Tags: Women | Beware | Who | You | Know | Not | Strangers

Women, Beware of Who You Know, Not Strangers

Wednesday, 15 December 2004 12:00 AM

Ask people what they fear, and they never mention husbands and boyfriends, friends or relatives. Fear of crime is always about the armed stranger or the masked man, about the robber who breaks in, the shadowy figure at the ATM, the carjacker who surprises you in the parking lot.

Look at most criminal codes, and the obvious answer to who gets the death penalty is the career criminal or the professional hit man; the worst killing is the senseless murder; the most outrageous violence is random violence. We think of crime as something that happens out there, something done to you by one of them, somebody not like us.

The truth is just the opposite. You are much more likely to be victimized by someone you know than by a stranger, particularly if you are a woman. Women who are killed are almost always killed by husbands or lovers. Random murders are, in fact, quite rare.

Nor is it obvious, except as a matter of traditional thinking, why such crimes have so long been routinely downgraded. The assumption has always been that when a man kills his wife or girlfriend, there is a reason for it, which renders the conduct somehow less inhumane than the senseless conduct of a more brutal killer.

But reasons don't make acts reasonable. The fact that there is an explanation, as the jurors in this case recognized, can render a man's actions worse, not better.

The fact that a man knows his victims, that he has a relationship with them, can render the betrayal more damning, not less.

It is one thing to kill in the heat of passion. But Scott Peterson is not a man who lost control. He is a man who took control. This was not an act committed in a moment of insanity, but an act committed after weeks of planning.

The pundits - especially the defense lawyers who clog the television talk shows - have been saying for months that you're better off in America if you're rich and guilty than if you're poor and innocent.

The cynics have been saying for months that Scott Peterson, with his million-dollar lawyer, Mark Geragos, would beat the beleaguered prosecutors even though Geragos himself had opined on television, before being hired, that Peterson was guilty. Certainly, there was little question that Geragos won the public trial, with tales of a satanic cult and promises of scientific proof.

But real trials, fortunately, still take place in courtrooms with a judge and jurors, not on television talk shows. And it was there that Peterson and Geragos met the real heroes of this case: 12 ordinary men and women who turned out to know more than all those defense lawyers who have been filling the airwaves for months.

At common law, men owned their wives. At common law, men were never put to death for killing their wives. Those of us who have been studying criminal law too long are easily blinded by the systemic bias against treating family violence as seriously as stranger violence. The jury, ignorant of that tradition, knew better.

COPYRIGHT 2004 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.

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Ask people what they fear, and they never mention husbands and boyfriends, friends or relatives. Fear of crime is always about the armed stranger or the masked man, about the robber who breaks in, the shadowy figure at the ATM, the carjacker who surprises you in the parking...
Women,,Beware,Who,You,Know,,Not,Strangers
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2004-00-15
Wednesday, 15 December 2004 12:00 AM
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