UPDATED FOLLOWING THE DECISION OF THE COURT OF APPEAL TO UPHOLD SENTENCING ON 30 APRIL 2021.
Many people have expressed their shock by the leniency in the case of the killing of Ruth Williams by her husband and the decision of the Court of Appeal to uphold the sentencing.
There is significant concern of the precedent this case could set that allows perpetrators of domestic homicide to be excused for the abusing and killing of women. Domestic homicide is the most serious form of domestic abuse. It is critical that our justice system treats it as such and do not allow the killing of women to be excusable. Domestic abuse, including domestic homicide, is far too common across our society. Between 2009-2018, The Femicide Census recorded 1,425 women murdered by men in the UK, with the actual number likely to be higher. 1 in 3 women experience some form of violence or sexual abuse in their lifetime – in Wales, that equates to around 530,441 women experiencing abuse. In each case there is a perpetrator of that abuse. We must be clear where the culpability lies, domestic homicides are a result of male violence against women and our justice system must ensure it takes all action necessary to hold perpetrators to account.
Welsh Women’s Aid often hears from survivors, who feel that their experiences have not been understood or seen by police, courts as well as others in their community. This can often mean they are denied justice and face barriers to access the support they need. It also means our justice system is failing to hold perpetrators of abuse to account, allowing them to continue their abuse within our communities. It also spreads the message that our communities accept the abuse and killing of women by men.
There has been significant research as well as evidence from domestic homicides reviews that has shown these homicides often follow years of coercive and controlling abuse however it is often the case that there is no recorded history of domestic abuse, as the abuse has gone unseen or unrecognised. Many victim face barriers or feel unable to report. It is vital this is understood by all in our justice system.
If the system was effective of recognising and prosecuting domestic abuse, as well as building greater understand within our communities, we may see greater opportunity for prevention and earlier interventions.
Within the media reporting from court there has been misrepresentation of domestic abuse. Focusing on physical and verbal abuse, not recognising that domestic abuse is a pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour in which one person exerts power over another through means of emotional, psychological, financial and sexual abuse as well as possible physical and verbal abuse. The lack of understanding of coercive control, something that has been recognised as a specific offence since 2015, within the reporting of this case is very concerning.
We have seen an exposure of domestic abuse during the pandemic with increased severity of abuse experienced by callers to our Live Fear Free Helpline. The Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown restrictions cannot be used to justify abuse. We all have a right to live free from abuse.
We would ask of leaders in the justice system and the media:
- Is the justice system ensuring that the Police and Crown Prosecution Service have sufficient understanding of coercive control to identify and bring cases before the court?
- Is it being ensured the judges have a clear understanding of coercive control and can effectively instruct the court (including the jury) so that they understand the case before them?
- Is sufficient action being taken to ensure that myths and stereotypes around domestic abuse do not enable perpetrators of abuse to utilise COVID restrictions as means of excusing their abusive behaviour in court?
- Is sufficient action been taken to ensure that sentencing reflects the severity of abuse – with an understanding of coercive control and how COVID restrictions have enabled the furthering of this abuse?
- Are journalists and media publications ensuring that they clearly do not promote stereotypes and myths about domestic abuse, ensure they do not perpetuate victim blaming attitudes and taking steps to promote awareness of support services to readers?
If you are affected by abuse, or worried about someone, the Live Fear Free helpline is available 24/7, offering free confidential support and advice to survivors and concerned others.
Call: 0808 80 10 800
Text: 078600 77333