Domestic Violence affects one in nine women annually and one in four women will be a victim of it in their lifetimes. These are shocking number of women, who are putting up with abuse behind closed doors. The police now have to respond to ‘domestics’ however every week, two women are murdered by partners. In 2007, 83 women and 27 men were murdered by their abusive partner. However what happens when the tables are turned?
There is a song by Nickelback called Never Again, and it is about an abusive relationship with the song ending with the women murdering her abusive partner. The problem with this is that the women would be charged with murder, not manslaughter and it would never be a ‘crime of passion’. Murder in the UK holds a mandatory life sentence, and prisoners now must serve 30 years. However manslaughter has a larger range from about two years to life. ‘Crimes of passion’ are usually held up in court when a partner is unfaithful. It is a common defence for men who murder their partners and it generally gets them a lighter sentence. However what about the women who suffer years of abuse and then one day kill their abuser?
The last women to be hanged in Britain was Ruth Ellis in 1955. She shot her lover David Blakely, ten days after having a miscarriage. The miscarriage had happened because Blakely had repeatedly punched Ruth in the stomach. At the time of Ruth’s conviction and execution there was no such things as ‘diminished responsibility’ and ‘battered women syndrome’. On 13th July 1955 she was hanged at Holloway Prison and buried in the grounds. Her case went to the court of Appeal in 2003 and three judges upheld her conviction saying that when Ellis was convicted of the crime neither ‘diminished responsibility’ and ‘battered women syndrome’ were a part of the law. This meant that her conviction could not be overturned and she was not given a pardon. She is known as a cold killer. However, it is forgotten or not even know that she was victim of domestic violence.
Another famous case is that of Sara Thornton. In 1989 she killed her violent husband while he lay sleeping on the sofa. She stood trial twice for his murder but was later convicted of manslaughter, on the grounds that he beat her regularly within their two year marriage. However during the court hearings her character was bought into question at every turn. She was portrayed as a liar and the court was told by a co-worker she threaded to murder her husband. When she was convicted of manslaughter she had already been convicted of murder and serviced five years in prison the court of appeal had ordered the second trial, this meant that when she was convicted she could work free from prison as she had already serviced her sentence.
There are many organisations trying to help women who have murdered their partners and one of the most famous is London Justice For Women. They campaign to free women who have killed their partners and have been convicted of murder. The last case they have worked tirelessly on was to free Kristy Scamp who was convicted in 2007 of murdering her boyfriend. At the time of her conviction she was marked as a jealous lover however it came to light that she had been abused by him, however this only came to light at The Court of Appeal. She was freed on 26th July 2010 and on the steps of the Court of Appeal said more had to be done for women in domestically violent environments.
In 2008 the Ministry of Justice finally started to do something about the fact that women who kill their abusive partners get life if found guilty. They are still due to bring in a new defence which means that as long as the person can show that they have been abused over a long period of time they can be tried for manslaughter and not murder. It also means that self defence will no longer be need to bought up as a defence, as long as the ‘fear of serious violence’ was there. However what about women who don’t report the violence and then kill? Or what about the women who never go to hospital with their injuries?
The main problem with domestic violence is that the victim blames themself for the violence and this affects the way they are dealt with when they kill, because they still see it as their fault. They need to understand that it isn’t however if they are later convicted of murder the blame rests with them. In 2010 a scheme to remove the domestically violent partner from the family was scrapped because of the recent cuts, even through this could save women’s lives. The ‘Domestic Violence Protection Orders’ passed into law in April and where received well by all the major parties. However now the Home Office have to cut £2.5billion from their £10billion, it was one of the first projects to be scrapped.
We are moving forward. However not enough is being done. Women who kill their abusive partners and don’t report the violence or injuries could still face a murder charge. Also even though they kill their partners, why is not seen as self defence? Why are so many women convicted of murder or manslaughter when the happens? There appear to be more questions than answers with domestic violence and we need to start getting the answers to these questions so we can help women who need it.