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The Myths and Truths of Women Who Commit Violence

by Anna Motz

Pub Date: Feb. 6th, 2024
ISBN: 9780593534151
Publisher: Knopf

A forensic psychotherapist offers a series of moving case studies of female offenders.

Motz, the author of Toxic Couples and The Psychology of Female Violence, has dedicated much of her 30-year career to “working with women who commit unspeakable acts of cruelty and abuse.” While these offenders make up a small percentage of incarcerated people, the author notes that this type of crime “often goes underground, occurring in the private and domestic realm in ways that may never come to light.” Motz devotes a chapter to each patient, holding these pathologies up to the light, such that they may be “better understood” and “opportunities for rehabilitation” can be reclaimed. She begins with Mary, a 45-year-old woman who spent half her life “detained in a secure hospital” after she set fire to her apartment upon losing custody of her infant. Mary self-harmed by burning herself, the “surest indicator of rage and a deep need for care that persisted beneath [her] inert exterior.” Motz details the “cautious, painstaking,” years-long therapeutic work that eventually allowed for Mary’s release into the community. The first third of the book covers women who harm themselves; the second, women who harm their children; and the last section discusses those who commit violence against other adults. Motz meticulously chronicles how she came to learn that for these women, “intensely difficult life experiences,” often including childhood abuse, were the context in which “violent or unstable behavior” manifested. One patient, Amber, a perpetrator of sexual offenses against children, including her own daughter, had been groomed and abused by a relative as a child. Though these crimes have likely generated tabloid headlines, Motz maintains an eloquent, scholarly, and compassionate approach to her patients, even when their actions are beyond the pale.

A well-considered and sobering look at the psychology of women who commit violent crimes.