The Reasonable Woman In Court

What would a reasonable person expect, understand, do or avoid doing in a given situation? Our assumptions of what is reasonable behavior affect criminal justice. Do our assumptions take into account the different life experiences of women and men?

Take, for example, a defendant who claims self-defense for a murder. Wouldn’t a reasonable person try to escape the scene of an attack, avoid a known provocateur, and return fists only with fists and not escalate to the use of a lethal weapon? These assumptions of reasonable behavior don’t seem so reasonable when the attack takes place in the home a woman shares with her attacker, and when she is responsible for the care of her children.

In a similar vein, Barak-Erez analyzes the notion of reasonable behavior expected of a crime victim in the case of rape.

Rather than have a distinct set of expectations for women, Barak-Erez advocates more openness in the justice system so that those making judgements see outside of their own immediate circle and take into account the multicultural society in which we live.

In a complementary article, Ayelet Golan-Tavory shares findings of a study sponsored by the Israel Women’s Network by Rena Bogush of Bar llan University and Rahel Don-Yechiah of Tel Aviv University to see if and how gender affected the legal process and its results. (Among the observations: that female attorneys—as compared to their male peers—are often addressed by judges in a way that undermines their clients’ confidence in them.)