Criminal Justice

Beauty Doesn't Help When Woman Claims She Killed Abuser in Self-Defense, Study Finds


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A female defendant who claims she killed an abuser in self-defense may have more trouble convincing a jury when she is beautiful, a new study suggests.

Researchers in Spain at the University of Grenada asked test subjects—169 police officers, mostly males, from Spanish cities—to judge a fictional woman accused of killing her intimate partner, the Atlantic reports. In all the mock scenarios, the woman said she killed after a long history of abuse, but researchers changed the description of the woman.

In one scenario the defendant was described as “an attractive woman with thick lips; smooth, harmonious facial features; straight blonde hair; and a slender and elegant appearance.” In the other, she was described as “an unattractive woman with thin lips; stern and jarring facial features; dark, bundled hair; and is neither slender nor elegant in appearance.”

The police officers judged the unattractive woman as less criminally responsible for the killing, possibly because she fit the stereotype of a battered woman, according to the researchers. The study (PDF) was published in the European Journal of Psychology Applied to Legal Context. The results point to the need for additional police training in handling domestic violence complaints that challenge traditional assumptions about gender violence, the researchers say.

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