What does it mean to be an incredible woman?
Does it mean always helping others? Cooking beautiful meals? Achieving the perfect family/career balance? I like to think of great women as those who had the courage to take a great risk and change the course of their own, or another’s life, even if it meant they may lose their own in the fight.
Incredible women who have stood out to me are both public and private figures. We have women of great power and respect such as Oprah, and political figures like Ayaan Hirsi Ali who fight to end war crimes against women. But what about the everyday women? And what about when these women don’t follow the conventional ‘rules’. The ones who in a moment of desperation, decided to fight back, to fight for their rights, even if it meant killing for it. Where do we draw the line between self defence and murder? And does this make someone a monster or a hero?
Yes, I am talking about the women in domestic abuse relationships who in that moment of ‘kill or be killed’, made the decision to protect themselves and their family…those who made the life or death decision to pull a trigger.
In 2008, American woman Barbara Sheehan (then 48years old) shot and killed her abusive husband of 24 years, Raymond Sheehan. During that time, Sheehan and her 2 children were physically, psychologically and verbally abused by her police officer husband , often on a daily basis. She was admitted to hospital many times with injuries, yet could never speak up. It is easy to ask, “Why didn’t she just leave? Why was she too weak to speak up? Surely she could have found a way to leave”. When asked these questions, Sheehan sighs, saying: “He let me know that all the time, that no one would believe me.
‘I have the badge. They’re going to believe the badge,’ was what her husband told her.
On the day of the murder, Barbara’s husband came at her with a gun, and in a moment of desperation for her family, she ran and grabbed one of his spare pistols, taking the only chance she had in that moment. She made the choice to kill rather than be killed.
Barbara was sentenced to 15 years jail.
A similar story is that of Stacey Lannert, who after years of sexual abuse and death threats from her father, took his rifle and shot him twice in an attempt to finally free herself and her sister of his evil abuse. Lannert too was sentenced, and spent 18 years of a life sentence in jail for her act of self defence.
How can anyone who hasn’t been abused themselves, who hasn’t cowered inside the walls of their own home, or felt the sheer despair of facing another day trapped in a secret world of abuse, pass judgment on women such as these? Yes, murder is wrong. But is it fair to further punish someone who has already served a life sentence of abuse?
As a child I had a sticker on the brickwork behind my bed which read:
‘Every child deserves a safe and happy home’.
For 10 years I thought about that sticker, even long after it was gone. I would stare at the wall, bitter, terrified and filled with despair, unable to comprehend why this wasn’t true for everyone, and wishing desperately for the chance to live in a world where I didn’t have to feel the churn of my stomach everytime I heard my dad’s heavy footsteps coming towards my room, where I never had to see the terrifying anger that possessed his vision. To feel safe, loved, happy, accepted.
Peace is all we want.
These women paid a life sentence already. How it breaks my soul when I hear of another mother, daughter, wife thrown into jail for ‘breaking the law’.
Where was the law when these women needed it most? Why is it only when they reach breaking point that the law steps in? Noone knows if anyone would have stepped in had these women not stood up for themselves. I highly doubt that a police officer and crime expert such as Raymond Sheehan would have served a life sentence had he been the one to pull the trigger.
I can only pray for the thousands of women in domestic abuse, that they get out before it gets to the point where their only escape is by pulling the trigger of a gun. As Sheehan explained in her interview with Oprah, “It should be known that people need to get out of relationships immediately when something [violent] starts,” she says, “Controlling is the first sign of someone that is an abuser…”
As a woman who experienced the terror of a psychologically and verbally abusive father, I feel the pain of these women. I thank God that the decision my dad made ended the violence for us, and that no one in my family ever had to take the action that these women did. Because until you are under that incredible hopelessness and abuse, how can you ever say that you wouldn’t do the same thing in such circumstances?
I lived through a decade where no matter how many years passed, it felt as though I was stuck in a revolving world where time was irrelevant. I understand how these women felt. These women, who crossed the black and white territory that tells us what is right and wrong, who knew that jail would be a freer world than that which they inhabited at that moment, took the only card that was lying in front of them in order to save their families. Many of them are still paying for the atrocities of others, but they have lived to tell their stories.
To me, these women are not monsters. These women, criminal as their acts may be, are survivors.
I should also note than my mum is an incredible woman, and I know she would have done anything she could for us as children.
Look after the women in your life, and if you know of someone who is being hurt let someone who can help know. Anything small or large that we can do is better than nothing.
To read more of Barbara and Stacey’s story, go to: