23 Dec 2015

Sentences shortened in Pacific courts due to gender bias

6:12 am on 23 December 2015

A new regional study shows most people convicted for domestic violence have been given reduced sentences after courts took into account factors like myths about rape and traditional forgiveness ceremonies.

The International Centre for Advocates Against Discrimination says its analysis of hundreds of sexual and gender-based violence cases in seven Pacific island countries provides crucial evidence that women are not accessing justice on an equal basis with men.

A human rights lawyer who has been involved with the study, Emily Christie, says in 90 percent of domestic violence cases gender-discriminatory attitudes were present and perpetrators had their sentences shortened by an average of two years.

Ms Christie says it's not just the judges who are to blame.

"It's judges but it's also perpetrators and defenders, prosecutors and even the victims themselves. What we're seeing in the courts is actually a microcosm of attitudes that are held generally within society."

The researchers analysed 908 sentencing records involving sexual and gender-based violence in Fiji, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, PNG, Kiribati and Vanuatu.

Each case was analysed to determine whether gender stereotypes, customary reconcilation or other discriminatory factors were considered during sentencing.

Such factors were raised in three quarters of the cases analysed and led to an actual reduction in sentence in 52% of cases.

The study found after such factors were considered, average final sentences for domestic violence cases were reduced from 2.43 years to 0.98 years and for sexual assault cases from 8.71 years to 5.19 years.

The report argues gender bias in the courts must be tackled through a combination of education, law reform and monitoring.