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Hamilton, Gemma --- "Homicide, Gender, and Responsibility: An International Perspective edited by Kate Fitz-Gibbon and Sandra Walklate" [2017] CICrimJust 8; (2017) 28(3) Current Issues in Criminal Justice 361

Book Review

Homicide, Gender, and Responsibility: An International Perspective edited by Kate Fitz-Gibbon and Sandra Walklate, Routledge Studies in Crime and Society, 2016, 180pp (ISBN 9781138843479)

Gemma Hamilton[*]

Gendered violence, including lethal violence, has received notable attention in public and academic spheres in recent years, particularly in the context of intimate partner violence. In Australia, such issues are on both local and federal governments’ agendas with the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and Their Children 2010–2022 and Victoria’s 2015 Royal Commission into Family Violence. Global attention has also been paid to what has been described as a ‘public health problem of epidemic proportions’ (World Health Organization 2013:5). While work dedicated to violence perpetrated by intimate partners has burgeoned, less work has considered violence perpetrated by institutions, corporations, and states. Homicide, Gender, and Responsibility helps to address this lacuna by reflecting on and analysing lethal violence in an array of contexts: intimate relationships, lives of young people, wars, detention centres, prisons and workplaces.

Edited by Fitz-Gibbon and Walklate, the book comprises a series of chapters by interdisciplinary national and international authors. Each chapter applies a gendered lens to examine the relationship between lethal violence and responsibility. Building on the work of Kelly (1988), the editors note from the outset that homicide can be best thought of as ‘occurring along a continuum’ (p 1). Rather than viewed as separate dichotomies requiring isolated analyses (for example, public versus private homicide), the editors contend that a deeper and more nuanced understanding of homicide can be gained by examining common patterns across a range of contexts. The current collection provides a unique examination of shared patterns regarding gender and responsibility across varied homicide cases.

The chapters of this collection — much like the continuum of homicide — flow and build on each other despite addressing different contexts. In Chapter 1, Ballinger provides a critical analysis of the law in relation to the provocation defence to homicide. She utilises the engaging case study of Ruth Ellis, the last women to be executed for homicide in England and Wales in 1955, to demonstrate that the defence of provocation favoured (and continues to favour) men. The provocation defence, she argues, is rooted in masculine bias, where men are allowed to be angry and lose control but remain rational, whereas women are constructed as either vengeful and in control or completely hysterical and irrational (neither of which is conducive to using the defence). Gendered biases persist, despite the law’s disguise as ‘objective’. In Chapter 2, Stubbs applies an intersectional framework and draws on homicide statistics to highlight gendered patterns of homicide: that perpetrators of lethal violence are overwhelmingly male, and that men’s reasons for killing often relate to jealousy and possessiveness, while the few women that kill their partners have frequently done so out of self-defence after suffering violence.

Chapter 3, by Dawson, continues the context of intimate partner relationships by considering the role of intimacy in homicides; namely, that homicides perpetrated by intimate partners are perceived in the legal system as less serious than those perpetrated by strangers (see Spohn and Holleran 2001 for a similar theme with sexual assault). One stereotype that Dawson points out is that intimate partner killers are less dangerous because they have less chance of reoffending. This misconception is concerning given recent Australian statistics, which indicate that 38.4 per cent of perpetrators have had more than one incident of family violence over a decade (2006–15: Millsteed 2016). In Chapter 4,

Fitz-Gibbon discusses how judicial constructions of masculinity impact perceptions of responsibility in homicides perpetrated by male children. Her analysis of judicial commentary reveals traditional constructions of masculinity (for example, that irresponsible, drunken, and collective male violence is expected), while also acknowledging a different version of masculinity shaped by fear and vulnerability.

The second half of the volume shifts to more public contexts of homicide. In Chapter 5, Walklate and McGarry highlight how the military perpetuate a highly masculine culture, where value is assigned to violence, heterosexuality, and the ‘warrior hero’ stereotype. They use two case studies from Vietnam and Afghanistan to demonstrate how the state sets up a social context conducive to illegitimate violence, and yet avoids responsibility when a soldier is accused of murder; the state ‘remains invisibly responsible but visibly irresponsible’ (p 110). Chapter 6 by Houge also concentrates on homicide in conflict settings by analysing 15 cases where the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia convicted defendants of illegitimate killings. Her analysis indicates that criminal justice professionals either emphasised individual characteristics of the defendants (for example, mental illness), or the situational pressures of war when discussing their level of responsibility. The chapter also highlights that a wider range of reasons was used to rationalise sexual wartime offences compared to murder, although the comparison data used to reach this conclusion could have been clearer.

In Chapter 7, Gerard and Kerr draw our attention to the murder of Reza Barati, an asylum seeker who was killed in an Australian-funded detention centre in Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. Similar to Chapter 5, the authors illustrate how the state sought to avoid responsibility for the death, largely through constructions of male asylum seekers as dangerous criminals, and the legal ambiguities of offshore detention. Finally, in Chapter 8, Doyle and McGrath discuss how the law is limited in its ability to find corporations responsible for workplace fatalities. They extend this discussion to include the high rate of prison deaths, an issue that is particularly relevant to men.

A common thread throughout this book is that the law is set up to focus on isolated incidents of homicide, rather than the broader social and gendered contexts in which the incident/s took place. Both the law and judiciaries play a key role in perpetuating stereotyped constructions of masculinity and femininity. When assessing who is responsible for homicide, the law also emphasises individual responsibility over collective, institutional and state responsibility. These issues are problematic for both genders: women who are overrepresented as victims in intimate partner homicides and sexual violence in war, and men who are overrepresented as victims in corporate and institutional homicides and suicides. Overall, a key message from this volume is that we need to acknowledge and challenge the patriarchal legal system, and to adopt more gender-equal law reform if we want to see greater justice for all victims and defendants of homicide. This will be a thought-provoking read for students and scholars in criminology, law, sociology, forensic psychology, and feminism, and should be read by any legal professionals involved in the interpretation, application and modification of the law.


Kelly L (1988) Surviving Sexual Violence, Polity Press

Millsteed M (2016) How Many Repeat Family Violence Perpetrators Were There in Victoria over the Past 10 Years? <>

Spohn C and Holleran D (2001) ‘Prosecuting Sexual Assault: A Comparison of Charging Decisions in Sexual Assault Cases Involving Strangers, Acquaintances, and Intimate Partners’, Justice Quarterly 18(3), 65188

World Health Organization (2013) Global and Regional Estimates of Violence against Women: Prevalence and Health Effects of Intimate Partner Violence and Non-Partner Sexual Violence <>

[*] Research Officer, Gendered Violence and Abuse Research Alliance (GeVARA), RMIT University, 124 La Trobe Street, Melbourne Vic 3000, Australia. Email:

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