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Premenstrual Syndrome: Should it be used as a defence to a criminal charge?

Selwood, J. (1996) Premenstrual Syndrome: Should it be used as a defence to a criminal charge? Sister in Law, 1 . pp. 73-91.


"The menstruating woman has a claim to special consideration by the judge because she is at this period 'unwell' and more or less psychologically disturbed". Richard von Kraft-Ebing 1882

"Until menstruation ceases to be viewed by the populace as a debilitating factor, reason for ostracism, or to be shamefacedly ignored, and until women criminals are viewed in their political and social context rather than being regarded as biological aberrations, the truth of whether or not premenstrual tension has a part to play in the commission of some criminal acts by some women will remain elusive". Jocelynne Scutt 1982

Each of these statements, referring to the female menstrual cycle and written one hundred years apart, have some merit. Evidence shows that a very small percentage of women who suffer from premenstrual syndrome, have symptoms so extreme that they have acted uncharacteristically and committed crimes. While the syndrome is described as "premenstrual", the symptoms occur sometime within the 'paramenstruum', the eight days, which begin four days before menstruation plus the first four days of menstruation. Only women who suffer severely should receive recognition for their symptoms in the courts, not every woman. One should be cautious about allowing a defence using premenstrual syndrome, for fear of negative consequences for all women. These fears should not outweigh, however, the interests of the accused who faces loss of liberty, where she has a valid defence.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Law
Publisher: Enid Russell Society, School of Law, Murdoch University
Copyright: Enid Russell Society
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