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Aileen Wuornos: Monstrosity or victim of misogyny?

Wed 26 Oct 2005 In: Television View at NDHA

Next Thursday, TVNZ will screen a documentary on convicted and executed US lesbian serial killer, Aileen Wuornos. Executed in 2002, Wuornos' case has aroused considerable controversy within American feminist and lesbian community circles,given the tragic circumstances of her upbringing. Aileen (Lee) Wuornos was born in 1956. She and her siblings were abandoned by their mother and brought up by their grandparents. Unfortunately, her grandmother, Britta, was a violent and alcoholic disciplinarian, and Aileen ran away from home at fourteen, supporting herself through sex work. She became pregnant, possibly as a result of rape/child sexual abuse, but had to give the child up for adoption, and was arrested on a firearms charge in 1977. Altogether, Wuornos killed at least six male strangers in Florida during 1989/90. She initially claimed that she killed after an initial experience of rape and sodomy, but withdrew these allegations. In one case, she seems to have killed to finance an apartment for herself and her female lover. Her first victim was an electronics shop owner, who had previously been arrested on rape charges, but had been released due to lack of adequate evidence. He also had a history of interpersonal violence. None of Wuornos' other victims had similar prior quasi-criminal backgrounds, however. Some argue that she suffered from a clinical condition known as 'borderline personality disorder.' However, Florida state psychiatrists questioned this assessment, and Governor Jeb Bush signed her execution warrant in 1992. Before Wuornos was executed, in October 2002, she became a cause celebre for some corners of the feminist antiviolence movement. They argued that she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder as a consequence of her childhood experiences of violence and sexual abuse. As one website below notes, there may also have been irregularities about the evidence that convicted her, which led one investigating detective to withdraw fromthe case. Was she the victim of anti-lesbian homophobia and misogyny, and a miscarriage of justice? Wuornos remains a tragic figure, three years after her death. Was she a ruthless man-hating psychopath, or was she driven to do what she did due to her traumatic and dark childhood? As with Monster, Charlize Theron's Academy Award-winning portrayal of her life, thisdocumentarywill re-open debate about this woman's disturbing life and culpability for her crimes. Recommended Reading: Aileen Wuornos Defence Committee: "The Story of Aileen Wuornos:" Stacey Shipley and Bruce Arrigo: The Female Homicide Offender: Serial Murder and the Case of Aileen Wuornos: Upper Saddle River: Pearson: Prentice-Hall: 2003. Craig Young - 26th October 2005    

Credit: Craig Young

First published: Wednesday, 26th October 2005 - 12:00pm

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