The man assaulted and threatened his victim, before subjecting her to a distressing cross-examination.
The man assaulted and threatened his victim, before subjecting her to a distressing cross-examination. Pexels

Magistrate condemns in-court 'slut-shaming'

A WOMAN is assaulted, then threatened with violence and death.

Her attacker unleashes a fresh wave of abuse through defending domestic violence charges against him, including through a degrading cross-examination.

The man's lawyer "slut shames" the victim and accuses her of lusting after her attacker.

Only after a traumatic hearing, the man pleads guilty.

In-court abuse, when offenders use criminal trials to wage further terror on their victims, should land them with heftier sentences, a Northern Rivers magistrate has said.

But this is not the case.

Lismore Local Court Magistrate David Heilpern this week sentenced a Casino man who had been convicted of assault occasioning actual bodily harm on his former partner on May 6 and two apprehended violence order breaches, first against another woman on May 28, then against his first victim in August.

In relation to the assault, the court heard the offender had been in a sexual relationship with the victim for more than a year.

She was walking alone on Centre St, Casino at 8pm on a Sunday night when he approached her and struck her with a scooter, then punched her twice in the face.

Defence solicitor Tom Saunders - who represented the man in the hearing - "forcefully put to (the victim) that she had made it all up", Mr Heilpern said.

"The cross-examination then went on in a manner that can only be described a form of shaming," Mr Heilpern said.

"The victim in response stuck to her version that she and the offender had been in an on-and-off sexual relationship for over a year.

"What is not conveyed by the transcript is the deep shame and upset that this cross-examination caused to the victim.

"She was being forcefully painted as a fantasist who had been chasing the offender for sex, and she was throwing herself at him."

In a text message exchange between the defendant and victim on August 11, he threatened to kill her.

"I'll kill you... I nearly did it last time," he wrote.

"Every time I'm in Casino ... you gunna get hurt."

In relation to both AVO breaches, he was also charged and convicted of using a carriage service to menace. The man entered early guilty pleas to these latter charges.

But the man pressed his defence of the assault charge until a later appearance with solicitor Eddie Lloyd, when he changed his plea.

Mr Heilpern said he "must accept" that Mr Saunders had "specific instructions" to so forcefully defend the charge.

"It would be simply unthinkable that a practitioner would run a matter in this manner without specific and clear instructions," he said.

In handing down his judgment, Mr Heilpern explained the High Court "specifically rejected" the argument further harm to the victim caused by denial or "repeated distressing cross-examination" should lead to an increased sentence.

Defendants do, however, lose a sentence discount if they don't enter an early guilty plea.

"In my view there ought be an exception to this rule, where the court specifically finds that the defendant has utilised the criminal justice system as a further method of inflicting suffering and intimidation on the victim not out of any genuine lack of guilt, but in an effort to try to discourage the victim from giving evidence at all, or in an effort to further humiliate and harass them," Mr Heilpern said.

"The non-application of (an early guilty plea) discount is insufficient.

"Otherwise a defendant who pleads not guilty, runs a fair but hard-fought trial, receives the same penalty as a person who seeks to abuse the system and increase the suffering of the victim by tactical decisions, belittling, slut-shaming and playing games."

Mr Heilpern said such processes had a serious impact on victims.

"We now know so much more than we previously did about how the criminal justice system can re-victimise victims by secondary abuse," he said.

"I can and do take judicial notice that the experience of cross-examination, or preparing for a trial only to have the defendant plead guilty on the steps of the court, that the waiting around courts cloistered with children for hours or days is a harmful and traumatising experience for many.

"The law ought to recognise such abuse, and in extreme cases add to the penalty that would otherwise apply.

"However, I am bound by the High Court and thus, despite my views to the contrary here expressed, will not be increasing the sentence to take into account the matters raised above."   

For the assault and AVO breaches, the man was sentenced to 12 months prison with a seven month non-parole period.

For the other charges he was placed on a two-year bond.