Stereotypes reducing sentences for gender violence in Pacific courts
By Sienna Lake
A report released late last year from the International Centre for Advocates Against Discrimination (ICAAD), a US legal NGO, outlines the significant obstacles to justice faced by survivors of sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) in Pacific courts.
The report, ‘An Analysis of Judicial Sentencing Practices in SGBV Cases in the Pacific Island Region‘ [pdf], was released in December and examined 908 sentencing records of sexual assault and domestic violence cases from Fiji, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Papua New Guinea, Kiribati and Vanuatu.
The report analysed the judicially sanctioned acceptance of ‘contentious factors’ raised by the defendant during court cases as a means of reducing sentence length for perpetrators of SGBV.
These ‘contentious factors’—defined by the report as those which, when used in determining culpability by the court, discriminate against survivors on the basis of gender—included whether the perpetrator was the ‘bread-winner’ for their family, alleged ‘provocation’ by the survivor, and participation in customary reconciliation ceremonies.
The application of these contentious factors, raised in 75 percent of cases examined by the report, was used by the judge to justify a sentence reduction in just over half of cases.
The report finds the ‘bread-winner’ argument most problematic, especially in domestic violence cases. When a man’s role as a provider for the family is considered, the focus shifts from achieving justice for the survivor to ensuring the perpetrator’s family is not punished for their actions. Courts also often fail to acknowledge the potential danger to the family if the perpetrator were to return.
The bread-winner argument was successfully argued in 26 percent of cases examined, but the number was as high as 39 percent if the bread-winner argument was raised in tandem with other contentious factors. (The perception that women depend on their partners for socioeconomic reasons was also found to impede their access to justice in …read more