As a journalist, a gender equality campaigner, and as a training counsellor, I often hear tales of domestic violence recounted by survivors. Most of the time, I am floored by their strength, their courage and their resilience – their will to keep fighting and trusting and caring, despite years of trauma at the hands of someone they were once in love with. For this reason, I find Judge Richard Mansell QC’s skewed perception of women trapped in the cycle of domestic violence as insulting to their hard-fought freedom as it is woefully ignorant.
The judge in question gave cricketer Mustafa Bashir a suspended sentence after he admitted beating his wife Fakhara Karim with a cricket bat. Bashir also made her drink bleach. And yet he did not face jail time because Judge Mansell was reportedly unconvinced as to Karim’s vulnerability. He stated that she was “plainly intelligent”, having a received a 2:1 from university, and also had a network of friends. This, he atoned, “proved” that she wasn’t from the sort of background women who suffer from domestic abuse come from.
It shouldn’t take a law degree to read the statistics and understand that isn’t how domestic violence works. Everyone is vulnerable, indiscriminate of their upbringing, the amount of money they earn, their level of education, social fortune or standing, and none of these factors make the violence any less devastating. It doesn’t even take a wild amount of research to find scores of news articles about famous women who disprove Judge Mansell’s rule. A quick Google will bring up the likes of Ulrika Johnson, Nigella Lawson, Nicole Brown Simpson all as evidence that he is wrong.
Much like Jess Phillips MP – who tweeted today: "My inbox is full of emails from women with PhDs, degrees [and] good jobs telling me of their experiences of rape, violence and coercion" – I struggle to find any similarity other than an experience of violence between the survivors I have interviewed. I felt the hairs prickle up on the back of my neck when one assertive young woman told me recently how she slowly wound up in an abusive relationship. She used to consider herself “one of the tougher ones”.
“It all started very subtly,” she said. “He’d get really angry, not necessarily at anything that I’d done, and he’d crush my hand. He could do that wherever we were and no one would notice.”
A year later, she was seven month’s pregnant with their first child, and her partner came home from a night out and broke her jaw. Unable to drive, she was left wondering the streets with her mouth swinging from its hinges, hitch-hiking to get a lift to see an emergency dentist.
Over that year, he hadn’t just violently attacked her, but slowly taken steps to isolate her from her friends, take control of her finances and cut her off from her family. She had nowhere to go and no one she felt she could turn to.
Another survivor, a successful musician who ran her own record label, detailed how she’d been tricked into staying with a man she thought was her friend. He stole her passport, her money and her identity, and effectively had her living as a slave in his house.
“I can’t explain how terrifying he was,” she told me. “He had a hold on me not just physically, but mentally too. I could not escape.”
A friend of mine, a PhD student, recently told me how her seemingly perfect relationship had soured and turned abusive, leaving her mental health in tatters. Another, an award-winning campaigner, still channels the anger she feels at being throttled, raped and left for dead by her ex into fighting for justice for women facing similar hardships in Britain.
Judge Mansell’s comments further demean survivors by suggesting they suffered from abuse because they were weak in the first place. A strange Darwin-esque, “survival of the fittest” style idea that these women fell prey to abusers because they were prey anyway.
It is victim-blaming language in its purest form: a mindless slight on the power of the women who faced the ultimate betrayal and lived to tell the tale. By failing Fakhara Karim, Judge Mansell fails every single one of us. At the very least, he should pay for his ignorance with his job.