Yesterday a 37 year old Sudanese born mother Akon Guode was convicted of killing three of her children and attempting to murder another by driving her car into a Wyndham Vale lake two years ago. She was sentenced to a total of 26 and a half years in jail with a non-parole period of 20 years. It is a particularly heinous act to murder your own children, no matter what the circumstances.
In the sentencing, it appeared the judge took into account her bad mental state. He considered the fact that she was a survivor of the civil war in South Sudan, suffered post-traumatic stress and had symptoms of depression, but the judge noted he didn’t know exactly why she chose to drive the car into the lake. But Justice Lex Lasry stated that “In my opinion, your actions were the product of extreme desperation, rather than any form of vengeance.” It wasn’t just the judge in this case that took a sympathetic position with the mother with prosecutors themselves deciding not to seek a life sentence.
Her supposed mental health should not be used an excuse to be lenient on her. This is because there are plenty of men and women who would have had the same life experiences and/or mental health problems but have not resorted to murdering their own children. Three innocent children have had their lives unjustly taken away from them, they are the real victims here.
But there is another aspect to this sentence that is worth exploring, was this sentence an example of female privilege? Part of the concept of female privilege involves the fact that women receive a lesser sentence than men for the exact same crime. In the case of Akon Guode we actually have an exact identical murder case where the perpetrator was a man to compare it to.
Robert Farquharson also drove his car into a lake which killed his three children in 2005. His defense was that he suffered a coughing fit while driving and that resulted in the drowning of his children, this was not believed by a jury who convicted him of murder. The judge in the case, who also happened to be Justice Lex Lasry, sentenced him to life imprisonment with a non-parole period of 33 years. So you have almost identical cases, the same judge yet the woman received a much lighter sentence than the man. How can this not be female privilege?
Men and women are also treated differently in the court of public opinion for the exact same crime. Arthur Freeman in 2009 in an horrific act threw his daughter Darcey Freeman off the Westgate Bridge to her death. In response to this act the public was rightly angered and many Facebook pages called for the death penalty to be reintroduced to punish such heinous crimes, he was eventually convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
A simular murder was carried out by a mother Sofina Nikat in 2016 who smothered her daughter Sanaya Sahib yet told the media her daughter was kidnapped by an African man. The media was at pains to point out her fragile mental state even though she had murdered her child.
This is another common theme in the different treatment of male and female murderers. If a man murders a child they are an evil person, but if a woman commits the same crime it must be because of their fragile mental state and they could not possibly be capable with a sound mind of committing such an evil act, even though both acts still took a life. A murder is a murder, isn’t it? In this era, we are supposed to be gender blind yet when it comes to serving justice for the most horrific acts in our society, these cases treat men and women differently for the same acts of evil.
Dare I say that in both of the comparison cases I have described the male murderers were both white and the women were both people of colour. Could this also suggest that we are treating murderers differently because of their racial and cultural background as well?
We should not excuse murder, especially of young children who have had so much life potential ripped away from them. Mental health should not be an excuse as many mental health sufferers do not commit such acts or are on the verge of such acts. Nor should we believe that just because a murderer is woman she is no more evil than a man who commits the same act. If we believe in gender equality and do not want anyone to be privileged in society we should treat male and female murders exactly the same in the court of public opinion and in our justice system.