Convicted Survivors

The Imprisonment of Battered Women Who Kill

By Elizabeth Dermody Leonard

Subjects: Sociology
Series: SUNY series in Women, Crime, and Criminology
Paperback : 9780791453285, 218 pages, April 2002
Hardcover : 9780791453278, 218 pages, April 2002

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Table of contents

List of Tables
Foreword by Dr. Nancy K. D. Lemon, Esq.

Part I

1. Introduction

2. Battered Women Who Kill and the Criminal Justice System: A Review of the Literature

3. Explaining Intimate Violence: Theoretical and Methodological Framework

4. Study Format and Design

5. A Profile of Convicted Survivors

Part II: Narratives of Personal Experiences: An Introduction

6. Minimizing and Forgetting Violence

7. Self-Identifying as a Battered Woman

8. Police Involvement


Calling 911
Barriers to Calling


9. Coercive Drugging

10. Adjudication Processes

11. Conclusion and Policy Implications

12. Portraits

Appendix A: Informed Consent Statements
Appendix B: Survey Questionnaires
Appendix C: Interview Guide

Author Index
Subject Index

Explores the experiences of women imprisoned for killing their male abusers and their treatment by the criminal justice system.


When a woman survives a deadly assault by her male abuser by using lethal self-defense, she often faces a punitive criminal justice system—one that largely failed to respond to her earlier calls for help. In this book, Elizabeth Dermody Leonard examines the lives and experiences of more than forty women in California who are serving lengthy prison sentences for killing their male abusers. She contrasts them with other women prisoners in the state and finds substantial differences. Leonard's in-depth interviews reveal that the women are slow to identify themselves as battered women and continue to minimize the violence done to them, make numerous and varied attempts to end abusive relationships, and are systematically failed by the systems they look to for help. While in jail, these women receive liberal dosages of psychotropic drugs, damaging their ability to aid in their self-defense. Moreover, trials and plea bargains feature little or no evidence of the severe intimate abuse inflicted upon them. Despite a clear lack of criminal or violent histories, the majority of women found guilty of the death of abusive men receive first- or second-degree murder convictions and serve long, harsh sentences. Leonard concludes the book with a discussion of policy implications and recommendations arising from this research.

Elizabeth Dermody Leonard is Professor of Sociology at Vanguard University.


"This book brings to the forefront the characteristics of battered women who kill their partners and their experiences with the criminal justice system, from arrest to incarceration. It gives the reader an insight into their troubled lives and provides a context for their lethal offense. The policy implications and the recommendations that flow from the research are significant. " — Barbara Bloom, Sonoma State University

"The legal system is starting to respond more appropriately to the issue of domestic violence. However, we still have a very long way to go in dealing justly with battered women who kill their abusers. The publication of this book is a step toward achieving that goal. " — from the Foreword by Nancy K. D. Lemon, author of Domestic Violence Law