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Damaging Myths on Domestic Violence Alive and Well in the UK

Man Who Attacked His Wife Spared Jail After Court Does Not Find Victim ‘Vulnerable’

What does the typical victim of domestic violence look like? Anyone with an ounce of common sense knows those abused by their partners come from all walks of life – just like their attackers.

Women protest at a gathering of the 'One Billion Rising' campaign in central London February 14, 2013. One Billion Rising is a global campaign to call for an end to violence against women and girls.  © 2015 Reuters

But this seems to have escaped the attention of a British judge, who this week gave a man a suspended sentence after being found guilty of horrific domestic violence.

Despite forcing his wife to drink bleach, throttling her in public, and hitting her with a cricket bat, Mustafa Bashir walked from court. The judge reportedly said that because Bashir’s wife, Fakhara Karim, was “an intelligent victim with a network of friends” and a degree, he did not find her “vulnerable,” a conclusion that could have led to a more serious penalty being imposed.

When reporting her case to police, Karim said: “I did fear for my life; he told me he was going to kill me.” But this wasn’t sufficiently serious to warrant a prison sentence for Bashir. Instead he has been ordered to avoid contact with her and take a workshop on “building better relationships”.

Anyone can become a victim of domestic violence. Those who suffer it have just one thing in common: a personal relationship with the individual who became their attacker. Regardless of education, background, or social circle, every victim deserves justice.

The UK government should take the lead here. While Prime Minister Theresa May describes herself as a feminist, her government has still failed to ratify the Istanbul Convention, a ground-breaking treaty which would ensure access to critical services and support for women and girls in the UK who suffer gender-based violence. A draft law that would require the government to set out a timetable for ratifying the Convention is currently being discussed in parliament.

And as this disturbing case shows, while the UK may have strong laws on domestic violence it won’t matter much if judges and others who apply the law don’t grasp the nature and serious consequences of this violence.

After an outcry, the Crown Prosecution Service has said it is looking at the case and the attorney general is being urged to review Bashir’s sentence. It may also be worth looking at the sentencing guidelines used by judges in domestic violence cases, which were written ten years ago.

Whatever happens next, this case should prompt some serious reflection on people’s very real prejudices on domestic violence.

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