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Victim or Murderer: Battered Women Populate Prisons

Is it reasonable to make the victim of domestic abuse pay for the crimes of her abuser?

Years after she killed Jimmy, Tanya Mitchell continued to dream of her abusive husband. Though the two-decade nightmare of beatings and threats to family and friends who tried to protect her ended with his death, she went from feeling like a captive to a terrible relationship to doing time in a Missouri state prison. When she first went to prison in 2002 after being charged with second-degree murder, she stripped the sheets she brought from home off her bed every morning, folded them up, and stored them in the locker in her prison cell. “I’m just camping out here. I’m not staying,” 53-year-old Mitchell recalls saying to her cell mate.

Eleven years later, Mitchell was released from prison after being granted clemency in 2013 with the aid of legal advocates from the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic & Sexual Violence. –TakePart

Stories like this have been gaining traction as we move into Domestic Violence Awareness month. An 11 year-old crime resurfaced as Tondalo Hall, an abused mother who neglected to prevent her boyfriend from abusing their children, had her second chance at changing her 30 year sentence. The disturbing story trended the entire month of September, as many people wondered if she would spend 15+ more years imprisoned. After much anticipation, her request for commutation was denied.

In these cases, what disturbs me most is the time women face imprisoned compared to men. In the case of Tondalo Hall, her boyfriend who actually committed the abuse only spent 2 years in prison. After confessing to breaking their children’s ribs, fracturing their legs as well as consistently battering 20 year-old Hall, a 30-year sentence would appear much more fitting for him. Yet that did not happen, which prosecutors and investigators say is Hall’s fault. Most of them comment on how she hid the truth to protect her boyfriend when she was a key witness in his trial. However, if there was a true sense of the power of domestic violence in court I think it would have gone a completely different way.

Tondalo even admits to the continued harassment by her boyfriend throughout the trial. But even without her explaining her fear and shame, there’s enough research to prove that abuse is not just physical, it has a serious impact on the mental, which is rarely discussed.

To women like me, that have never been in abusive relationships, it seems natural to walk away from an abuser. However, story after story women feel bound to these men in a number of ways. In some cases, mentally the women are enslaved to their abusers, feeling there is no way out or even worse…that this is what they deserve. There is a huge control factor in these relationships that I think courts wrongfully ignore. Whether it’s financial dependency, children, or plain fear that keeps women in abusive relationships the outcomes of staying or leaving pose devastating threats.

As reported by Domestic Abuse Shelter Org, 75% of women who are murdered by intimate partners are killed when they attempt to leave or after they have left their abuser. Even more devastating are the possibilities of what happens when the women stay in these relationships.

As in the case with Tondalo Hall, who blindly accepted her fate of abuse or in the case of Tanya Mitchell, that saw no other way out, prison is the only other possibility if battered women fail to seek help.

These perpetrators and murderers behind bars are women that have endured unspeakable abuse. Statistics show that women are less likely to commit violent crimes and in the cases that they do, they serve much longer sentences then men. As explained by Purple Berets, when men murder their intimate partners it is more often down without weapons, such as strangling or beating. Women, for obvious reasons, have more gruesome murders because their crimes are committed with knifes, guns or other objects.  Interestingly enough, even though these crimes are more gruesome, most women in prison for murder crimes are being charged with their first violent offense. These women don’t typically have a long wrap sheet of violent acts.

It’s easy to say these women could’ve left, they could have walked away but until we are in that environment and in that state of mind we will never know how it feels to be controlled and tormented by an abuser. As reported by the Police Foundation in Detroit and Kansas many women attempt leaving and are dragged back into these situations. The Police Foundation found that in 85% of domestic abuse cases that turned to homicide, the police were called at least once by the woman and in half of those the police were called up to five times.

You can only imagine the fear of actually calling the police and upsetting your abuser even more. Police reports can only do so much as we can see, if the police reports held any real weight these women would have clear defenses for why they committed these crimes. Tanya Mitchell tried escaping her abuser numerous times, she even compiled evidence of his abuse, yet an insensitive justice system let her pay for the crimes of her abuser.

As a Snapped connoisseur , I understand the difference between killing in self defense versus premeditated murder, so shouldn’t the courts?

“People sometimes don’t understand that in the vast majority of cases in which victims of battering use force against their abusive partners, they do so in a confrontational situation in which they have to act immediately to protect themselves or their children,” Dot Goldberger, a member of the National Clearinghouse for the Defense of Battered Women, told TakePart. “They don’t just snap out of the blue.”

“You just have to get out, you’re either going to end up dead or in prison.” – Tanya Mitchell

Briana Myrie

Co-Founder & Content Editor Hippie at heart, lover of love.

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