Monday, December 5, 2011

Criminal Justice System & Women

About a month ago, I received a notice for jury duty. I was scheduled to report today. I have to admit, as a criminologist, I was a bit excited. I never expect to get chosen for the actual jury, but I enjoy observing and experiencing the process of jury selection.  Specifically, I like to analyze the challenges (challenge for cause and peremptory challenges) that are made.  Challenges for cause are not limited and are made when a prospective juror shows s/he has some bias or legal disability. Peremptory challenges are the removal of prospective jurors for no specific reason (these are limited, but vary by jurisdiction). In Colorado, ten peremptory challenges are allowed in capital cases, five in felony cases, and three in misdemeanor and civil cases.

Well, my number ended up being excluded from the prospective jurors, so I wasn't part of the experience this time. However, I recently received an article about a female rape victim who was pardoned after she was imprisoned. It made me think about how women are treated within the criminal justice system at large. In this case, a woman was imprisoned for having sex outside of wedlock--the sex was rape at the hand of a relative. She was viewed and treated as the offending party.

This can be explained in a number of ways.  First, we must acknowledge that honor killings are a phenomenon present in not only our own country, but more often in Islamic and Arab countries (as is the case in this article).  In many of these places, women have limited sexual freedom or decision-making power and extramarital affairs (with little consideration of the circumstances) are the responsibility of women.  So, while the woman is punished for her "moral crime" by being sent to prison, this incapacitation is also meant as a sort of protection. If a woman is not "protected" through incarceration, she faces a great likelihood of death by a family member for dishonoring her family (honor killing) through her behavior.

Back to the criminal justice system itself.  While many women seek protection through going to prison, it is not uncommon for prison personnel to refuse to house female offenders who have dishonored their families. Instead, they will send the women home (knowing they face a serious chance of honor killing). While I by no means support the current system or ideology functioning in these locations, I do want to pose a question. If the system and ideology is to stay the same (honor killings of women will continue and women will be deemed responsible for their own rapes), should prisons serve as protection for these women? Is it the responsibility of the government (prisons) to protect these women? Do prisons have the right to send women away from incarceration (acknowledging the prison knows punishment at home is likely)? Again, we must acknowledge the belief system in place.

So, here is my second poll of the series.

The article I read focused on an interesting element. To avoid her continued incarceration (a 12-year sentence for being raped) and to avoid facing being killed for her own rape (a reason for an honor killing) this particular woman had agreed to marry her rapist. That's right. The criminal justice is set up in such a way that women are faced with impossible choices. Their freedom is limited from day 1 simply by being born as a woman; the criminal justice reinforces this.

Read the full article that I am referring to here.

NOTE: I'd love comments and thoughts about this. And, if you mark "Unsure" in this poll, let me know what information might help you to make an educated decision. I'll be sure to follow up with a comment or another post.


  1. My question is: Who is "allowed" to inflict an "honor killing?" Family members only (since it is the family that is "dishonored") or anyone. Because if it is only legal for family members to do this, then any prison administration that sent a woman home to be killed would be an accessory to murder, wouldn't it?

  2. I have never heard of "honor killings" before. I find this very sad that you said it happens in Arab countries but in the US too. I am not only sad but shocked that it happens here in America. If I were in that situation I would most likely want to be in prison because I would know I was safe. So very sad.

  3. Sandra,
    Honor killings are not legal; thus, the idea is that no one should be able to inflict these responses. However, law enforcement in some of these locations allows these behaviors and even suggests them. I'll certainly provide a post specifically on honor killings in the future. Keep your eyes out. Thank you for your question.