Women who kill abusive partners: Understandings of intimate partner violence in the context of self-defence. Key findings and future directions
This is an edited summary of key findings from ANROWS research Transforming legal understandings of intimate partner violence.
The ANROWS research examines homicide trials in which self-defence is raised by women who have killed an abusive intimate partner. It explores how legal professionals and experts understand intimate partner violence (IPV), including which facts are selected and presented as relevant to understanding the homicide, the language used to frame those facts and the conclusions drawn from them.
The project involved a close analysis of the case of The State of Western Australia v. Liyanage, a case that demonstrates the way in which women’s claims to have acted in self-defence against an abusive partner have been systematically rejected.
- The use of outdated understandings of intimate partner violence within the legal system automatically renders the use of defensive force against an abusive partner “unreasonable”.
- Despite attempts to reform self-defence laws, in practice self-defence is not easily raised by women who kill abusive partners.
- A proposed way to address this issue is to use a “social entrapment” framework to understand intimate partner violence. Key to this framework is a recognition, in line with current research, that the primary victim’s/survivor’s ability to resist abuse is constrained by the abuser’s behaviour, the safety options available and broader structural inequities in the victim’s/survivor’s life.
- All those involved in investigating, charging, prosecuting, defending or trying a woman who has killed her violent/abusive intimate partner should be using a social entrapment framework (including consideration of sexual violence) to understand the facts.
- Evidence of the availability of alternative avenues to safety should be considered by all those involved in the justice process. This should occur before charges are laid, in advance of a trial, during a trial, and at the end of a trial.
- Education on the social entrapment
This paper has been written to be a resource for law students, police, prosecution and defence lawyers, expert witnesses, and judges.
ANROWS Research to policy and practice papers are concise papers that summarise key findings of research on violence against women and their children, including research produced under ANROWS’s research program, and provide advice on the implications for policy and practice.
ANROWS (Ed.). (2019). Women who kill abusive partners: Understandings of intimate partner violence in the context of self-defence. Key findings and future directions (Research to policy and practice, 03/2019). Sydney, NSW: ANROWS.