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5 Ways Domestic Violence Is Downplayed By The Courts

One judge described a woman killed by her partner as having a "yummy mummy complex".

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Sentencing judges should avoid "victim-blaming" language and some have not "adequately recognised or condemned domestic violence abusers", a report from the NSW Domestic Violence Death Review Team has found.

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The Counting Dead Women project estimates 41 Australian women have died due to domestic violence so far this year.

The most recent was 26-year-old Rhonda Baker, who died from head injuries after she was assaulted in Sydney's west by her partner Onitolosi Latu. He has been charged with her murder.

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Here are some of the ways judges in NSW have failed to "adequately reflect the dynamics of domestic violence".

1. Minimising abusive behaviour

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One judge described an abuser's stalking behaviour as him "making a nuisance of himself".

"Use of such language minimises the fear induced by such behaviours and fails to recognise the coercive and controlling dynamics of the abuser’s violence against the domestic violence victim," the report noted.

2. Extending responsibility to the victim

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One judge used "mutualising language", such as describing the relationship as "volatile" or "stormy", in a case where a "domestic violence abuser had a long history of using violence against the victim".

Another judge described a victim's fastidious housekeeping and cleaning - which were in response to her abuser's psychologically controlling behaviours - as her having a "yummy mummy complex".

3. Challenging an abuser's culpability

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A domestic violence abuser was described as being "ill-equipped to deal with the changing relationship with his wife and the fact that she was bringing the relationship to an end" by one judge.

Another described a case as "one of the least culpable cases of manslaughter" in his experience, because the homicide took place after a history of violence between the victim and perpetrator.

4. Offering explanation for the behavior of an abuser

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A domestic violence abuser was described as being in a state of "jealous anger" when he set his girlfriend on fire.

"This language minimises perpetrator accountability and minimises the
abuser’s intentionally harmful behaviours," the report found.

5. Downplaying a history of domestic violence

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Judges repeatedly described relationships as "happy" or "normal" despite "evidence of domestic violence behaviours forming part of the remarks on sentence".

This was particularly evident in cases where the history of domestic violence was anecdotal or primarily non-physical.

Another judge said there was no evidence or "plausible explanation" to indicate why one homicide occurred, even though there was clear evidence the killer - a domestic violence abuser - killed his son in the context of his marriage ending.

Gina Rushton is a breaking news reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.

Contact Gina Rushton at

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