Interpreting the Feminine in the Criminal Trial: Can the Insights of Rape Myth Scholarship Help Mothers Accused of Killing Their Children?
In cases where mothers were wrongfully convicted of killing their children, both forensic and non-forensic evidence was admitted. Although the expert opinions and evidence were subsequently robustly scrutinised, the same is not true for informal evidence of maternal behaviour. The paper proposes that if we consider an analogous area of criminal justice which has seen interpretations of the feminine strongly challenged, such as in rape trials, then we might learn from rape myth scholarship how better to analyse child death cases. The article explores the difficult issues in rape myth scholarship in identifying what a rape myth is, how widely it is held, and how complex layers of functionality and connections constitute belief systems. By focussing on behavioural normativity and the deployment of fixed beliefs the article proposes a device based on the insights of rape myth scholarship with which to interrogate the behaviour evidence admitted in child death cases. Using the concept of modern mothering myths may prevent the possibility of background evidence being used as a vehicle for smuggling in prejudicial material of little probative value.
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