Road-mapping the Contradictions Around Premenstrual Syndrome: A Medico-legal Quandary

Published date01 October 2020
Date01 October 2020
Subject MatterArticles
Road-mapping the
Contradictions Around
Syndrome: A Medico-
legal Quandary
Upma Gautam1 and Sonali Sharma1
Even though the term premenstrual syndrome has entered the common
lexicon, yet it still remains a Gordian knot that needs to be untangled by
not only the medical profession but also the legal profession. Resolving this
conundrum requires a balancing of the dichotomy between ‘medicalizing’
women’s lives and a need to affirm women’s experiences. There exist several
legal impediments while presenting evidence of this syndrome for diminish-
ing the responsibility of a woman in a criminal trial. The present research
is undertaken with an aim to determine the relationship between female
criminality and premenstrual syndrome. The research further examines the
credibility of utilizing the evidence of premenstrual syndrome to excuse a
woman from criminal responsibility during a trial. This article is a step in the
direction of pushing the envelope for spurring a holistic development of law,
which is inclusive of the specific needs of women.
Female criminality, premenstrual syndrome, insanity, criminal responsibility
Journal of Victimology
and Victim Justice
3(2) 219–236, 2020
2021 National Law
Universit y Delhi
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/2516606921994030
1 University School of Law and Legal Studies, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, Delhi,
Corresponding author:
Sonali Sharma, University School of Law and Legal Studies, Block C, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha
University, Sector 16-C, Dwarka, New Delhi 110078, India.
220 Journal of Victimology and Victim Justice 3(2)
Time and again the debate around female criminality has garnered the interest of
several theories including biological, sociological as well as psychological.
Females were generally regarded as passive and a violent woman was considered
as unnatural. They were not considered as ‘bad’ rather they were thought to be
either ‘sick’ or ‘mad’.1 As time passed female criminality was associated with
premenstrual syndrome howbeit, this association is not free from its fair share of
detractors. The dispute surrounding premenstrual syndrome has boggled the mind
of researchers through ages. The arguments around its symptoms have been a
topic of heated debate amongst the medical professionals. Similarly, the point of
discussion that has been bothering the legal fraternity is whether evidence of
premenstrual syndrome can be admitted in a criminal trial and if so, then to what
extent can it exculpate a woman from her criminal responsibility. It is claimed that
the evidence of premenstrual syndrome if accepted to grant a plea of insanity will
protect the women who have committed the act, which was not in their control.
On the other hand, it has been argued that if the premenstrual syndrome is admitted
in the court of law then it could lead to stigmatization and a general bias that
women are not liable for their criminal act because of their hormones.2 This article
will bring in a meeting point between these two arguments and propose a
discussion to bring forth the fact that the law as it stands does not incorporate a
female’s perspective while dealing with situations.
Premenstrual Syndrome: Opening the Pandora’s Box
The term mental health determines not only an absence of mental disorder but
also outline a level of cognitive abilities as well as emotional well-being. Mental
disorder can be identified as a behavioural pattern, which results in any disability
or distress which is not a manifestation of normal development or culture of any
individual. The variation in mental disorder is reflected through gender as well.
From an analysis of mental health indices, one can fairly observe a significant
deviation in the pattern of psychological disorder that affects men and women.
Across the globe, it has been seen that signs of common mental disorders such as
anxiety, somatic disorders, depression and distress are more common amongst
females withal, males show a higher percentage in addictions and psychopathic
personality disorders.3 The reason behind this variation is more than often placed
on the hormonal factors, which are related to the reproductive system of women.4
1 P.L. Easteal, Women and Crime: Premenstrual Issues, 31 Trends Issues CrIme CrIm. JusTICe, 1–3
2 B. McSherry, Premenstrual Syndrome and Criminal Responsibility, 1(2) PsyChIaTry PsyChol. law
139–151 (1994).
3 Department of Mental Health and Substance Dependence, Gender Disparities in Mental Health,
world healTh organIzaTIon.
4 B.L. Parry, Hormonal Basis of Mood Disorders in Women, In gender and ITs effeCTs on
PsyChoPaThology 61–84 (E. Frank ed., 2000).

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