Sentencing disparities

The news article Crack Cocaine and Powder Cocaine Punishments Modified, which discusses sentencing parity, got me thinking. First, let’s start with a snippet from the article:

The sentencing disparity was viewed as unjust because everything about the two drugs is pharmaceutically the same, except the demographic who buys them. African Americans accounted for 82.7 percent of crack cocaine convictions in 2007. Powder cocaine tends to be purchased by upper class suburban youth, according to the Wall Street Journal. Though the new law only applies in federal courts, which only hears a small fraction of cocaine possession cases, many states have significantly lowered the sentencing disparity already. Virginia, for instance is 2-to-1.

I knew of this disparity for some time, so I was quite happy to see that it will be resolved. I’m sure there are a lot of other sentence disparities involving race & ethnicity (rape comes to mind – I believe minorities receive  longer sentences). But, it made me think about the gender disparities in sentencing. I’ve often seen comments by men (and some women) that women receive shorter sentencing for killing a man or that female teachers get off easy when they sexually abuse their students. I’ve certainly seen some cases like this, but why don’t people recognize the gender disparity when women get charged more often than men or have longer sentences than men?

Failure to protect” laws come to mind. Here’s a paper posted on the Liz Library about how mothers are more often charged with failure to protect than fathers. I’ve often seen these cases in the news.

Who’s failing whom? A critical look at failure-to-protect laws by Jeanne A. Fugate

I’ve also seen news articles where women are charged with false allegations – but are men? Research (Bala & Schumann) finds more men make false allegations than women in family court.

I’ve seen articles about women being gagged from talking to the media about their family court cases – but are men? 

And from:  Defending justice

Women can be charged with child abuse or drug trafficking if they test positive for drugs during pregnancy. It is estimated that at least 200 women in 30-40 states have been “arrested and criminally charged for alleged drug use or other actions during their pregnancy,” the majority of them being poor women of color.22 This criminalizes a medical problem, violates women’s privacy rights, and undermines the doctor-patient relationship, without doing anything to help women to have healthy babies.

Or, how about testing positive for alcohol during pregnancy? This seems Taliban-esque, don’t you think?

…laws that have been passed in five states that make it legal to place a woman under “civil confinement” if she drinks while pregnant. She’s not confined to prison but to an institution where workers can monitor what she imbibes. The rationale being that drinking–as we all know–is not good for a fetus. (From: ABC News)

And, why do incarcerated mothers more often lose their children than fathers?

Prison shouldn’t be a bar to motherhood

Most women in prison are mothers, and they are five times as likely as imprisoned fathers to have children in foster care. (When a father goes to prison, the children are most likely to live with their mother; when a mother is in prison, the children are most likely to live with a grandparent, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics reports.)

And females can be further punished if they served time for drug use:  Out of jail, mothers struggle to reclaim children

A federal law signed by former President Bill Clinton prohibits people with a drug felony from receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the federal welfare program that provides temporary assistance for five years or less to families living below the poverty line.

“The ban singled out drug offenses, but not rape or murder or other kinds of offenses that one might consider much more heinous and you’ve singled it out for lifetime punishment,” says Jacobs.

Prostitution also comes to mind. More prostitutes are charged with crimes than are Johns, or even pimps.

Incest, although it’s more traumatic to victims, also results in shorter sentences for men than stranger-perpetrated sexual assaults. Is there a patriarchal reason behind this (ie. that fathers “own” their daughters or that men are more prone to stranger-perpetrated crimes)?

Here’s a case in Iowa, with lots of facts interspersed:  Case shows frustrations of proving allegations of incest 

Here’s a PDF on differences between stranger and non-stranger crimes: Violence between lovers, strangers, and friends

Look at the royal treatment incestuous adults are given in California: Child sexual abuse and the state

And, of course, there’s virtual impunity in rape cases: US Senate Committee to hold hearing on rape investigations

The Wrong Choices

It never ceases to amaze me how society refuses to make batterers accountable for their actions. Instead of asking, why doesn’t she just leave him? shouldn’t we be asking, why doesn’t he stop hitting her? Do we even bother to think that once she leaves him, he’ll find another punching bag? Wouldn’t it be smarter, then, to stop HIS behavior rather than HERS? (Since we never ask, why doesn’t he just leave her, I’m purposely choosing to use these gender pronouns.) 

If our current approach worked, that is, women left their abuser *safely* (because the most dangerous time for a woman is when she leaves), what would all these batterers do with their time? Would they abuse their boss, their bartender, their friends? I don’t think so. What would society do with these men who’ve lost their punching bags? I think they’ll always find women…even if they have to pay for it, so the problem would never go away.  

Instead of asking her to leave (and think she’ s “stupid” if she doesn’t), why don’t we start asking, why does he abuse her and what can we do to prevent or stop his behavior?

Well, that, to me, sounds like the most rational approach, however, the judge in this article, Lexington Mother of 6 gets 5 years for killing husband, believes the woman is to blame for all her wrong choices in life:

There was rarely a day when Sandra G. Lubben’s family saw her without a black eye.

She endured physical and mental abuse from her husband, David Lubben, because she was scared of what would happen if she reported the violence.

The Lexington mother of six was trapped in an abusive relationship from which she could not escape, her defense attorney said Thursday.

But a circuit court judge said Lubben, 40, made poor choices and would have to face consequences for the final decision she made in her marriage.

And finally:

Goodwine said Lubben made some bad choices, the first being to marry David Lubben after he had shown a history of violence toward her.

“I think other choices should have been made that day. If not that day, the day before,” Goodwine said.

So the judge berates this battered woman for the choices she made in marrying this guy and ignores the choices he made of abusing her on an almost daily basis.  I suppose violent men come with a sign on their foreheads, then? The only telltale signs that we know of are jealousy and controlling behavior. These are traits that are easily confused by many people with love, insecurity and inflexibility. Surely, we don’t believe someone we can be attracted to, someone who has a few “flaws,” would be capable of punching, kicking or throwing a woman down the stairs, do we? If we had a glass ball or a sixth sense for sniffing out potentially abusive men, perhaps we would make better choices, but since we don’t come with such super powers, I think we’d better stick to the abusive behavior, shall we?  

Violence is a CHOICE, afterall, that people make, so let’s blame batterers for choicing violence. Batterers are virtually ignored by the justice system (he seems like a charming man, to me), the media (he was a “nice guy” that “snapped”) and society (“she deserved it”). Until we see violence as a choice and women as an easy target, we will continue on our present track: women are blamed for their “choices,” women are punished for “failure to protect” their children, batterers are not held accountable, men’s homicide rate is declining and women’s remains the same or increases. 

Put the blame where it belongs:  on those that CHOOSE violence not on those who are victims to it.