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While conducting research on women in prison, I met a number of women incarcerated for killing or attempting to kill their abusers. I was stunned, I never actually thought about it. I mean I knew women had killed their spouses or partners but I figured they deserved their punishment. I believed that if a man ever beat me up, just once, I'd be out that door, and he would be out of my life.

But let's be honest, that's not reality. Frequently, women cannot leave either because they are in love and scared of being alone or because their partner hunts them down if they do leave. These women are often threatened with death when they make an effort to escape. They lose their identity, their "self" in an environment of control and domination: physical, sexual and emotional.

For those of us who have never experienced such a thing, it is very difficult to place ourselves in their positions and understand. These murders or attempted murders usually occur when the partner is off guard. So is it possible for it to be justifiable homicide if the women are not in any apparent imminent danger? I mean the partner is either sleeping or sitting or looking in another direction at the time of these offenses. So can it be considered justifiable homicide?

I believe that it can be considered justifiable homicide, but our laws do not consider it self-defense, the act does not fit into the purpose of the law. To get a better understanding we need to look at the environment in which these women live as whole, and we have to understand how the self-defense laws were designed.

These women fall in love with the partner of their dreams, someone that normally is accepted by the family and the community. The women become dependent, at first, probably by choice, and with the passage of time by force and humiliation. The beatings are progressive, each new assault worse than the previous, often degrading the victim in the process. These women want to appear as if all is well, for the sake of the family. One woman told me that the community thought her husband was a remarkable citizen, and that her marriage was believed to be superior to others. She said, "How could I tell anyone what he was like at home, the truth? They would never believe me." And they did not, because she did seek help, from the church. She was told to be a good wife, that he probably had a bad day. For how many years was he having a bad day? Of course, I am speaking of a marriage that took place over thirty years ago; things were different, so she remained in the torturous environment for many years.

10 Years ago this woman killed her husband with his shot gun while he slept. An outrage! Did she really have a choice? He was not about to let her destroy their marriage, and the opinions of those in the community with a divorce. But yet she had to endure physical, sexual and emotional pain to help him maintain his standing in the community. Does the self-defense law apply here? No it does not.

The problem for battered women is the self-defense law. The law of self-defense was designed for confrontations between men of comparable strength, created by men. It does not permit murder when the individual is not in imminent danger at the time of the killing.

In our laws you can use deadly force in self-defense when the danger of harm is immediate and the person killed is the aggressor. But that just is not how it is in these cases. These women may need to strike when the abuser is off guard or they could die. But these women will be found guilty in our system because of the male oriented expectation of imminence. Something needs to be done.

It may not look like self-defense, but it most definitely is. I know that many of you may not agree, but our laws need to offer women a level playing field in our courts. We have suffered enough through history, let's even it out. This does not mean that a woman should be permitted to commit murder, killing her partner because she does not like him. I think each situation needs to be looked at carefully because there are indeed, victims of brutal assault from their "loved ones" who have no other recourse for defending their lives and the lives of their children than to kill their assailant when he is off guard.