It hasn't been widely reported on the news, but by last Saturday (14th Jan) ten women and girls had been murdered since 2012 began as a result of domestic abuse. That's one for every working day, and higher than the average 2 women a week. Of course this isn't particularly surprising when recently published stats have found that 47% of women homicide victims are murdered as a result of domestic abuse (http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/science-research-statistics/research-statistics/crime-research/hosb0212/hosb0212?view=Binary).
What did surprise me though was an article on the BBC News website that Coventry Rape Crisis directed me to, reporting that Jon-Jacques Clinton, who murdered his wife in 2010 after she left him and began a new relationship, is to have his conviction quashed on the grounds that his actions were provoked by her infidelity. He is now facing a re-trial.
Clinton used a 'loss of control' defence when he was tried for murdering his wife who died from head injuries and asphyxia. Previously, sexual infidelity was not allowed under the 'loss of control' defence, however the Court of Appeal who have examined the Coroners and Justice Act of 2009 has now decided that it can now can be, when used alongside other factors. This has led to the quashing of Clinton's murder conviction, and may result in him being found guilty of manslaughter rather than murder (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-berkshire-16595756).
This sets a very worrying precedent.
The judge who has allowed the appeal is quoted as saying:
"Experience over many generations has shown that sexual infidelity has the capacity to create a highly emotional situation or to exacerbate a fraught situation, and to produce a completely unpredictable, and sometimes violent response". (http://blogs.news.sky.com/boultonandco/Post:620ad9dd-5e08-47c7-b36b-5d77fccf836d)
One understands that discovering partner infidelity causes emotional upset. But there is a big leap from feeling upset, to then having a violent response, to then beating your wife to death.
An aspect of this case that I find interesting is that Clinton discovered his wife's affair by hacking into her Facebook account. Having had experiences of friends' partners who have behaved this way, I believe serious questions need to be asked about controlling behaviour and emotional violence, even stalking, in relation to this case. In my experience, men who break into social media and email accounts of their current or ex partners are usually perpetrators of emotional, if not also physical, abuse. Of course, I don't know enough about this individual case to say whether violence existed in the relationship before the murder, but I do believe that hacking into a partner's account (especially after she has left you) needs to be examined and questioned more in regards to potential controlling and violent behaviour.
Anyway, back to the main issue at hand. I believe that we absolutely cannot allow sexual infidelity to serve as a mitigator for murder. Why? Well for many reasons. But the first is because it unconditionally and dangerously shifts the blame for the murder from the perpetrator, and on to the victim. It places the blame for the murder firmly on the woman. It says that if she had stayed with her husband or boyfriend, if she had not gone and left him and had sex with another man, then she would be alive today. It refuses to acknowledge the role that the perpetrator has played in the murder, and explicitly places responsibility for the violence on the women's head. It also risks ignoreing other causes of the murder, such as a history of violence, threats, stalking and controlling behaviour.
Unfortunately, culturally this attitude and decision fits. We already have a huge issue with victim blaming in our society when it comes to murdered women and violence against women. From the Ipswich murders when Richard Littlejohn blamed the women for being killed because they worked as prostitutes; to women being blamed for violence if they are drunk or walking home alone; women being blamed for 'staying' with a violent partner; women being blamed for leaving a violent partner; women being blamed for burning the dinner (http://www.theweek.co.uk/12725/18-months-tv-man-who-killed-wife-over-burnt-roast - he got 18 months); women being blamed for 'nagging' (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/491083.stm - he got 6 years); women being blamed for leaving their partners or for infidelity. Even the way we talk about domestic abuse murders gives away how often and fully we attempt to absolve the perpetrators - from the examples above to that famous phrase 'crime of passion'. This phrase immediately evokes sympathy for the killer, suggesting that the murderer is some kind of tragic hero (Othello? Heathcliffe*?), broken hearted and howling in the wind, a man who 'loves' his wife so much he can't bear to see anyone else have her.
As opposed to a violent, controlling man who murders a woman.
And it is this victim blaming, coupled with its absolving of the perpetrator, that results in ridiculous sentencing where a man who murders his wife "because she burns his dinner" gets 18 months for manslaughter. Where a man who murders his wife "because she's a nag" gets six years. And where a man who murders his wife "because she had sex with someone else" is facing a retrial for manslaughter, because, after all, if she hadn't had sex with someone else, why then, as the Judge suggests, he wouldn't have been forced into a fraught emotional situation and 'lost control', committing the crime.
The reason I have put those excuses in speech marks is because they are just that, excuses, and excuses that don't stand up to scrutiny. None of those actions justifies the loss of a woman's (anyone's) life. None of it justifies her family and friends losing a sister, mother, daughter, friend. And none of them should be used to mitigate the actions of a perpetrator so that their victims are denied justice.
If the Court of Appeal allow sexual infidelity to be used as a provocation for loss of control in this case, then it has huge implications for domestic murder cases in the future, as well as historically. It may well have implications for the 10 murders that happened in the first two weeks of this year. It will sanction victim blaming in the courtroom. It will be a step backwards, arguing that women are at fault for the violence committed against them, that men are the 'victims' of women's 'bad' behaviour. And that's even before you get on to issues around shaming women's sexuality and how it's pretty insulting to men to argue that violence leading to murder is a 'normal' response to sexual infidelity.
The Court of Appeal disallowed another man's case where he murdered his wife "over a row about a cup of tea". That is still not seen as provocation. But when we take this first step backwards, where will it eventually lead?
Yvette Cooper, the Shadow Home Secretary, has spoken out against the ruling, saying:
"A partner’s affair can no longer be treated by the courts as provocation, nor can it be a defensible reason to lose control and commit a terrible violent act.
“The Clinton judgement therefore raises a number of significant concerns and the Home Secretary needs to urgently review the details of the ruling to consider whether it changes the intention of Parliament or undermines justice for victims. If so, she needs to report back swiftly to Parliament so we can determine whether the legislation needs to be strengthened instead." (http://womensgrid.freecharity.org.uk/?p=8967)
I hope that Theresa May heeds this warning, and holds true to her 'promise' that justice for victims of male violence is a government priority. Otherwise we will see the clock begin to turn back on justice for victims of domestic abuse murder, when already the situation as it stands is pretty damn poor. We must fight back against laws that seek to enshrine victim blaming, whilst absolving the deliberate violent actions of some men.
*I know Heathcliffe didn't murder anyone FYI (except Isabella's dog) but the example still fits as a violent man defended by 'passion' and 'heartache'.