Change the law to make sentencing for domestic violence fit the crime

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Change the law to make sentencing for domestic violence fit the crime

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1:3 women and 1: 6 men will be victims of domestic abuse and violence in their lifetime.

On International Women's Day 2018 on the Isle of Man, a man who committed a very violent and sustained assault on his partner in front of her children was given just a suspended sentence for Common Assault and a fine. Character references and the fact that he is in a managerial position were allowed as "mitigating" factors. Alcohol was listed as an excuse for this behaviour. The Manx public is rightly outraged, and it is time for change.

Rulings like this discourage victims from coming forward and going through the Court process. They send the message to victims that they will not be heard, it makes them feel re-victimised.

If a fine is given  this makes the victim feel, "is that all I am worth? "

Rulings like this send out the wrong message to abusers - that doing this is somehow "ok" - many Manx commentators have noted that possession of cannabis would produce a heavier punishment. 

And using managerial status as a reason for leniency sends out the totally wrong message that men in respected positions are permitted to act in this way. 

The ruling of the Court displayed a totally inadequate understanding of abuse:

The fact that strangulation was involved should have been a major red flag. It is widely recognised that strangulation indicates high risk of domestic homicide. The victim's own level of fear is also an important indicator. She and her children believed this was attempted murder, yet this is not reflected in the sentence. (see the DASH checklist

Cruelty to animals or children are other red flags - also present in this case and not understood or acknowledged by this sentence.

The status, educational level or occupation of the perpetrator of the assault should be irrelevant to the sentence.

It is also irrelevant that this is a "first offence" - that does not make it any less serious, or death any less likely as the outcome.

It is entirely inappropriate that character references are admitted to court in mitigation - an abusive person is usually very charming - of course he can get any number of friends to write that he is a lovely man really and this is "out of character". The abuser may well may be a "lovely" and well-respected person in their public life, but in the home, behind closed doors, they are violent, coercive and frightening. The one does not cancel out or excuse the other. This sort of "mitigation" should simply not be allowed in our courts.

Alcohol is not a cause of domestic violence - it is often, as in this ruling - used as an excuse. This is entirely inappropriate.

The effect on children of witnessing this assault was also not reflected in the sentence. 

The emotional and psychological effect on the victim is also not reflected in the sentence. 

Sadly this is  only the latest case of many to receive similar treatment.

Too many charges are reduced to ABH or Common Assault and dealt with by Magistrates - this in itself sends out a wrong message that these cases are unimportant and low level.

We need to consider that the victim was a woman  - if this same assault had occurred on a male in a public place, would the charges have been the same? Would the sentence have been the same? Why in 2018 is it somehow considered unimportant that a woman can be violently assaulted in her own home? Why do we still have such inequality under the Law?

It is a tragic irony that on the Isle of Man, International Women's Day should be marked by the handing down of a sentence like this. And on an Island that was first to give women the vote! 

In the year of "Me Too" and other similar campaigns worldwide, why is the Isle of Man still handing out sentences that show it to be lagging years behind the times? 

An assault that takes place in the home (which should be your safe place) and is perpetrated by someone you have loved and trusted should be seen as more serious than an assault in a public situation, not less. It is domestic terrorism. The Court acknowledged the betrayal of trust, yet did not reflect that in the sentence.

It is an imbalance that under the Manx system the perpetrator (or his/her advocate) is permitted to speak in mitigation at the end of the proceedings. Yet the victim is not given the same opportunity to give a victim impact statement.

This imbalance adds to the sense of unfairness and not being heard. All too often the comments in mitigation and the character references add to the pain and re-victimisation of the victim.

Too often the Manx Courts allow comments belittling the victim or minimising their injuries and suffering. Those who understand abuse know that mimimalisation, denial and blame are the tools of the abuser. Rarely (if ever) do we see any genuine remorse - what we see and hear are excuses. 

As in this case, comments are allowed about how much the perpetrator has already "suffered" from the ordeal of being arrested and charged - yet while the aggressor gets a Judicial "slap on the wrist" the victim and her children will be living with this for the rest of their lives. 

In the UK Legislation is imminently going to address these inequalities and these outdated, ignorant attitudes. Please ensure that the Isle of Man does the same:

For too long victims have been badly let down by a society that does not talk about this and a legal system that does not tackle it appropriately.

We need laws that make domestic violence an offence. we need laws that cover coercive control. We need Law that has teeth so that cases can go to criminal court not civil, and so be open to more appropriate sentences. If cases are to be tried before magistrates, then magistrates need powers to give sentences that are no longer insulting, painful and entirely inappropriate to the offence.

The use of fines in place of custodial sentences for domestic violence should be abolished. They are no deterrent and they hurt and insult victims.

We need victim impact statements in all Court proceedings, whether Civil or Criminal.

Training in abuse for the Judiciary and Magistrates should be made compulsory so that cases are no longer tried before people who have inadequate understanding of the dynamics of abuse, and so that outdated, stereotyped thinking no longer directs our sentencing.

Please help the voice of the victims - 1:3 of us - to be heard on this Island.

Please listen to the voice of the Manx public - male and female - who are appalled by this sentence and by all sentences like it; by the wrong messages that are being sent by these sentences, and by the revictimisation of victims by the current system.

Let this case be the one that finally results in change. Families need justice. 

Thank you.