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

  • Berrington E
  • Honkatukia P
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Abstract

In England, Rosemary West was convicted of 10 counts of murder in 1995; and in Finland, Sanna Sillanpaa killed 3 men and injured a fourth when she walked into a gun club in Helsinki in February 1999 and opened fire. In setting the context for examining the media coverage of these two cases, this article refers to the established literature on women, crime, and violence. It notes that the literature indicates violent women are viewed as exceptional, unnatural, and "doubly deviant." Not only have they violated the law; they have violated the norms and expectations associated with appropriate feminine behavior. Women's involvement in lethal violence is especially rare, thus enhancing the newsworthiness of the unusual cases in which women act violently. In the press reporting of the Rosemary West case, she was identified as a "bad" woman and as "evil." She was sentenced to life imprisonment. Sanna Sillanpaa was viewed differently in the media. Rather than labeling her as "evil," the media viewed her as mentally ill. She was ultimately diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. Instead of viewing her actions as a "crime," the media viewed them as a "sad" case of the tragic actions of a "mad" woman who should receive hospital treatment rather than punishment. Due largely to media representation, Rosemary West has been demonized as that rare "evil" female killer whose crimes will continue to be recalled. The media reporting in the Sanna Sillanpaa case, on the other hand, is likely to ensure that her case will be forgotten by the public. These differences stem from two different societies with somewhat different media traditions in crime reporting, particularly regarding women offenders.

Author-supplied keywords

  • 'Mad' And 'BAD' Women
  • Female Violence
  • News
  • Rosemary West
  • Sanna Sillanpaa

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Authors

  • Eileen Berrington

  • Päivi Honkatukia

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