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VulnerabilityNew Essays in Ethics and Feminist Philosophy$
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Catriona Mackenzie, Wendy Rogers, and Susan Dodds

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199316649

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199316649.001.0001

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Moral Responsibility for Coerced Wrongdoing

Moral Responsibility for Coerced Wrongdoing

The Case of Abused Women Who “Fail to Protect” Their Children1

(p.222) 9 Moral Responsibility for Coerced Wrongdoing

Marilyn Friedman

Oxford University Press

Women in abusive relationships are highly vulnerable to coercion by their abusers in a variety of ways. This essay explores one way in which abusive relationships may compromise the moral agency of an abused woman in cases where the same man who is abusing the woman is also abusing children in her care. Courts have sometimes charged such women with "failure to protect" their children from this abuse. This essay considers three ways of assessing whether or not the women have diminished responsibility for the abuse inflicted on the children: justification, exemption, and excuse. It argues that although the women’s actions are not typically justified and the women are not typically exempt from moral responsibility altogether, nevertheless the women should usually be understood as excused for failing to protect their children from abuse because of the difficulty of resisting the abuser’s threat of further harm.

Keywords:   vulnerability, abuse, moral agency, failure to protect, moral responsibility

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