Academic Article

Gender, Violence, and the Death Penalty

By Sandra Babcock and Nathalie Greenfield, California Western International Law Journal , on 1 February 2024



Published in 2023.

This article is the first in a series that will systematically explore how gender has affected the criminal proceedings of women currently on death row. For this inaugural article, we have undertaken the first—and, to our knowledge, only comprehensive analysis of gender-based violence (“GBV”) in the lives of all women currently on death row, examining the prevalence of GBV and how it has shaped the lives and affected the criminal prosecutions of women facing execution. Our research reveals, for the first time, that almost every woman on death row in the United States has experienced GBV. Indeed,the great majority have experienced more than one incident of GBV in their lifetime. Our findings align with previous studies demonstrating that women’s pathways to incarceration are paved with physical, sexual, and psychological abuse. Our research further shows that both in the United States and around the world, defense attorneys frequently fail to present evidence of GBV in women’s capital trials. When they do introduce such evidence, they fail to fully explain the nature of their clients’ victimization and the harm they have suffered as a result. Moreover, prosecutors frequently rely on gendered tropes to discredit women’s accounts of violence such as childhood sexual abuse, rape, and intimate partner violence. Consequently, those who sentence women to die rarely comprehend the extensive trauma that the women have endured throughout their lives, and how that trauma relates to their legal and moral culpability.

  • Document type Academic Article
  • Themes list Gender / Women