Domestic assault: The stuff of Shakespeare

Yesterday an article appeared in the SMH detailing the sentencing hearing of Joel Betts, who pleaded guilty in February of wounding with intent to murder his ex-girlfriend Samantha Holland. Betts, who stabbed Holland 30 times, will be sentenced at a later date. His guilt did not stop Alan Jones from weighing in on the case, saying that he has known Betts “for years” and that Betts is “unbelievably emotional and regretful”, most probably about the fact that he got caught rather than the fact that he actually did it. Jones goes on to say that this type of domestic assault “just happens”, and likens it to what he has seen in Shakespearean plays.

This deplorable excusing of extreme violence and failure to hold Betts accountable perpetuates myths about domestic violence as a “crime of passion” for which perpetrators cannot be held accountable. Evidence shows that domestic violence doesn’t “just happen”, but is a deliberate and repeated use of coercive, controlling and violent tactics, usually by men against women, to control the victim and keep them in fear. This violence often escalates on separation, as in this case. A previous article about this case detailed how Ms Holland’s brother accompanied her to Betts’ apartment when she went to get her belongings, suggesting that they already had reason to fear Betts and worry for Hollands’ safety, probably based on his previous coercive, controlling and violent behaviour. Unfortunately he waited downstairs for her when Betts sent him a text message from her phone saying they were staying together.

Alan Jones needs to learn about the reality of domestic violence. And the media needs to learn how to report domestic violence properly. The second article had the headline “Love-hate romance ended in bloodshed”. Of course, headlines are designed to sell, but the term “love-hate”, along with other terms such as “tumultuous” and “tempestuous”, suggests some kind of joint responsibility or co-dependence, when we know that it is the perpetrator alone who is responsible for using coercive, controlling violence.

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