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Wednesday
Sep012010

Judges 'treat violent women differently' (NZ)

A woman's eight-year jail term for murdering her partner reflects the judiciary's lack of understanding towards male victims of domestic violence, a men's rights spokesman says.

Hastings GP Viv Roberts was commenting on Monday's sentencing of Jacqueline Wihongi, 33, in the High Court at Napier.

The mother of six stabbed her partner of 17 years, Vivian Hirini, in the chest with a kitchen knife in June last year.

In sentencing, Justice John Wild said Wihongi had a tragic "history of victimhood" and it would have been "manifestly unjust" to have given her life imprisonment.

The couple had a violent relationship and frequently assaulted each other. Mr Hirini had been stabbed previously by Wihongi and had lost an eye when she hit him with a bottle. The court was shown a ringbinder containing about 500 pages of police reports on domestic callouts involving the couple.

Women's Refuge spokeswoman Kiri Hannifin praised the judge for considering the "appalling violence" Wihongi had suffered.

But Dr Roberts said this was "clearly a case where there has been a lot of violence both ways", which the system had failed to address.

"Men are frequently the victims in domestic violence and, even when they end up dead, the perpetrator of the violence is treated differently if they happen to be female.

"Mr Hirini is not available to tell his side of the story but, if he were, the story he would tell may well paint a different picture to that painted by Ms Wihongi's defence team."

A 2006 report by the Dunedin Multi-Disciplinary Health and Development Study (The Dunedin Study) said there was "a tendency to discount the harm attributed to violence carried out by women ... but the argument of the relative benignity of female violence does not match our data on distress, nor our informal data on severity".

Dr Roberts said police figures on reported incidents were not an accurate picture of the perpetrators as studies had shown men victims reported less than 5 per cent of violence and women about 30 per cent.

A quote from American author Patricia Pearson's book When She Was Bad: How and Why Women Get Away with Murder best summed up his thoughts. "She wrote, 'the denial of women's aggression profoundly undermines our attempt as a culture to understand violence, to trace its causes and quell them'.

"I believe that is the number one reason that a couple like this can have 500 pages of incidents with the police and the violence continues to escalate to the point where someone ends up dead.

"The responsibility for this lack of understanding lies primarily with the judiciary and the law makers, and to me this sentence reflects that lack of understanding," Dr Roberts said.

Wellington police family violence intervention co-ordinator Detective Sergeant Penny Gifford says "it's certainly not unusual" for her unit to deal with male victims of domestic violence.

In the past week the unit had received 30 new files, of which four were male victims of female perpetrators. This might be a little higher than normal, she said.

"We certainly don't treat male victims any differently and it frustrates me when we are accused of that ... We arrest regardless of gender."

The male victims were either partners or the fathers of female perpetrators. "There are not the number of support agencies available to men that there are for women. This is something we would love for someone to take the lead on. It would provide an option for males who wanted to talk to someone, if they did not want to come to police."

At present, men have to find short-term accommodation in hotels or motels. There is no male equivalent to a women's refuge.

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