Why Do Women Face Longer Sentences for Self-Defense than Men?

Why Do Women Face Longer Sentences for Self-Defense than Men?

Why Do Women Face Longer Sentences for Self-Defense than Men?


Each year, there are more than 100,000 cases of domestic violence reported in Florida. Although men make up an average of 40% of the victims who have experienced intimate partner abuse, most cases of domestic violence are reported by women. Studies from the ACLU indicate that, although they are targeted more frequently in cases of domestic abuse, women are more likely to face a longer prison sentence when acting in self-defense than a man who is found guilty of committing intimate partner violence.

On average, women who are charged with killing their partners in self-defense spend about 15 years in prison, and men who assault or kill their female partners only serve sentences ranging between 2 and 6 years. Although cases of homicide are serious legal matters, many individuals wonder why women experienced harsher and more sizable punishments than men when it comes to cases of self-defense during an incident of domestic assault.

Sentencing Women Using Self-Defense Against Domestic Violence

Survivors of domestic abuse often suffer for years, with many cases going widely unreported. When a victim acts in self-defense, it is usually as a last resort. These instances of self-defense are punished more harshly for a variety of reasons, but one of the most common causes of an extended sentence for a domestic abuse victim acting to protect themselves is that they often use a gun or weapon to defend themselves.

Studies indicate that firearms are more common in the homes of domestic violence victims than the average person, and that these weapons are more likely to be owned and operated by the partner who is perpetrating the abuse. From 2006 to 2012, guns were used in 56% of domestic violence homicidesin Florida. When a weapon is involved in a case of intimate partner violence or homicide, it can often be difficult for the victim to defend themselves in court.

Although domestic violence accounts for approximately 20% of murders annually, victims are constantly challenged when bringing forward evidence of prior abuse from their domestic partner. Courts require strong examples to back up the formal accusation, such as:

  • Medical records of damage from abuse
  • Text messages, voicemails, emails, or letters containing abusive language
  • Security footage of stalking or abuse
  • Police reports from incidents of abuse
  • Witness statements from those who heard or witnessed the abuse

Without being able to provide substantial proof that the violence occurred, a jury may not side with the victim. This is especially true in cases of self-defense that have turned into a homicide.

Self-Defense and Domestic Violence

To better understand the connection between sentencing and domestic abuse cases, it is necessary to learn the legal definition of both phrases. Self-defense is classified as “the use of reasonable force to protect oneself […] from bodily harm from the attack of an aggressor” if an individual believes they are in immediate danger. Domestic violence can manifest in different ways, but the legal definition states that it involves any “felony or misdemeanor crimes of violence committed by a current or former spouse or intimate partner of the victim.”

In many instances of domestic abuse, the problems occurring in the relationship have been building up for years. Although violent and controlling behavior is often a key indicator of abuse, many women hesitate to report their spouses for fear of not being believed, retaliation from their partners, or believing that they are not suffering “enough” to warrant legal intervention. By the time many victims even consider acting in self-defense, it is often too late.

Types of Intimate Partner Abuse

Research shows that 1 in 4 women have reported being harmed by an intimate or domestic partner during their lifetime. These records of domestic violence appear in multiple different ways, with most cases involving more than one form of abuse occurring at once. The most common types of domestic partner abuse include:

  • Physical abuse: Acting with the intent to harm a partner through the use of hitting, kicking, or assaulting them physically.
  • Stalking: Repeated and unwanted attention from a current or former partner that causes someone to fear for their safety.
  • Sexual abuse: Forced sexual acts performed by a partner against their will that can include physical sex, unwanted touching, or non-physical acts such as “sexting.”
  • Economic abuse: Managing the financial assets of a domestic partner and withholding access to them to exert control and power.
  • Emotional or psychological abuse: In an interview with victims of domestic abuse, 80% of victims reported experiencing emotional or psychological abuse.

In 2019, there were 6050 reports of simple domestic assault and 1630 cases of aggravated assault in Orange County. Female victims of intimate partner abuse are more likely to avoid reporting instances of emotional abuse, while most reports consisted of a combination of stalking, sexual abuse, and physical violence.

Experienced Criminal Defense Attorneys in Florida

When faced with a serious charge for self-defense after a domestic violence case, it can be difficult to know where to turn for help. The experienced criminal defense attorneys at The Umansky Law Firm will work with you to strengthen your case and ensure that your rights are protected. We understand the delicate nature of domestic abuse cases and we are here to help.

Contact our offices in Orlando today or reach out to us online to schedule your case consultation with one of our dedicated criminal defense attorneys.

Why Do Women Face Longer Sentences for Self-Defense than Men?