In South Africa, crime statistics for domestic violence, rape and femicide are through the roof. The crime rate for women as perpetrators, on the other hand, is very low. Only approximately 4000 women, a mere 2.6 % of the total prison population, are behind bars.

Some of the women incarcerated in prisons throughout the country are serving lengthy prison sentences for killing their abusive, violent partners in self-defence. There is currently no accurate information* available on what percentage of the women in prison are there for this reason. However, under South African law, killing in self-defence is justified if there is an ongoing or imminent, illegal attack and the self defence is reasonable and proportionate to the attack. If these conditions are met, acquittal or noncustodial sentences should be imposed.

Three women who spoke to the Wits Justice Project (WJP) managed to stay alive by killing their abusive partners. They had a knife on their throats or were being strangled when they killed their violent partner. Lawyers, prosecutors and judges often ignore or misunderstand this context of domestic violence and therefore the women end up serving lengthy prison sentences.

This story was originally published on Wits Justice Project, a Wits Journalism project. Read the full story here