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AAlthough it takes ingenuity to kill a woman without incurring any punishment, the justice system continues to ensure that, for the right murder, under the right circumstances, the punishment – given the right judge – can still be a fraction of what you might expect.

Earlier this year, for example, the five-year sentence for a man who blamed strangling his wife, Ruth Williams, on foreclosure difficulties, confirmed that being married to your victim can actively – can -be counterintuitively – increase judicial compassion. Judge Paul Thomas believed Anthony Williams’ mental state must have been seriously affected, although this was contradicted by a psychiatrist. The appeals court refused to increase the sentence.

A shorter or sporadic relationship with the victim also offers hope. In May, Warren Coulton appeared before Judge Simon Picken for the manslaughter of Claire Wright. She had been suffocated in a bondage episode in which her reluctance was taped. Coulton, not seeking medical help, left his body open to hotel staff. He was six years old.

Even more merciful, one might think, Sam Pybus was sentenced last week to four years and eight months for killing his intermittent sex partner, Sophie Moss. She was 33 years old, a mother of five and six year old children. In a victim impact statement, her brother James said: “We can never shake the belief that whatever the nature of their relationship and her role in it, she has been a victim, exploited and exploited, and has been. subject to an entirely preventable and infinitely tragic end. His impact on the judge is likely reflected in his conviction.

Pybus, who was married, had driven to see Moss after drinking 24 bottles of lager, strangled her while they were having sex and, after finding her dead, waited in her car for 15 minutes before to go to a police station. Paramedics, when they were finally called, were unable to resuscitate her. Pybus claimed that the suffocation was consensual and that he did not remember killing Moss; the Crown Prosecution Service ruled that there was insufficient evidence to prove that he intended to kill her. A conviction for manslaughter is always punishable by life imprisonment.

What remains puzzling, even given the great judicial tradition of sympathy with men who injure or kill female partners, is how Judge Paul Watson ruled on a four-year sentence. You could easily conclude that unproven claims about female sexual behavior can still make up, at least in the average judicial mind, male guilt for extreme violence, callousness and recklessness.

The four-year sentence is said to be less than what Moss’s killer could have received for causing death by dangerous driving. It is shorter than those recently imposed on men for accidentally killing other men in pub fights. In fact, if the government implements its eye-catching plan to treat pet removal as a particularly dangerous property crime, which already carries a maximum sentence of seven years, the sentence could be significantly lower. to the one that a thief will soon receive for stealing someone’s cockapoo.

Harriet Harman has asked the attorney general to determine whether the sentence was unduly lenient. The sentence, she wrote, does not reflect the gravity of Moss’ murder and the “cynical shifting of responsibility from himself to her,” while sending “the message that killing your girlfriend during sex is a minor matter ”. The attorney general confirmed that the sentence would be reviewed.

Whether it is necessary so soon after politicians on all sides tried to halt, through changes to the new domestic abuse law, the increase in defendants’ reliance on “rough sex” claims. , suggests that the celebration of this victory may have been premature.

In fact, although Pybus killed Moss before the act went into effect it is not clear that it would have made a difference, it is already established that a person cannot consent to her. either seriously injured or killed. The desire for murder charges in such cases also cannot do so if the prosecution cannot prove intent. Also unaffected by the Domestic Abuse Law, Pybus’s short sentence is, as Harman puts it, an actively harmful and trivializing statement about male violence against women. If it is not increased, perhaps it should be understood, rather than the government’s reformulation of the existing law, as the official response to demands for justice from the admirable campaign group We Can’t Consent. to This.

Nothing, anyway, on Judge Pybus’s part seems likely to diminish the popularity of “brutal sex” as the last euphemism that a case of male violence can be described as anything other than part of a case. relentless gendered model. Women can sometimes agree to participate in the risky and coercive sex now depicted in mainstream pornography: only they die there. In his important new book, Feminism for women, Julie Bindel argues that old-fashioned sexual assault is now disguised by men as “positive sex” experimentation. It saves them, she says, “the cognitive dissonance of apparently believing ‘consent matters’ while assuming ‘no’ means ‘convince me’.”

Pybus’s short sentence, which took into account expressions of “genuine” remorse and an early guilty plea, could be seen as a different expression of the misogyny that encouraged the accused’s allusions to the “rude” – like potentially fatal for women – sex. Certainly, this also contributes to a culture deeply desensitized to the slaughter of women by male partners. Although less, it turns out, its rare opposite. Justice for Women draws attention to Emma-Jayne Magson’s recent 17-year minimum sentence for the murder of her abusive boyfriend, who was – like the women above – deprived of medical care. The judge, Jeremy Baker, regretted his lack of remorse.

Many of us feel the same, oddly enough, about judicial behavior over the years. Are judges a bit sorry for the way their colleagues have engaged in male violence against women? Until last week? It is not too late to ask that it be taken into account.

Catherine Bennett is a columnist for the Observer


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