Kilty 2007 Woman

Title Information

Authors: Jennifer M. Kilty and Sylvie Frigon

Title: Karla Homolka—From a Woman in Danger to a Dangerous Woman

Subtitle: Chronicling the Shifts

Journal: Women & Criminal Justice

Volume: 17

Issue: 4

Year: 2007

Pages: 37-61

ISSN: 0897-4454 – Find a Library: WordCat | eISSN: 1541-0323 – Find a Library: WordCat


Keywords: 20th Century | Canadian History | Cases: Offenders / Karla Homolka; Offenders: Couples, Women; Types: Serial Rape

Full Text

Link: Taylor & Francis Online [Restricted Access]

Additional Information


Jennifer Kilty, Department of Criminology, University of Ottawa

Sylvie Frigon, Department of Criminology, University of Ottawa


»In Canada in 1993, Karla Homolka was convicted of two counts of manslaughter in an Ontario court after entering into a plea bargain, which led to a reduced charge and sentence in return for her testimony against her husband, Paul Bernardo. Following her highly publicized trial, Karla Homolka was sentenced to twelve years in prison. Two years later, Paul Bernardo was declared a dangerous offender and was condemned to life imprisonment, for the murders of Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French. Karla Homolka was initially presented as a battered woman fearing for her life; however, this construction changed during the legal proceedings. This article examines the dichotomous construction of endangerment and dangerousness as applied to the socio-legal construction of Karla Homolka. Three data sources were used: the trial transcripts from Karla Homolka's plea agreement, Homolka's examination In Chief, cross-examination, and re-examination at Paul Bernardo's trial, and the Report to the Attorney General of Ontario on Certain Matters Relating to Karla Homolka. Homolka has been portrayed as representative of both the mythical depiction of the overtly dangerous and/or violent woman and as a woman in danger. This dichotomy of in danger and dangerous, modulates our understanding of Homolka, and ultimately lends to the creation of an even more extreme characterization, that of the sexually violent female predator. This article chronicles the evolution of our understanding of Homolka as a woman in danger and as a figure of dangerousness.« [Source: Women & Criminal Justice]

»Throughout the trial, Karla Homolka was constructed as a dangerous woman and a woman in danger. The author argues that Homolka’s endangerment directly impacted the choices available to her, and thus partially mitigated her agency. However, when videotapes were entered into evidence that showed a smiling Karla and not the scared, abused Karla, the self-construction of victim dwindled. Through the participation of the crimes, Karla not only transgressed the social norms of accepted femininity but she also violated laws and human moral values. Karla highlights the new paradox of the sexually violent female predator. It appears that women who participate in violent crimes are more negatively typified, given that they are so far removed from the nurturing motherly role. In addition, most of the criminological literature has either ignored women or been stereotypical when it comes to the crimes committed by women. It should be noted that while women make up between 2 and 5 percent of the federally sentenced population in Canada, they are charged with between 10 and 12 percent of all violent crimes. The current literature has ignored analyzing the reasons why women commit violent crimes. The three data sources used were: (1) the trial transcript from Karla’s plea agreement; (2) Homolka’s examination in chief, cross-examination and the re-examination at Paul Bernardo’s trial; and (3) the report to the Attorney General of Ontario on Certain Matters Relating to Karla Homolka.« [Source: NCRJS Abstracts Database]

Wikipedia: Karla Homolka

Added: February 8, 2014 | Last updated: February 8, 2014