Norwich Evening News – 06/08/2010
Why domestic violence must be stopped 28 August 2007 09:25 It is estimated that in Norfolk alone, 32,000 people over 16, mainly women but not always, have suffered physical violence at the hands of their partner. However, during the past six months, just 1,950 cases were reported to police.
Police and support agencies want to narrow that gap so that the perpetrators are punished and their victims receive help. Last week’s case involving Dr Stuart Brown, a consultant anaesthetist at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital who was fined £500 for repeatedly punching his wife, made national headlines – in part because of the surprise he was not imprisoned. Dr Brown dragged his wife out of bed and punched her at least 24 times, but Norwich magistrates described him as being of previous “good character” so he was spared a prison sentence and is still employed at the N&N. The sentence outraged many women’s groups and charities and prompted the chief executive of Women’s Aid, Nicola Harwin, to call for much tougher sentencing on those who commit domestic violence. At the same time, another case of abuse was so severe a judge to brand a woman “foolish” for refusing to leave her abusive partner.
Judge Peter Jacobs spoke out at Norwich Crown after Kerry Bice, 28, vowed to stay with Dale Bradfield even though he subjected her to repeated attacks and was imprisoned for 18 months for common assault. Campaigners claimed both cases highlight the fact that in the courts there is still work to be done to ensure perpetrators of such crimes are dealt with robustly. Domestic violence support groups reiterated their plea to victims, as well as those behind such abuse, to seek help.
Many are concerned offenders are still walking free from court with a fine or suspended sentence, deterring others from reporting abuse. But they say this shouldn’t be the case, because in Norfolk a support network has been put in place to ensure sufferers of domestic violence are safe to report it. Dawn’s New Horizon was set up by a Norwich woman who was beaten and raped by her husband for more than a decade before she found the strength to leave him.
She established the helpline to offer support to women in the same position. Dawn believes more women are coming forward to report abuse, but the punishments are not strong enough. “People are definitely talking about domestic violence more and women are getting more strength in reporting it,” she said. “But the punishments are still not that severe. Imagine what it is like for a woman to pluck up the courage to report a case to the police, to go through the courts and have all her details in the public eye, only for the attacker to walk free. This is happening too often. Other men need to know they cannot get away with it and if they see a man walking away with a fine it is like a green light for them to keep getting away with committing violence. “People need to be strong and keep reporting what is going on and things will get better. This is what I hope and believe.” Norfolk Crown Prosecution Service recently set up a domestic violence court in Norwich to improve the conviction rate.
The pioneering court sessions at Norwich aim to make it easier for victims to seek justice by fast tracking such cases and removing the risk of intimidation by their partners. It has already been praised for empowering hundreds of women to speak out. In the three months the unit has been set up it has cut the length of time it takes to deal with cases from 17 weeks to nine. Norfolk chief constable Ian McPherson said: “Our officers will do all they can to give victims as much support as possible and to bring those people who do offend to account. “It is important to remember that attacks are not just men on women; they can also be women on men and can occur in same-sex relationships. Help and support is available. Please do not suffer in silence.”
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