Lawyers and judges who deal with domestic violence often use minimising or “victim blaming” language, an Australian government committee has claimed.
The New South Wales Domestic Violence Death Review Team made the remarks in a new report. The Team was set up 2010 to examine cases where someone had died as a result of domestic abuse. They publish annual reports which detail how these cases were handled and give recommendations for how the courts can better protect victims.
In the latest set of cases examined, legal professionals used phrases like “volatile” or “stormy” to describe relationships in which one partner consistently abused the other. One example given was a man who set his girlfriend on fire in what judicial staff described was an expression of “jealous anger”.
Language like this was “evident in a number of cases, and served to minimise perpetrator accountability for violent behaviours”, the Team insisted.
But physical violence was not the only way in which people abused their partners. Some of the cases the report cited had “no history of physical violence” yet abusers “exercised almost total control over all aspects of their [victims’] lives”. Some of the lawyers and judges involved in these cases did not appear to appreciate the severity of this kind of abuse, the Team claimed. One example of this was a victim who was described as having a “yummy mummy complex” because of the way she reacted to her partner’s control.
This kind of language from those in the legal profession “reinforces perceptions that domestic violence may be synonymous with physically abusive behaviours”, which could lead many to discount the experiences of those who have suffered from “coercion and control” the report read.
Last year, the Australian National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety and the charity Our Watch published a joint report which suggested that the media sensationalises domestic violence cases when they are reported. Overall, the media presents a “provocative but not representative” view of the problem, the two groups claimed.