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Survivors of abuse behind bars

By Lisa Brody
News Editor
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According to a fact sheet on battered women in prison citing the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the average prison sentence of men who kill their women partners is two to six years. However, women who kill their male partners are sentenced on average to 15 years, despite the fact that most women who kill do so in self-defense. Further, it stated that men tend to be aggressors in homicide cases even when the homicides are committed by women. In a survey of nearly 10,000 murder cases, 90 percent were perpetrated by men, and 10 percent by women.

The justification for a self-defense defense may come from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which reported that most murders of women involve domestic violence after analyzing data from 18 states, and finding that of 10,018 female homicides between 2003 and 2014, fully 55 percent more than half involved circumstances of known domestic violence. In 93 percent of those cases, the female victims were killed by current or former boyfriends, husbands or lovers. The CDC reported that three women a day are murdered by an intimate partner, and in many cases, children and others are also killed.

Women who kill their intimate partners often feel they have no other recourse, that it will be "him or me," and that they are in imminent danger of being killed.

"When men kill, they are (often) terrified of the woman leaving. When women kill, it's usually more of an ongoing crisis, where they have no other out," said Shiener. "Often these men are very controlling. They will kill or beat the women if they leave or go to shelters. The men are petrified of the women leaving."

Emily Matuszczak, senior program director at Haven, a non-profit organization for victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse in Pontiac, concurred. "The biggest, number one fear, that people minimize, is that if she attempts to leave, she will be killed. In essence, if she stays, she will be killed, or if she leaves, he says, 'I'll kill the kids,' or it's a murder-suicide.

"Leaving doesn't stop the violence. It's the most dangerous time for a victim," she continued. "It's when an abuser escalates and attempts to regain control 'If I can't have her, no one can.' There's the desperation of the abuser and the abused. The abused woman doesn't see any other way out to survive."

Haven, which has a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week crisis and support line for anyone in need or who knows a victim, also has a shelter which sees about 250 women and children a year, Matuszczak said. Unfortunately, "Haven runs at full capacity 365 days a year," she said, noting "that does not get at the root cause of the violence."

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