Thursday, November 10, 2011

Double Standards in Crime and Punishment (pt 1)

We've all been in relationships that ended badly, or even stayed in relationships that made you act like that crazy women you thought you'll never be. Its actually pretty common for women to act out when hurt. Although men are more prone to aggressive behavior, when it comes to matters of the heart, women are just as aggressive. These are typically called crimes of passion. According to, a passion crime is when “a defendant's excuse for committing a crime due to sudden anger or heartbreak, in order to eliminate the element of "premeditation." Instances such as finding your spouse having sex with someone else and out of anger and pain shoot them dead. What’s odd about these types of cases is the double standard that is placed on sentencing men and women. Women are usually given shorter sentences in the US for crimes of passion.

As reported by Tom Jacobs of women aren't pardoned from passion crimes because of their sex, but they are given shorter prison time in comparison to men. A study done on love triangle homicidesby physiologist Laurie Ragatz ofWest Virginia University and Brenda Russell of Penn State Berks supportsthis claim. These psychologists used an internet survey of 458 people (68percent men) to get an understanding of the prejudices and stereotypes that influence people’s views of criminal defendants.  The people surveyed were presented with a case and were expected to determine if the person should be convicted of 2nd-degree murder, a lesser charge of voluntary/involuntary man-slaughterer or if they are not guilty, by reason of insanity. For 25 percent of the people the genders in the case were unchanged. The male was the perpetrator and the female was the victim. Another 25 percent had the roles reversed; the defendant was the female and the victim a male. The last 5o percent were same sex couples. The survey concluded that heterosexual women defendants where given much shorter sentences than heterosexual males and homosexuality males. They also scored higher in determining whether or not their crimes should be categorized as a passion one or not. 

“The findings from this study suggest heterosexual female defendants are more likely to benefit from using the provocation doctrine in a crime-of-passion case,” the researchers conclude. While straight women appear to be “just as likely to be convicted as all other defendants,” their punishment — at least to the extent it is determined by the jury — is apt to be less severe.

These findings seem to corroborate the conclusions of University of New Hampshire sociologist Murray Straus,who has argued domestic violence is often looked at as less serious if it is perpetrated by a woman. Specifically, Ragatz and Russell found that “violence perpetrated by heterosexual female defendants toward their unfaithful partner was perceived as more acceptable than violence perpetrated by male or homosexual defendants.”

The Reports aren't very shocking, especially when focus is put on how society reacts, and how the media presents these kind of cases to the public. Usually when there is a man who commits a passion crime it's assumed there is aggression or abuse involved in the relationship. The man usually isn't given sympathy or his remorse isn't taken seriously. Given a similar circumstance yet change the gender of the perpetrator to a female, most people will some how feel bad for the woman and assume it was something brought on by the man. the study also supports the "Blame worthiness attribution theory" which means when a crime is committed towards women the defendant is more punishable than if the same crimeis committed to a man.

We at Ms Vixen would like to know what our readers think about this double standard. Is it appropriate or unfair? Also, why do you think this double standard exist and what allows it to exist? This subject will be explored further and we are asking you, our readers to join the discussion and leave your opinions below. This subject has become an open forum. Who knows, your ideas and comments may be in the follow up article.

By Naima Muhammad

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