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Spiral of EntrapmentReview - Spiral of Entrapment
Abused Women in Conflict with the Law
by Lisa Vetten and Hallie Ludsin
Jacana Media, 2005
Review by Noreena Jane Sondhi
May 8th 2007 (Volume 11, Issue 19)

"A crisis may be defined as an acute emotional upset in which one's usual problem-solving abilities fail". (p. 88)

Spiral of Entrapment: Abused Women in Conflict with the Law ("Spiral") centers its discussion on the crisis that is the reality of abused women in South Africa.  Despite some short-comings, the book provides an invaluable discussion of the legal system in South Africa, painting a vivid picture of the scant resources available to an abused woman in crisis.

Sprial is a tightly-organized book, which is divided into two (2) parts.  Part I provides a discussion regarding the psycho-social context of abused women's lives.  Part II then offers practical advice to advocates, setting forth the legal defenses and possible mitigation of sentence for abused women who kill their abusers.  (Each part is also further sub-divided into specific chapters.  At the close of each chapter, there are mini-conclusions, which serve to highlight the most important information for the reader.)

The history of South Africa is an important piece of this book, and the authors ensure that the reader understands the context of the legal system within which South African women are trapped.  The historical element is further expanded by the insertion of moving, often horrific, accounts of abused women.  Spiral gives citations not only to South African court cases, but also to relevant court cases handed down by the Unites States of America and Canada. 

Though Sprial cites court cases from several countries, the cases all point to similar material containing important information for advocates, who may be fighting for their clients' lives.  For instance, Sprial is able to aptly articulate the importance of how an advocate must present domestic violence to the trier of fact.  (It should be noted that South Africa does not utilize the jury-system for making findings of fact and conclusions of law.  Whether or not this helps or hurts South African women, who on trial for killing their abuser(s), is not discussed in Sprial.) Abuse is simply not one (1) single event; rather abuse is a pattern of behavior that intensifies to a point a battered woman can no longer tolerate.  (The Battered Women's Syndrome ("BWS") and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder ("PTSD") work hand-in-hand to show that abuse is a pattern of behavior exhibit by the abuser, not simply a single event, which has pushed an abused woman to take extreme measures to end the abuse.)  Therefore, in the mind of an abused woman, she is never safe and always waiting for the next attack.  If the abused woman is never safe, the attack is always imminent, which is imperative to establish in defending a battered woman who has killed her abuser.  If the advocate can show, with the help of expert testimony, that the next attack was inevitable, she can meet the requirement of imminence for self-defense.  (This is especially important to establish for abused women who have killed their abuser while he was asleep.  It should also be noted that proving "imminence" might also work against the abused woman, as the trier of fact might determine that if the attack was inevitable, the woman might have had time to plan her defensive action, therefore establishing premeditation.)

While Spiral thoroughly analyzes the importance of establishing imminence, the authors also include a wonderful discussion of putative self-defense and the insanity defense.  With regards to putative self-defense, the advocate will argue that a woman has killed her abuser because she believes she must act to save her life.  If her actions are judged to be unreasonable, she can be convicted of culpable homicide; however, if her actions are judged to be reasonable, she cannot be convicted of culpable homicide. 

If an advocate and the woman s/he is defending decide to pursue an insanity defense, Spiral also includes a poignant discussion of how this defense works (and does not work).  The insanity defense requires that the accused woman possess a mental illness or defect which makes her incapable of (a) appreciating the wrongfulness of her act; or (b) of acting in accordance with an appreciation of the wrongfulness of her act.  Using BSW and/or PTSD to prove this defense may prove difficult, however, as these conditions are "too pathological for finding of non-pathological criminal incapacity, and yet not sufficiently pathological for sanity."  (p. 168).  Therefore, post-conviction relief is often sought.

In South Africa, a woman can hope for a mitigation of her sentence, or hope for clemency/pardon.  Spiral includes advice for advocates who are pursuing post-conviction relief, speaking directly to advocates and offering helpful suggestions depending on the facts of the case at hand.  Spiral also asks questions that lawmakers and judges should carefully consider before they imprison a battered woman who has killed her abuser.  Will imprisonment serve to deter or prevent this woman from committing future crimes?  Is retribution an appropriate goal in punishing this woman?  Especially with regards to a woman with children who need her to care for them?       

  While Spiral is a wonderful book for advocates who are interested in the defense of battered women, it also has its shortcomings.  Upon opening this book, one is surprised at its contents; from the outside, one would assume that the book will be discussing the state of abused women at the larger global level.  However, the book immediately begins with a chapter detailing the responses to domestic violence in South Africa.  There is no suggestion from the outside of the book that South Africa will take center stage.  Additionally, while the citations to cases from the Unites States and Canada provide a broader perspective of the laws affecting battered women, there seems to be a lack of connection between these cases (cited to in endnotes) and the discussion in the book.  A more detailed discussion, tying the foreign cases to the topic at hand, included in the endnotes, could resolve this disconnect. 

Overall, Spiral paints a detailed portrait of the women in crisis in South Africa.  The personal stories are moving, and serve to connect the reader to a country that might not always come to mind when discussing battered women and their abusers.        

 

© 2007 Noreena Sondhi

 

Noreena Sondhi is an attorney in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  After she graduated from The Villanova University School of Law in May, 2005, Noreena accepted a clerkship with the Honorable Gary S. Glazer in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.  She is also a certified volunteer attorney for the Support Center for Child Advocates, which is a non-profit organization that offers free legal and social services to Philadelphia's abused and neglected children.


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