One of the most persistent and dangerous myths of domestic violence is that the perpetrators are good men who made ONE bad choice because their wife pushed them too far. It’s a neat little way of excusing male violence and rather unsubtly hinting that the female victims were the problem all along.
My time working within legal aid cases and the legal industry illustrated that even the highest levels of the legal system in the UK (and elsewhere) accept some disturbing myths about domestic abuse.
You can look at sentencing remarks from judges when male offenders were looking at prison time and also in documentation of cases, often which take pains to portray men (who sometimes had committed extremely serious violent acts) as essentially inherently good guys who had gone off the rails ‘just this once’. So I saw this borne out in comments and judgements based around “good work ethic” as attested to “by your employer” or maybe somebody who is a “good community leader.”
Then of course there are some cases where the law seeks to blame the victim, looking at the wife or spouse or girlfriend as the source of the conflict, or that culpability of the man was mitigated because of depression or anxiety caused by the survivor because she separated from him, which I find remarkable and troubling.
Now of course the law gets it right more often than not but only after a relentless number of appeals, through which some women (and even men) sometimes lose hope and just give up on seeking justice. I found the tables turned somewhat when the woman was up for trial having harmed (or in some cases killed) the male.
Unlike the male perpetrators, the judges didn’t bother delving into the women’s social disadvantage or relationships with their fathers. With women, judges preferred to be less social worker, more religious preacher, declaring the wickedness of women e.g. “Your wickedness knew no bounds.”
A recent report that just came out in Australia complements these observations and assertions well. Given the differences in the portrayal of male and female offenders, it’s perhaps unsurprising that female offenders fared worse when it came to sentencing. The researchers note that all five cases involving women were in the top ten highest sentences of the sample, and that female offenders received two of the highest sentences – 36 years and 23 years.
The root causes of domestic violence are buried so deeply into our national psyche that even our judges, the people we pay to be impartial, appear to believe that men kill women for a complex range of psycho-social reasons – and because women bring it on themselves.
The law of course is learning, adapting and is constantly in flux. The best organisations who help domestic abuse survivors work with the leading legal experts and The Sharan Project is no exception.
The SHARAN Project, which is currently run by a growing group of volunteers trained to understand the wide range of harmful practices faced by South Asian women and the barriers they face in seeking help, provides assistance to develop key life skills:
The charity also aims to reduce isolation and provide a voice for those who are unable to speak out.
Through the SHARAN Project, Polly is also leading on developing outreach projects and events to raise awareness and generate debate within communities and part of this entails working with legal experts to help women and men to access justice if their circumstances merit this approach.