Women in Criminal Justice Article Review: Browne

Browne, A. (2004). Fear and the perception of alternatives: Asking “why battered women don’t leave” is the wrong question. In B. R. Price & N. J. Sokoloff (Eds.), The Criminal Justice System and Women: Offenders, Prisoners, Victims & Workers (3 ed., pp. 343-359). Boston: McGraw Hill.

1.      Main Thesis: Browne shows that there are differences not between battered women who kill their abusers and battered women who do not, but that there are differences between the abusers themselves. Among other variables, abusers who are killed by their victims are more likely to engage in child abuse and sexual assault of their partners; abusers who were killed were, in many ways, more violent and merciless than those who were not killed by their victims.

2.      Body of Evidence: Browne engages in a comparative study of battered women in two groups: those who killed their abusers (the homicide group) and those who did not (the comparison group). She interviewed these women, giving many answers to the question of why battered women don’t leave their abusers even as she problematizes the asking of that question in the first place. The interviews provide chilling case studies of the violence battered women rightly fear if they were to make an attempt to leave their abuser; Browne says that “at least 50 percent of women who leave their abusers are followed and seriously harassed or further attacked” (p. 344). The interviews contextualize the complexity of a battering situation for a woman who fears danger to those she loves, be they adult protectors, children, or pets. The interviews also show how difficult it is practically to leave an abuser when a woman must be present/predictable for court proceedings, child custody arrangements, employment, and more. Finally, Browne uncovers a correlation between the reactions of abused women and the reactions of those who have been victims of other types of trauma, such as natural disaster victims. In all, Browne finds seven variables that increase the likelihood of an abuser being killed: 1) frequency of abuse 2) severity of victim’s injuries 3) frequency of sexual assault 4) abuser’s drug use 5) abuser’s alcohol use 6) abuser’s threats to kill and 7) victims’ suicide threats.

3.      Conclusions: Browne argues that asking why battered women don’t leave is the wrong question because battered women usually act in reaction to their abusers. She concludes by using social judgment theory to show that women who kill their abusers have been pushed outside their latitude of acceptance by their abusers’ actions.

4.      My Conclusions: This article deeply changed the way I think about battering situations. I have asked the question, “Why doesn’t she just leave?” I did not know that most abusers will follow and harass a woman who leaves. I did not know that police so often dismiss the allegations of battered women. I did not think about the implications of a woman’s actions for those she loves, including her children and anyone who shelters her. I did not consider the practical consequences of leaving for a woman who has likely been systematically isolated by her abuser; she often has no means of economic support and may not have the resources to obtain gainful employment. This article overwhelmingly supported Browne’s main point that abusers’ actions drive the actions of victims. Since reading this article, I’ve had numerous conversations  about why battered women don’t leave. I hope that, with this new understanding, I can change others’ thinking as well.

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