The question of self-defense in domestic violence

Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher reconsiders the sentences of 21 women convicted of killing or trying to kill men who abused them.

By Catherine Price

Published December 11, 2007 5:00PM (EST)

Here's a question: If your husband domestically abuses you, should you be pardoned for killing him? That was the issue at hand on Monday when Gov. Ernie Fletcher granted "clemency, pardons or early parole reviews" to 21 women in Kentucky who were convicted of killing or trying to kill men who they say abused them, according to Louisville's Courier-Journal."

The women's main argument wasn't that they were innocent but, rather, that the legal system didn't take into account the situations that led to their crimes -- situations that ranged, according to the article, from a vague "string of abuses and neglect allegations" by one of the women's fathers to an ex-husband who allegedly had a 20-year history of hitting his wife in the face with a baseball bat, stabbing her with a knife, beating her kids and choking her till she passed out -- and who raped her a week before she ended up shooting and killing him.

That sounds horrible -- as do the crimes committed by the victims themselves, one of whom threw gasoline on her abusive husband and lighted him on fire, killing him. But I think the real question to deal with is what we can do to prevent such situations from occurring in the first place. It's hard to assert that someone who has been raped, stabbed and beaten doesn't have a legitimate reason to want to escape from her or his abuser. But what does it say about the recourses available to victims of domestic abuse that these women felt that they had no choice but to kill their abusers?

With that in mind, here a few links to organizations that are trying to help stop the cycle of violence and abuse before it ends in murder or manslaughter. Feel free to add other suggestions in your comments:

AARDVARC: An Abuse, Rape and Domestic Violence Aid and Resource Collection.

Domestic Violence Notepad: A collection of Internet resources for the victims of domestic violence. (Warning -- several of the links no longer work.) An open directory project with resources for victims of domestic violence.

Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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