The strange case of the knife-welding, penis-chopping wife

The strange case of the knife-welding, penis-chopping wife

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Boys, ever wondered what your better half might do if she discovered you were having an affair?  She’d probably be pretty annoyed.  She might start a fiery row?  Kick you out of the house?   Throw all your belongings into the street?   Or, she might drug you and cut off your penis and throw it in the bin.

It became fashionable for the humiliated Thai wife to sever her husband's penis with a kitchen knife

Photo courtesy of The Guardian, Alamy

At least that’s what one woman from California did.  Of course, we have no idea whether her husband was having an affair, or indeed what the circumstances were around the rather gruesome endeavour.  What we do know is that Catherine Kiew was so incensed with her husband that she drugged his tofu with sleeping pills, before hacking off his penis and throwing it in a kitchen waste disposal unit.  It was suggested by her defence team that her actions were the result of a mental illness, caused by Ms Kiew enduring years of mental abuse, both as a child and an adult.  Ms Kiew has been sentenced to life imprisonment, which in California means she is eligible for parole after seven years.

What would the sentence be if Ms Kiew was convicted in the UK?  Well, she would have probably have been charged with two offences; one for human cruelty, on account of feeding her husband tofu (sorry!), and an offence under s.18 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, or “wounding”, as it’s commonly referred to.  The sentencing guideline for a s.18 offence falls into three categories:

1    Category One: Greater harm and higher culpability;

      Category Two: Greater harm and lower culpability, or lesser harm and higher culpability;

      Category Three: Leesser harm and lower culpability.

Arguably, this particular offence would have fallen into Category One, as there is a significant injury and the victim was more vulnerable as a result of being drugged.  There is also the use of the knife as a weapon, and the fact that the offence was clearly premeditated, which also increases its seriousness.  However, if Ms Kiew was proved to have been suffering from a mental illness at the time of the offence, which was suggested by her defence team, then this will be a factor which lowers her culpability.

A Category One offence has a starting point of 12 years, and a range from 9 to 15 years.  A timely plea of guilty would have granted Ms Kiew a 1/3 discount on her sentence, in which case the starting point would have been in the region of 8 years.  Arguably the Judge may have increased this sentence from the starting point to take into account that, presumably, the damage caused could never be repaired.

This isn’t the first such case to have hit the headlines.  In 1993 a New York couple hit the headlines when Lorena Bobbitt cut off her husband’s penis and threw it in a nearby field.  Fortunately for her husband John, the penis was recovered and sewn back on.  Lorena was found not guilty of all charges, by virtue of insanity, and following a brief 45-day stay in hospital was released.  Even more interestingly, it wasn’t until 2 years later that the couple divorced.  John Bobbitt went on to make his name in a series of porn films, including such popular titles as “John Wayne Bobbitt: Uncut” and “Frankinpenis”.

It’s not only America that has brought us these rather remarkable stories of knife-welding, penis-chopping wives.  One article from the Guardian suggests that in the 1970s there was an endemic of such reports coming from Thailand.  The article explains:

The first great reckoning appeared in a 1983 issue of the American Journal of Surgery. Surgical Management of an Epidemic of Penile Amputations in Siam, by Kasian Bhanganada and four fellow physicians at Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok, introduces the subject: “It became fashionable in the decade after 1970 for the humiliated Thai wife to wait until her [philandering] husband fell asleep so that she could quickly sever his penis with a kitchen knife. A traditional Thai home is elevated on pilings and the windows are open to allow for ventilation. The area under the house is the home of the family pigs, chickens, and ducks. Thus, it is quite usual that an amputated penis is tossed out of an open window, where it may be captured by a duck.”

Let’s hope the duck was hungry.

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Sara is a barrister at Doughty Street Chambers practising in crime.

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