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Women! Who! Kill!

A sensationalist television show about women who kill their partners is coming under fire for unfair portrayal of women behind bars.
 
 
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A new show broadcast by Oxygen, the cable television network that caters to a female audience, is coming under strong criticism by people like Andrea Bible, who work for battered women.

"It's shocking that a network that supposedly caters to women would put on something like this," said Bible, project coordinator for San Francisco-based Free Battered Women.

"People need to tell Oxygen that they object to this portrayal ... The vast majority of women in jail across the country are there for defending themselves."

Bible is talking about " Snapped," a half-hour weekly true-crime drama which, according to Oxygen, focuses on women who prove that "there's often something far more sinister to the fairer sex than sugar and spice and everything nice."

The show tells the stories of women who have lost control and murdered their mates or sinisterly planned and executed the killings. It chronicles a different female felon, striving to pinpoint the very moment at which she, well, "snapped" and slayed the man in her life.

Oxygen Media was founded in 1998 and was funded in part by Oprah Winfrey. It launched its TV channel in 2000 and now produces more original programming and delivers the youngest audience of all the women's networks. It is currently available in more than 52 million cable households. It also operates a Web site for women.

Neither Oxygen Media founder Geraldine Laybourne, nor Debbie Beece, the show's program director, responded to calls from Women's eNews to discuss criticism of the show. Before the show began airing, Beece answered questions from The Baltimore Sun about why it was created. "We thought it was interesting to learn what makes these seemingly normal wives snap and commit murder," she was quoted as saying.

Oxygen's communications manager, Mirian Arias, has said the decision to renew "Snapped" for another season will be made in December.

"'Snapped' profiles real life murders committed by women," Arias said in a press statement. "The series in no way glamorizes or celebrates the crimes these women committed. It tells the story of these women through actual interviews and testimony from the people who investigated the crime and the ones who lived through it. Oxygen is owned and operated by women. We do not condone any acts of violence."

Exploiting Fears

Those who want to pull the plug on "Snapped" say it goes out of its way to portray incarcerated women as monsters. They say it makes their work to free battered women more difficult by sensationalizing and distorting the stories.

"Oxygen is so wrong to exploit people's fears about women and it is not an accurate portrayal of women in prison at all. More importantly this should not be the dialogue and focus of intimate partner homicide," said Bible

"This show sensationalizes and at the same time trivializes the serious realities of many women's lives" said Sue Osthoff, director of the Philadelphia-based National Clearinghouse for the Defense of Battered Women. "Did they have a mission to take these complicated issues and slam them into a half-hour show? How can you take someone's life and shove it into a half-hour?"

Bible noted over the past 30 years the number of women who have killed their intimate partners have declined, however the same has not been true for men.

More Women Killed by Intimate Partners

According to a recent report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, female murder victims are substantially more likely than male murder victims to have been killed by an intimate partner. In recent years about one third of female murder victims were killed by an intimate while only 3 percent to 4 percent of male murder victims were killed by an intimate.

The National Clearinghouse for the Defense of Battered Women and Free Battered Women in September began an e-mail, letter, fax and phone campaign to take the show off the air.

"We've sent this out to over 35 groups around the country, mostly national and state domestic violence organizations and we hope to get a good response," Osthoff said. "But it's hard with limited resources."

Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women, said this type of grassroots effort aimed at television can affect programming executives. But more importantly, she says, it alerts the public to the underlying issues.

'Dripping Water on a Stone'

"You wonder if it's like dripping water on a stone, but even that has an impact," Gandy said. "Efforts like this may not get people to take objectionable programs off TV. But we can at least educate women and girls to see things like that and think boy is that stupid and wrong."

"Snapped" is produced by Jupiter Entertainment which also produces A&E's "City Confidential" and Dominick Dunne's "Power, Privilege and Justice" for Court TV. It is hosted by Laura San Giacomo, the star of "Just Shoot Me," a recent popular NBC sitcom. The show uses the same tabloid-style re-enactment footage of "City Confidential" in depicting these women's crimes.

"Let's be honest," goes promotional wording about the show on the Oxygen Web site, "we've all had at least one moment in which we felt as though we could snap. Even if you're in the 'perfect relationship,' chances are, you've probably said (or even just fleetingly thought) 'I'm going to kill my husband!' So what separates those of us who do, from those who don't? Why can some women cope with the everyday – or even not-so-everyday – stresses of married life without ever resorting to violence, while others 'snap' and murder their mates?"

Sandy Kobrin is a Los Angeles based writer who specializes in writing about women's issues and criminal justice.