New study says culture and tradition impeding justice
A new regional study shows most people convicted for domestic violence have been given reduced sentences after courts took into account factors like myths about rape and traditional forgiveness ceremonies.
A new regional study shows traditional attitudes and practices are leading to reduced sentences for people convicted of domestic violence and sexual assault crimes.
The International Centre for Advocates Against Discrimination says its analysis of hundreds of sexual and gender-based violence cases in seven Pacific island countries provides crucial evidence that women are not accessing justice on an equal basis with men.
A human rights lawyer who has been involved with the study, Emily Christie, told Sally Round it’s not just the judges who are to blame.
EMILY CHRISTIE: We wanted to see whether or not issues around women as being virgins and pure, men being the breadwinners, the concept of “loose women” etc were somehow preventing sentences from being what they should be. What we found was that in around about 90 percent of domestic violence cases, gender discriminatory concepts were present and they actually affected the sentencing outcome in around about 73 percent of cases. For sexual assault cases they actually affected the outcome in 50 percent, so what we’re seeing is that gender discrimination is affecting over 50 percent of sexual and gender-based violence cases in the Pacific islands.
SALLY ROUND: What sort of sentencing reductions were perpetrators of domestic violence and sexual assault getting?
EC: We found that where gender discriminatory attitudes were present, the sentence was often two to three years less than if those attitudes were not present so we’re looking at a significant reduction in sentence when you look at the fact that sentences start at around eight years for sexual assault and they start at around two years or one year for domestic violence.
SR: Are you saying it’s the judges, it’s those who are making the decisions, that have these attitudes?
EC: It’s judges but it’s also perpetrators and defenders, prosecutors and even the victims themselves. What we’re seeing in the courts is actually a microcosm of attitudes that are held generally within society. There have been studies in the Pacific to show that women in domestically violent relationships believe that their husband is sometimes justified in beating them up. They found that around seventy percent of women in some countries in the Pacific actually hold that belief. So it’s a matter of not just having to educate judges but to educate everyone around them as well.
SR: How influential were customary – traditional – practices on these sentencing decisions?
EC: We looked at customary reconciliation and that takes a number of different formats including a ceremony between the two villages or it could be between the two families or in some cases it may be between the perpetrator and the victim. There’s no guarantee that the victim will necessarily be part of the process or that they’ll feel free to actually reject any reconciliation that is offered to them. When we looked at the numbers we found that in of the cases reviewed around about 20 percent of cases had customary reconciliation as the sole reason for the reduction of any of the discrimination that we looked at so it is still having an effect and what was interesting was that we found that the judges had very different ways of approaching customary reconciliation. Some judges would only accept customary reconciliation if the victim was part of the process and some judges refused to accept it if the victim was a child and we did find that around about 40 percent of the victims were under 15 so that’s quite a big deal. The issue is that even where the victim is part of the process, because you’re looking at close-knit communities and families there’s often a lot of pressure on the victim to accept any compensation that is offered so her position within it is a position of disempowerment and she’s never really provided with any real remedy or access to justice on an equal basis with others.