Terrifying Love: Why Battered Women Kill and How Society Responds is a disturbing book based on true stories and trials of women who have been brutally beaten and abused, verbally, sexually, physically, and emotionally. This book is written by Lenore E. Walker. She is a psychologist who has testified as an expert witness in the trials in the book where women have murdered their abusive husbands or boyfriends. The book exposes the extent of domestic abuse, and how society and the system respond to the actions caused by this abuse.
The book is divided into three sections which all combined contain fifteen chapters. The first section of the book is called "Cheating Their Destinies". This section explains how the battering cycle can begin and explains that many of these terrified women kill their abusers to avoid being killed themselves. It explains how helpless these abused women can become to avoid being beaten or killed. They give into these men until they cannot take the abuse anymore, and out of fear or self-defense kill their men. This is all illustrated in the second chapter, which is titled "Joyce Hawthorne’s Story". This was a story about a woman named Joyce and her husband, Aubrey, who abused her as well as her five children. Joyce often felt she had to "walk on eggshells" and never knew what Aubrey was going to do next. Nothing she ever did seemed to please him. Sometimes Aubrey beat Joyce so bad she needed medical attention. Joyce was too ashamed to go to the doctor and show people what he had done to her. She felt incapable of leaving him. One night she sensed a feeling that this was going to be the night he was going to kill her. She loaded a handgun and put it on her nightstand out of fear. Later on Aubrey woke up and demanded sex from her. She refused, and Aubrey reached for a gun, and then Joyce’s mind went blank. The next time her mind was clear, there was Aubrey dead, stretched out across the bed with nine bullets in his body.
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Joyce’s incident becomes a bit clearer to how and why it all happened when reading the second section, which is titled "Why Battered women Kill". This part of the book explains more about these women, who they are, and why they kill. Lenore Walker’s personal experience helps identify these women and try to explain society how they fit a certain profile and what usually happens to them. First, she profiles all her clients to see what state they were in when they committed these acts of violence. Lenore states, "Battered women come from all types of economic, cultural, religious, and racial backgrounds. They are millionaires, and they are women on welfare; they are uneducated women, and they are practicing professionals with J.D.s and Ph.D.s; they are mothers, and they are childless; they are religious, they are atheists; they live in rural areas, and in cities, and in small towns all over the country and all over the world. They are women like you. Like me. Like those whom you know and love."(Pg 101) However, Lenore explains that battered women have certain characteristics that separate them from others. They have poor self-esteem; they behave in stereotyped traditional ways in order to please their batterer. They may also feel that they are at fault for not stopping the batterer’s violent behavior. They deal with a great amount of violence and guilt. As a result of all these factors, they are very susceptible to depression, isolation, and many even believe maybe they can change the batterer’s behavior if they love him enough. One of the most interesting chapters in this section is titled "Crazy Ladies". This chapter attempts to describe more why a woman kills. Many times when these women go on trial they will be judged as insane. However, Lenore tries to explain that most battered women who kill do so in defense, not because they are mentally disordered. Lenore believes that "the expert witness who can provide judges and juries with a genuine understanding of this fact can have a critical role in changing our criminal justice system’s inadequate response to the entire problem." (Pg 169) Many actions that a woman makes actually have a purpose and logic when viewed within the context of the violence and terror in which she lives. The problem is many diagnosis of mental illness delivered by uninformed medical personnel and mental health professionals are often wrong.
The third and final section of this book is titled "The Law". This section describes why women have such a hard time being heard and understood in the system. One of the reasons women do not have such a strong voice that many people will listen to is because how power is divided among people in America. Power in America is directly related to gender, class, race, age, education, and socioeconomic status. In most of these respects, men have a distinct advantage over women. Many few judges in our male identified, male dominated courts are sensitized to women issues. Women are viewed in our society as people who are not supposed to kill, use violence, or even defend themselves against a potentially fatal attack. This is one reason why Lenore provides a strong defense for these women as an expert witness. It is an important thing for society to understand why these women do this and how to fix the system to try these women different than any other murder trial. The book ends almost as a closing to one of the first chapters and is titled "Joyce Hawthorne Today". After three murder trails, each where Joyce was allowed out on bail with appeals, went on for a long nine years. Finally, on the fourth appeal her lawyer was able to get a new trial based on the fact that in the previous trials there was judicial misconduct and that an expert witness, who was Lenore, was not allowed to go on trial. Her case was dismissed and after nine years, she was finally free.
I learned a great deal from this book. I learned about women who live in this type of world where they have no freedom from their abusive lovers. They can go to court and claim they shot their loved one in self defense, but can still face up to the death penalty even though they have survived a horrible life with the person they have killed. I was disturbed reading about some of these women’s stories. Perhaps one of the saddest things that I read was one women who explained that being in prison was much better than living at home with the man who abused her so terribly. I could not even imagine how living in a jail would be better than in the comfort of your own home. I could not even understand any part of what these women seriously live through everyday. One other part of the book that really disturbed me was towards the end where they describe how women are not really listened to or believed in the court. The made women out to seem like they exaggerate everything that happens to them and they are all crazy. I know that this book was published in 1989, and I hope I can accurately say that some things that are written in this book are a bit outdated, that women are now treated equal to men, and that these stereotypes are not true anymore when a woman goes on trial. I think that people should read this book to understand what these women go through everyday. Maybe if more people understood this horrible life that these women live there could be more homes for battered women and harsher punishments for men who batter them.
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