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CWJ calls for reforms to end ‘unjust criminalisation’ of DV victims

The Centre for Women’s Justice says there is clear need for changes to the legal system to prevent female victims of violence from being unfairly prosecuted.

In a special report, Double standard: ending the unjust criminalisation of victims of violence against women and girls, the organisation lays out a 20-point action plan with five aims:

  • make effective legal defences available to victims whose alleged offending results from domestic abuse;
  • establish protection and non-penalisation of victims as a national strategic priority for all criminal justice agencies;
  • improve guidance and practice to ensure suspects and defendants who are potential victims of domestic abuse and other forms of VAWG are identified as such as soon as possible and their rights are upheld throughout the criminal justice process, without them being stigmatised;
  • better data collection to improve understanding of the criminalisation of VAWG victims: and
  • expunge or filter out from criminal records crimes committed as a consequence of coercion, abuse and exploitation.

The CWJ says the criminal justice process currently fails to identify suspects and defendants who are victims of abuse; protect and support them; and take proper account of their experience of abuse.

“Training and guidance is needed for all police forces on how to identify the primary aggressor in the event of counter-allegations of use of force,” the report’s authors wrote.

“Where police get it wrong and arrest the true victim, this causes trauma and may have far-reaching impacts on child custody decisions, housing and other aspects of a survivor’s life, even when the case is closed soon after.”

They also commented: “Male perpetrators of domestic abuse may use the criminal justice system as an additional means of exerting power, while for some women, physical retaliation may be part of an attempt to survive their victimisation.”

In response to the report, a Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) spokesperson said: “We are updating our legal guidance, so our prosecutors have the tools to challenge damaging stereotypes and misconceptions and help prevent victims from being further exploited,” the spokesperson was quoted as saying by the Police Professional journal.

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