Murdoch University research finds women who murder domestic partners viewed more harshly by the law


Murdoch University Associate Professor Guy Hall.
Murdoch University Associate Professor Guy Hall.

WOMEN who murder their domestic partners are viewed more harshly by the judges sentencing them, according to research out of Murdoch University.

An examination of 79 domestic murder cases in New South Wales and Victoria between 2002 and 2010 found “judicial commentary” around female offenders and victims often relied on stereotypes and traditional notions of marriage, family and femininity when it came to sentencing.

“Women who killed their domestic partners were described as ‘wicked’, ‘extremely manipulative’, ‘callous’ or ‘heartless’,” Murdoch Associate Professor Guy Hall said.

“In the case of male offenders, there was often reference to family pressures or a lack of control in their domestic situation in the lead up to the murders.

“In one case, a judge remarked that the deceased wife was the source of the conflict.”

Associate Professor Hall, who oversaw the analysis by PhD student Marion Whittle, said judges often pointed to jealousy, betrayal and infidelity to explain a male offender’s behaviour.

Of the study sample, there were 74 offenders were men and five were women.

“Men killing women is endemic in society, and violence is a trait traditionally associated with men,” Associate Prof Hall said.

“So when women commit murder, societal values are applied and women are often categorised as evil and heinous.”

Women in the cases studied were sentenced to an average of 24 years and nine months in prison.

For males, it was 20 years.

“It may be an unconscious bias based on societal norms, and possibly a hangover from when provocation laws were still in place.” Associate Prof Hall said.

Ms Whittle spent 12 months analysing data from Victoria and NSW.

She is now examining remarks by judges in other jurisdictions, including WA.

To read the study, visit http://researchrepository.murdoch.edu.au/id/eprint/12600/2/02Whole.pdf.

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