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in brief: domestic violence victims reluctant to give evidence due to mandatory sentencing

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Perpetrators of domestic violence deserve punishment for their crimes. In proposed mandatory sentencing laws, anybody found guilty of domestic abuse will be given a minimum two years in jail. However, women’s services and lawyers claim these changes may cause victims to become reluctant to give evidence, resulting in a decline in the number of people convicted.

President of the NSW Bar association, Phillip Boulten, believes that women are reluctant to take part in prosecutions for both emotional and economic reasons. ‘If they thought their breadwinner was going to be in prison for two years they would pause before saying anything to anybody about their plight,’ he said.

Mr Boulten said that police have become far more proactive about charging people with domestic violence in the past ten years. ‘If mandatory sentencing, which was designed to reduce the level of drunken street violence, results in less action being taken against domestic violence offenders, this is another unforseen consequence of mandatory sentencing.’

Karen Willis, executive officer for Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia, expressed her opposition towards mandatory sentencing. She believes it is ‘the role of the courts to look at the circumstances of each case and make appropriate decisions.’

Ms Willis said that while experiencing domestic violence, it was unlikely that victims would worry about the sentencing of the offender. However, they may reconsider giving evidence after the event. ‘Where the problem will kick in is if police lay charges and if they are relying on the evidence of the person who experienced the violence, it may be that the witness says I am not going to be a witness or I am not going to come to court.’

Ms Willis said that one in three women experience domestic violence and one in five sexual assault. Eighty per cent of victims don’t report the crime.

A spokeswoman for NSW Attorney General Greg Smith declined to address concerns raised about the future of domestic violence prosecutions.

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