A critical discourse analysis of New Zealand sentencing decisions in cases where women kill in the context of intimate partner abuse

M. Leask*

Victoria University of Wellington, 

*corresponding author: Marita.Leask@vuw.ac.nz

This paper presents a feminist critical discourse analysis of 20 sentencing decisions of cases where a woman has killed in the context of intimate partner abuse in New Zealand from 1994 to the present. This area of the law is striking both for the constructions of intimate partner abuse victimisation and for recent indications of a trend for greater judicial leniency stirred by a 2016 Law Commission Report. The Law Commission Report argued that the existing law poorly serves primary victims of family violence who commit homicide and recommended legal and social changes. Prior to 2015, there is only one example of a home detention conviction for manslaughter in this sample. In contrast, two sentencing decisions from 2016 imposed home detention sentences. One of the 2016 cases explicitly references the Law Commission work and constructs the defendant in a more sympathetic light as a result.  Nonetheless, alongside depictions of these defendants as victims and as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, many of the women in the sample were constructed as mutual aggressors or the violent party and histories of intimate partner abuse victimisation were often not accorded much weight. A genealogy of discursive constructions in these sentencing decisions illuminates debates about the nature of intimate partner abuse, gendered violence and victimisation.


Marita Leask is currently undertaking her PhD in Criminology at Victoria University of Wellington on the topic of juridical and media constructions of women who kill in the context of intimate partner abuse. Her research interests include intimate partner abuse, family violence, abortion, critical discourse analysis, feminist theory and media analysis.


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