When Abuse Victims Commit Crimes
The Atlantic by Victoria Law
May 21, 2019
On a morning this past March, two dozen women gathered on a Harlem sidewalk. Many had been released from prison over the past decade. They were boarding a charter bus to Albany, where they hoped to persuade state senators to vote for a new bill that could keep women like them—victims of domestic violence—from getting sent to prison. The bill in question, the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act, which was signed into law this past week, gives judges more options when sentencing individuals who have been convicted of violence against abusive partners or other crimes that such partners had coerced them into committing. Instead of being required to hand out predetermined sentences for particular crimes, judges could instead mete out shorter prison terms or avoid incarceration altogether.
Several of the women on the bus that day spent years in prison for acts involving abusive partners. One told me that she spent more than 17 years behind bars for fatally shooting her boyfriend in the neck while he was choking her. Another told me that when her partner wrapped his hands around her neck and began choking her, she grabbed for the nearest object—a knife—and thrust it. The man died, and she was charged with murder and sentenced to 19 years to life. (The names of these women are being withheld for their privacy. They requested that The Atlantic refrain from contacting their former partners or their families, for fear of retaliation. Their crimes are corroborated by police records.)
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