An evil monster and a poor thing : female violence in the media

This article examines female violence by comparing newspaper reporting in England and Finland. In February 1994 human remains were found in a garden in Gloucester, England. The owners of the house, Fred and Rosemary West, were arrested and charged with a number or murders. All the victims were women...

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Bibliographic Details
Published in:Journal of Scandinavian studies in criminology and crime prevention
Main Author: Berrington, Eileen
Contributors: Honkatukia, Päivi (Author)
Format: Electronic/Print Article
Language:English
Published: 2002
In:Journal of Scandinavian studies in criminology and crime prevention
Year: 2002, Volume: 3, Issue: 1, Pages: 50-72
Online Access: doi
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Availability in Tübingen:Present in Tübingen.
IFK: In: Z 181
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Summary:This article examines female violence by comparing newspaper reporting in England and Finland. In February 1994 human remains were found in a garden in Gloucester, England. The owners of the house, Fred and Rosemary West, were arrested and charged with a number or murders. All the victims were women and included Fred West's first wife and stepdaughter. Fred West was found hanged in his prison cell before the trial. Rosemary West was subsequently convicted of 10 counts of murder in 1995. Sanna Sillanpää walked into a gun club in Helsinki in February 1999 and opened fire, killing three men and injuring a fourth. Throughout the formal proceedings the main focus was her state of mind rather than her actions. Media constructions of women who kill are examined, using a comparative analysis of representations in the English and Finnish cases. The discussion is contextualized by reference to the established literature on women, crime and violence. Violent women are seen as exceptional, unnatural and 'doubly deviant'. Not only have they broken the law; they have transgressed the norms and expectations associated with appropriate feminine behaviour. Women's use of lethal violence is especially rare. This enhances the newsworthiness of these few, highly unusual cases and encourages sensationalized media reporting. When women commit crimes that bring them into contact with the criminal justice system they are categorized and labelled as either 'bad' or 'mad'. Press reporting of the cases of Rosemary West and Sanna Sillanpää reveals these contrasting dominant discourses of female criminal violence. Rosemary West was identified as a 'bad' woman, as 'evil' and sentenced to life imprisonment. Sanna Sillanpääwas judged differently. Rather than considering her 'badness', there was an early assumption, in the media and in the criminal investigation, that she must be mentally ill. She was ultimately diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. Rather than a 'crime', this became a 'sad' case, the tragic actions of a 'mad' woman who required hospital treatment rather than punishment via a custodial sentence. The article does not focus on features or patterns of female violence, but on ways and means of representation; the tone and style of reporting in different newspapers; and the patriarchal cultural constructions of embodiment, sexuality and gendered relations underpinning press accounts that created such different constructs of the women involved. Rosemary West's demonization in the press has assured her a place in history as a 'bad killer woman'. The very different reporting of the killings carried out by Sanna Sillanpää has meant that many people have forgotten about or lost interest in the case
ISSN:1404-3858