This Is What Actually Happens When You Kill Your Abuser
There was something quite cathartic about the finale of "Big Little Lies."
We had the opportunity to witness the awesome defeat of the show's villain, Perry. His death served as possibly the most straightforward way to smash the hell out of the patriarchy and throw a big middle finger to domestic abusers everywhere.
As satisfying as it was to see Perry get what he deserved, the hit HBO series wasn't exactly the most realistic representation of this important and all-too-common narrative.
Take Marissa Alexander, for example.
In May 2012, the mother of three was prosecuted for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, a crime for which she received a minimum sentence of 20 years in prison.
Except, she never actually hurt anyone. Under the defense of Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law, the woman aimed a warning shot at the ceiling of her home in Jacksonville, after her ex-husband allegedly threatened to kill her.
Following a plea deal, Alexander ultimately spent three years in prison. She then served the remainder of her sentence in house arrest. In February, she was finally able to remove her ankle bracelet for the first time in four years.
In an interview with The Cut, the newly free woman said she was aware of Florida's minimum 20-year sentence for firing a gun, but she never thought this law would apply to her case.
She told Lindsay Peoples of The Cut,
I had a concealed-weapons license for protection. I had never taken it out ever in any instance as long as I've had it, so I didn't realize how serious it was until my first meeting with my attorney and he looked pretty spooked about the whole thing. And, I'm looking at him like 'Why? I had a restraining order against [my ex-husband] and a concealed-weapons license. What's the big deal? It's self defense.' And he was like: 'No, this is pretty serious.'
Alexander's case is just one of many that shows when women fight back against their abusers, they don't get to frolic on the beach and celebrate a step toward the dismantlement of domestic violence.
Instead, they often find themselves behind bars serving lengthy prison sentences, as the US justice system will likely consider them to be criminals, rather than victims who desperately tried to save their own lives.
"The Perfect Victim,"a chilling documentary about this subject, depicts the lives of four Missouri women who collectively spent more than 85 years in prison for killing their abusive husbands.
These women were denied the opportunity to enter their incidents of abuse into evidence during their respective trials, leaving each of them to appear as nothing more than murderers.
The Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act, which the New York State Assembly passed last year, aims to change this broken system.
Under this legislation, incidents of domestic abuse could be entered into these cases as evidence, and judges could bypass mandatory minimums set by the state. They could also choose to give survivors shorter sentences, or even let them avoid prison by sentencing them to alternative programs.
Gail Smith, director of the Women in Prison Project at the Correctional Association of New York, described the terms of the legislation to the Huffington Post and said,
This law unties judges' hands so they can consider the impact of abuse at sentencing. Women who have acted to save their lives should not be punished by long prison sentences.
The New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence's Policy Director Saima Anjam told Elite Daily the bill is currently in the "third reading."
Sponsored by New York State Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson and Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry, the bill is primed and could technically be voted on any day now. Anjam would "like to see the bill voted on by the end of 2017."
While it's reassuring to know important pieces of legislation are making headway in our justice system, we cannot forget how much work still needs to be done — or how problematic shows like "Big Little Lies" can be in this context.
There's no frolicking for survivors forced to defend themselves against their attackers.
There's rarely any celebration at all, even if they do manage to save themselves in the end.
Citations: Marissa Alexander Fired a Warning Shot at Her Abusive Husband and Was Sentenced to 20 Years. Now She's Free. (The Cut), What 'stand your ground' laws actually mean (The Washington Post), A NEW FILM TELLS THE STORY OF WOMEN WHO WERE IMPRISONED FOR KILLING THEIR ABUSERS (Bitch Media), 2036 2015-2016 Regular Sessions I N S E N A T E (State of New York), Should Domestic Violence Victims Go To Prison For Killing Their Abusers? (The Huffington Post)