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Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Marital Coercion

A History of Marital Coercion |

"In 2003 Chris Huhne allegedly forced his then wife, Vicky Pryce, to lie to police that she had been driving the family car when it was caught speeding by a traffic camera instead of him. Her defence, and one that is available to any criminal charge, with the exception of treason or murder, and only available to women, is that of Marital Coercion pursuant to section 47 of the Criminal Justice Act 1925...

It could be argued that a defence that only applies to women could be seen as sexist. Are women incapable of coercing men? Are women so meek that they are still regarded as being subservient to men, particularly their husbands? Do they require greater protection from their spouses than their husbands do from them?...

In its current form the law on marital coercion would only apply to lesbian couples and not gay male couples."


I had a quick look on the open web and not unexpectedly it seems feminists are largely silent on this law (the top results were mostly people questioning their silence).

One quasi-exception (Maritla Coercion doesn't seem to be a defence in the US) is Anne Coughlin:


"Anne Coughlin's areas of expertise are criminal law and feminist jurisprudence. At first glance, they seem an odd combination. Criminal law is a field dominated by men. Substantive criminal law punishes and deters wrongdoing committed overwhelmingly by men against men, and criminal procedure regulates traditionally male police officers as they try to identify and capture male offenders. Feminist jurisprudence, by contrast, is dominated by women. Feminist academics seek to expose the cultural mechanisms that have subordinated women's experiences, interests, and perspectives to those of men. Perhaps since so few criminals are female, feminist legal scholars have tended to confine their attention to a few corners of the criminal law, such as rape and domestic violence, Where men traditionally have victimized women. Of course, no one disputes the importance of these issues, but Coughlin does doubt the wisdom of focusing on the harms suffered by female crime victims. The risk, she fears, is that feminists might inadvertently promote victimhood as the exclusive role of women, with the parts of villain and hero reserved for men.

Coughlin began to think about the unintended consequences of feminist reform as a criminal defense lawyer in Washington, D.C. ln researching a case, she encountered the very stringent conditions traditionally required for the defense of duress. Generally speaking, the defense only applies if a person commits a crime when someone is holding a gun to his head. The law has insisted on this grudging definition of duress not only to preserve the deterrent impact of the threat of criminal punishment, but also to endorse and maintain a vision of individual accountability. By attributing an individual’s conduct to his own choices and discounting the effect of outside pressures, we validate and respect individual autonomy. Those whose criminal acts the law does excuse-think, for example, of infants and the insane-the law also seeks to control. The insistence on individual accountability for one’s choices, even when made under great pressure, serves to maintain individual autonomy and independence from state supervision...

Coughlin also noticed the widespread support for a new excuse from criminal liability, an excuse that in practice applied only to women. The so­-called “battered woman syndrome” was increasingly invoked to avoid criminal punishment for women who killed their abusive male partners. At a time when most feminists applauded this development, Coughlin saw there a disquieting remnant of the misogynist assumption that women lack the capacity for responsible self­governance. Everyone agrees that the responsible course of action would be to leave the abusive male long before resorting to homicide, but the battered woman syndrome posits that women are too dysfunctional to perceive or pursue that responsible option. In Coughlìn’s view, by suggesting that women suffer from psychological deficits that render them incapable of resisting pressures exerted by men, the battered woman syndrome defense explicitly locates women’s subjugation, not within legal or cultural convention, but within women themselves. On that assumption, Coughlin reasoned, women would continue to be vulnerable to forms of state intervention and supervision from
which autonomous and responsible men would be immune...

Coughlin argued against special excuses that privilege masculine over feminine traits even as they extend protection to women. At the same time, she called for taking the sympathetic intuitions that support the battered woman syndrome defense into account in a revised theory of criminal responsibility, one that can accommodate women’s experience of domestic violence without judging them to be deviant and inferior, indeed, creatures more like animals than men"

--- At the Intersection of Criminal Law and Feminist Jurisprudence (Virginia Journal 1999)


Unsurprisingly she approaches it from the angle of the defence undermining women (instead of men being disadvantaged by their not being able to use the defence), but at least one can take comfort in the fact that the two are really two sides of the same coin: if in inter-gender relations only men can be villains, women are simultaneously disempowered.

This principle of agency and empowerment also applies in other areas where feminists give women a free pass.
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