Plenty More Fish in the Sea for Abusers

A clueless judge and a joke of a sentence.

Photo by MMPR on Unsplash

It seems like every time a domestic abuse case is in the news, someone working within the criminal justice system says or does something appalling. This time, a dinosaur of a judge told the defendant that there’s “lots more fishes in the sea”, gave him a non-custodial sentence, and believed the defendant’s claim that he was only physically and psychologically abusive because of all the cocaine and booze he’d been doing. It’s so unbelievably wrong on every level that you could think I made it up. But I didn’t.

It’s as though the victim didn’t matter, and as we’ve seen from case after case, she probably didn’t — survivors of domestic abuse rarely get justice, and courts sympathise with abusers. The woman was subjected to interrogations, cyberstalking, sleep deprivation, biting, hitting, being trampled on, and attempts to snap her fingers. Imagine how she must have felt in the courtroom when the judge spoke so flippantly and gave a non-punishment because of the perpetrator’s career prospects and his promise to stay off the drugs and alcohol.

As I’ve written before, drugs and alcohol are not causes of domestic abuse; they are excuses. And abusers have got a lot of people convinced, including judges, barristers and police officers. The only factor that links all cases of domestic abuse is the perpetrator’s belief it is their right to control their partner. That belief comes from our patriarchal society which imposes accepted gender norms and beliefs about the relative worth of different genders.

The sentencing remarks and the light punishment show how (un)seriously our society takes the crime of domestic abuse. We need to actively call it what it is — a crime — and treat it with the disgust and horror it deserves. In spite of well-intentioned attempts to educate those working with perpetrators and victims; people at all levels of the criminal justice system, and within society generally, hold outdated and toxic beliefs about relationship abuse. It’s not enough to send a law practitioner on a domestic abuse course; we need this conversation happening throughout society, so that it is instilled as a fundamental moral issue. We have to rid our culture of the idea that “it’s only a domestic”, or that behind closed doors the law has no remit.

The verdict and sentence are framed as an inconvenience to the perpetrator, as if his victim’s complaint simply got in the way of him living the life he was entitled to. The judge said that “everyone is entitled to a second chance”, but that only seems to apply to abusers, who also get third, fourth, unlimited chances. What about the victim’s chance to live a normal and happy life? Even if they’re not blamed and shamed themselves for the crime committed against them, victims still have to deal with the effects of abuse and rebuilding their lives — lives that should not have been disrupted in the first place.

Our entire attitude about men’s and women’s value and rights needs to change. We still prioritise men’s existence over women’s, something that is easily demonstrated by the numerous occasions that men’s comfort, lifestyle and liberty has mattered more than respect and justice for women. We offhandedly consider the impact on a man’s life should he be punished for some wrongdoing, failing to accept that there should be some detriment to his life if he causes harm.

And then, we must also accept that harm done to women is real harm. It’s not something that can be just brushed off, or the price paid simply for being female. For too long, the conversation has been centered on the impact on men, the ones causing most of the harm, when it is those who are harmed that need our support and acceptance. We believe and make excuses for male perpetrators because they are the ones that our society has always trusted, while simultaneously believing that women are manipulative liars who must have deserved whatever was done to them.

We’re still struggling, in 2019, to see women’s lives as whole and of the same value as men’s. When women are hurt and abused, our priority is to ensure that any nearby men aren’t blamed for it, and if possible that the severity of the offence is minimised out of existence. In this example, the perpetrator was encouraged by the judge to just go back out into the world and have another relationship, with no regard for what pain he might inflict upon other women. We have our priorities all wrong; victims are held accountable while abusers are let off. Instead of accommodating abusers’ needs, how about we consider the victims for once? And maybe we could try to deter these criminals from reoffending, instead of shrugging our shoulders and giving them endless chances to never actually change their behaviour.