How Do Really Dangerous Women Actually Behave?
Movie buffs are often captivated by the Hollywood femme fatale, portrayed as both seductive and dangerous at the same time. But when real life headlines of women accused of murder emerge, many potential jurors question the likelihood that a woman was capable of murdering her partner, believing there must be more to the story.
Media Portrayals of Dangerous Women
Throughout my career as a prosecuting attorney, I've prosecuted women for domestic violence. Researchers have corroborated the reality which I've witnessed first-hand: real cases are often very different from what's portrayed in the media.
In 2014, Kellie E. Carlyle et al., examined this issue in the aptly titled "Media Portrayals of Female Perpetrators of Intimate Partner Violence."
Recognizing Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) as a public health priority, they sought to understand how media portrayals of IPV impacted public policy and public opinion, acknowledging that such opinions are also relevant with respect to prevention efforts.
Carlyle et al. (ibid.) note that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) define IPV as "physical, sexual, or psychological harm by a current or former partner or spouse" that can take place "among heterosexual or same-sex couples and does not require sexual intimacy."
In their research, they analyzed portrayals of IPV in daily newspaper articles over a two-year period, and uncovered some very important information.
Women Who Kill
Carlyle et al. cite the case of defendant Jodi Arias, who was accused of killing her boyfriend Travis Alexander in June 2008.
He was found with multiple stab wounds, a slit throat, and a gunshot through his head.
Although Arias claimed self-defense, and her defense team portrayed her as the victim of a "controlling, psychologically abusive relationship," a jury convicted her of first-degree murder.
The sensational news coverage surrounding the Arias trial reinvigorated public debate about the ways in which the media portrays female IPV perpetrators, and Carlyle et al. (supra) sought to investigate how these portrayals impact public perception.
The Role of Gender Stereotypes
In examining the role of gender, Carlyle et al. (supra) found that in examining the potential motivator behind IPV as presented in news stories, articles with female perpetrators were more likely to also include motives involving self-defense, victim infidelity, money, and emotional distress.
They note that these reasons implicate gender stereotypes and themes.
For example, they note that women are often stereotyped as lashing out with violence due to being overly emotional and prone to responding "in the heat of passion."
They recognize another idea that has infiltrated the gender symmetry debate is the notion that women aggressively respond to violence by males, or that a couple engages in reciprocal violence.
Carlyle et al. (supra) acknowledge that there exists a large body of research supporting the reality of reciprocal couple violence, and recognize the speculation surrounding whether an aggressive woman has been domestically victimized in the past — which they note is not unreasonable.
They also note, however, that such speculation might indicate a tendency to explain why a woman is violent, where male violence might be understood as reflecting a man’s nature.
Carlyle et al. (supra) also noted that stories about female perpetrators included criminal history more often than for male perpetrators — which they opine might indicate a tendency to explain a woman’s aggressive behavior by establishing her tendency towards violence, establishing her as something other than a "typical" female.
Some People Are Just Dangerous
Carlyle et al. (supra) note that their findings indicate that women can become violent in circumstances other than self-defense — which supports the idea that some women might simply be violent by nature. They conclude that women are capable of extreme violence just as men are, challenging the gender symmetry notion.
The bottom line? We should be alert for red flags of violent tendencies from both men and women, hopefully sooner rather than later in a relationship in order to effectively intervene.
The preceding article was originally published in Psychology Today.
Wendy L. Patrick, JD, MDiv, Ph.D., is an award-winning career trial attorney and media commentator. She is host of "Live with Dr. Wendy" on KCBQ, and a daily guest on other media outlets, delivering a lively mix of flash, substance, and style. Read Dr. Wendy L. Patrick's Reports — More Here.
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