I’M glad to hear Mustafa Bashir is going to prison. This is welcome news after he was initially spared a custodial sentence for beating his wife Fakhara Karim with a cricket bat, throttling her and forcing her to drink bleach. Despite enacting a crime of incomprehensible cruelty against Karim, Judge Richard Mansell QC handed Bashir an 18-month suspended sentence – a sentence influenced by his belief that the victim was “not a vulnerable woman”, and that Bashir could take a job offer as a professional cricketer with Leicestershire County if spared jail. This offer was later proven to be bogus, and the case was reviewed under the under the 56-day “slip rule” that gives the crown court the power to alter a sentence. While the outcome is ultimately positive, it feels rather too little too late.
During sentencing, Mansell’s closing remarks provoked outrage from survivors and women’s organisations for their astounding ignorance. Ignorance of the realities of domestic violence and the willingness to exempt Bashir from a harsher sentence to protect his career. This case is paragon, showing a fundamental lack of understanding of a crime affecting eight per cent of UK women last year. It’s an urgent reminder that the justice system still fails the women it’s supposed to protect, and just how much work still needs to be done to overcome the myths and falsehoods that still shroud the realities of partner abuse.
In the UK, one in four women will experience domestic abuse. It leads to two women being murdered each week on average, and makes up 16 per cent of all violent crime. It has more repeat victims than any other crime, with an average of 35 assaults before it’s reported to the police – yet is still the least reported of all violent crimes. Domestic violence is a systematic human rights injustice, often occurring within a landscape of contributing factors but ultimately it’s caused by a single action – a choice to exert power and control over another. It’s not caused by upbringing, or alcohol, stress or mental state – but the decision to harm.
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These statistics are Britain’s shame. In light of them, it’s infuriating to see Mansell’s failure to use the tools of justice. Not just in defence of Karim, but for all those who suffer at the hands of their partners. The fact that our justices don’t fully grasp the horror of this endemic social problem shows how far we still have to go to end victim blaming and tackle abuse effectively.
Judge Mansell did not consider Fakhara Karim a vulnerable woman because she is intelligent, has friends and a master’s degree. He completely failed to recognise that Karim was made vulnerable precisely because she was abused by Bashir. Violence against women does not neatly follow social lines. It is a crime of power and control, that can affect anyone regardless of race, age, socioeconomic status or educational attainment. Friends will not protect women men choose to harm, and neither will degrees. There is no perfect victim as many would like to believe. Domestic abuse can happen to anyone, and has a devastating and enduring impact on those it touches. The ripple effect of this crime extends far beyond the act of violence itself, impacting the lives of children and other family members, friendships, access to health care, mental well-being, and even the ability to work and fully participate in society. Domestic violence puts women in an invisible cage they often dare not step out of.
CONTINUALLY, men are distanced from the realities of their crimes against women with exceptionalism. Some quality is identified, highlighted, and then used to elevate them above our collective portrait of a typical abuser. It happened in Steubenville, when a 14-year-old was repeatedly sexually assaulted by a group of her peers. CNN’s Poppy Harlow referred to them as not as abusers, but as young men with “promising futures”, “star football players” and “good students”. It happened when Stanford rapist Brock Turner’s swim times and athletic prowess were reported in headlines accompanying news of his crime. After Clodagh Hawe and her three children were murdered with a knife and a hatchet by her husband Alan, media outlets described him as a “pillar of the community”, and asked what could have driven a school vice-principal to violence. The details change, but the theme remains frighteningly consistent – people still believe there’s a right and wrong type of abuser.
In the case of Mustafa Bashir, his athletic promise and his wife’s academic attainment were both used to distance him from the heinous acts he committed, and Karim from the abuse enacted upon her.
Time and time again we see characteristics of criminals considered above the experience of their victims. The reality is that violence against women is committed by ordinary men of all types, regardless of what special qualities we endow them with after the act.
As I said, I’m happy Bashir’s sentence has been amended – but I’m utterly dismayed that this 180 appears to pivot on the spurious claim of a job offer, and not because of the horrific abuse Karim suffered at his hands. An altered custodial sentence, while better than no custody, is still not good enough for victims. We cannot ignore that Bashir is going to jail now because he lied about his circumstances, and not because he’s a violent abuser of women. Violence against women should not become buried in a man’s CV. This is Diet Coke justice – the outcome is recognisable, but it’s utterly lacking in substance. True justice for victims must be direct, and must never hinge on a anyone’s ability to paint himself as exceptional.