendered Constructions of Women Who Kill Within the Criminal Justice System’ (2013) Laws 340 [2] Meda Chesney-Lind and Lisa J Pasko, ‘The Female Offender: Girls, Women and Crime’ (2004) Sage Publications 139 [3] Charlotte Ward, Heather Flowe and Joyce Humphries, ‘The Effects of Masculinity and Suspect Gender on Perceptions of Guilt’ (2012) Applied Cognitive Psychology 482 [4] ibid. [5] Hilaire Barnett, ‘Introduction to Feminist Jurisprudence’ (1998)Cavendish Publishing Limited 43 [6] Sharon Hays 1996 [7] Charlotte Ward, Heather Flowe and Joyce Humphries, ‘The Effects of Masculinity and Suspect Gender on Perceptions of Guilt’ (2012) Applied Cognitive Psychology 482 [8] R v Philpott, Mairead Philpott and Paul Moseley [2013] EWHC 773 [9] R v Philpott, Mairead Philpott and Paul Moseley, Sentencing Remarks, http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/JCO/Documents/Judgments/r-v-philpott-philpott-and-mosley-sentencing-remarks.pdf accessed 2nd January 2015 [10] ibid. [11] ibid. [12] Jo Winter, ‘The Truth Will Out? The Role of Judicial Advocacy and Gender in Verdict Construction’ (2002) Social and Legal Studies 354 [13]ibid at 355 [14] Siobhan Weare, ‘“The Mad”, “The Bad”, “The Victim”: Gendered Constructions of Women Who Kill Within the Criminal Justice System’ (2013) Laws 348 [15] ibid at 338 [16] ibid. [17] Coroners and Justice Act 2009 [18] Siobhan Weare, ‘ “The Mad”, “The Bad”, “The Victim”: Gendered Constructions of Women Who Kill Within the Criminal Justice System’ (2013) Laws 339 [19] Infanticide Act 1938 [20] Robbin Oggle and Daniel Maier –Katkin, ‘A Rationale for Infanticide Law’ (1993) Criminal Law Review 903 [21] Siobhan Weare, ‘ “The Mad”, “The Bad”, “The Victim”: Gendered Constructions of Women Who Kill Within the Criminal Justice System’ (2013) Laws 338 [22]Ally Fogg, ‘Yes – Reduce Prison Sentencing, But Not Just For Women’ (2013) http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/mar/26/prison-changes-women accessed 3rd January 2015 [23] Joanne Belknapp, ‘The invisible Woman: Gender Crime and Justice’ (2006) Wadsworth Publishing Co Inc 26 [24] K.E. Cole, ‘Women Who Kill, A Sociopsychological Study’ (1968) Arch Gen Psychiatry 1 [25] Ally Fogg, ‘Yes – Reduce Prison Sentencing, But Not Just For Women’ (2013) http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/mar/26/prison-changes-women accessed 3rd January 2015 [26] Joanne Belknapp, ‘The invisible Woman: Gender Crime and Justice’ (2006) Wadsworth Publishing Co Inc 26 [27] ibid. [28] Helen Gavin, ‘Evil or Insane? The Female Serial Killer and her Doubly Deviant Femininity’ (2013) University of Huddersfield Repository 13 [29] ibid. [30] Susan Edwards, ‘Women on Trial’ (1984) Manchester University Press 213 [31] Jo Winter, ‘The Truth Will Out? The Role of Judicial Advocacy and Gender in Verdict Construction’ (2002) Social and Legal Studies 358
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