The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

Defensive Homicide Laws: It’s Time To See How They Work

Posted by Cate on January 16, 2009

Dawn Chorus readers will be as horrifed as I was to read of the ongoing murder trial where a young woman  shot her stepfather dead then dismembered and buried him after many years  of daily sexual abuse.

In 2005 the Crimes Act changed to remove ‘provocation’ as a defense, partially because it was regularly used as a defense by men who murdered their partners under the guise that they were ‘provoked’ to anger.  Whilst men traditionally have found it easy to claim ‘provocation’, women in turn, have found it extremely difficult to use the notion of self defense in ending the life of a persistently abusive partner. Readers may remember the case of Heather Osland who was was convicted of murder for her part in the killing of her violent husband, Frank Osland. Heather was sentenced to 14 and a half years in prison and served the minimum, despite clear evidence of ongoing violence and sexual abuse.

Provocation is now replaced by defensive homicide, and one advantage is that the law allows jurors to hear evidence about family violence perpetrated on an accused person to show the context in which a homicide occurred. Hopefully this will be a clear determinent in demonstrating self defense.

On another note, friends of the accused told the court they had reported the abuse to teachers and counsellors at the school in 2005, but claim the school did nothing. I wonder if there will be any repercussions for their failure to adhere to ‘mandatory’ reporting laws concerning the reporting of child abuse?

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4 Responses to “Defensive Homicide Laws: It’s Time To See How They Work”

  1. caitlinate said

    I’m pretty suspect of schools and caring about their students. I went to a high school that consistently churned out students with really high ENTER scores (Victorian system) and where the focus was on continuing this trend. The emotional problems of students were generally ignored – even when it was pretty clear that they needed help – for the sake of maintaining focus on achieving high marks and upholding the reputation of the school as nice, academic, high scoring, etc. Even if they had been willing to act there weren’t really adequate structures in place… the school ‘counsellor’ was ONE of the classroom teachers and clearly teaching was seen as her primary role. Talking to other people I think a lot of schools have inadequate systems for dealing with emotional turbulence in students and that often it is put down to hormones, angst etc. When really serious things are reported staff just don’t know what to do or how to act. Or if they do there is often an enormous delay… bureaucracy is such a beautiful thing.

    Clearly this is way off topic though.

    What this girl has experienced is horrific and devastating. When I read the article I just thought ‘good on her’ but even still, every part of the story is traumatic and clearly going to be scaring for her… I really hope she gets off but I’d say she’ll probably end up with a manslaughter charge at best.

  2. mscate said

    I’m inclined to agree. I went to Catholic high school in a rural area and had two friends her were subject to violence at home. Both spoke to the school ‘counsellor’ yet there was no action except to tell the perpertraitor about the complaint. Both fathers were offered counselling by the Church in both cases and declined. They didn’t bother complaining again.

  3. Natasha said

    The stories above about inaction from teachers are pretty despair-inducing, but it’s important to remember that those teachers are also legally liable. I was talking with my Mum about this case on the weekend. She was a senior teacher for most of her career, and she expressed a similar sentiment to mscate, that she wouldn’t like to be in the shoes of that teacher that didn’t report it.

    She went on to refer to a number of times in her teaching career (that I’d been oblivious to as a child) where another teacher had come to her and said “what should I do about this?” and her answer was “always always always report it”. And she too experienced incidences of having to report things, and having furious parents call the school in protest and to demand to know who had reported them. But a teacher’s responsibility is to their students first. Apparently the wording for teachers is that they have to report based on the ‘smallest suspicion’.

    I wonder how much training teachers get these days on this subject? Not being a teacher myself, I really don’t know.

    The tragedy (or one of them) in this case is that had that teacher said something, this girl’s life might have turned out quite differently.

  4. audreydarling said

    Mscate – how awful! Why did they think telling the perp would help the victim? Children are hostage to their parents emotional and violent whims, that was probably the most damaging action they could take. No wonder they didn’t report again 😦

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