The courtroom is supposed to be a bastion of fairness, justice, and rule of the law. However, even in court there have been displays of misogyny in the form of
sexist comments from judges, which illustrate just how pervasive and problematic discrimination against women still is around the world, even in 2017.
Unfortunately, judges in the U.S. and other countries have been making sexist comments — and putting forth sexist rulings — for many years. For example, in 2016 Canadian judge Robin Camp asked a sexual assault survivor why she couldn't
"just keep her knees together" to "prevent" the alleged assault. The judge also pointedly asked the victim — who was alleged assaulted over a bathroom sink — why she didn't do more to thwart the alleged attack, saying, "Why didn't you just sink your bottom down into the basin so he couldn't penetrate you?" Camp ended up acquitting the individual accused.
Last year in in the U.S., a judge famously sentenced former Stanford student Brock Turner to only six months in jail and probation for sexual assault because he believed that, despite the victim's
“physical and devastating emotional injury,” a prison sentence would have “a severe impact” and “adverse collateral consequences” on Turner.
These are just two cases from last year which illustrate sexism perpetuated from the judicial bench. Unfortunately, 2017 has also brought even more cases of judicially-imposed sexism, something which these quotes from judges in countries around the world sadly illustrate.
She's Not A "Vulnerable Person"
During a trial in the United Kingdom, a woman accused her
cricket player husband of beating her with a bat and forcing her to drink bleach, among other things. The defendant in the trial, Mustafa Bashir, admitted to assault occasioning actual bodily harm, but the judge, Richard Mansell, did not sentence him to any prison time. In describing the reason behind his decision, Mansell said he did not believe that the victim was a "vulnerable person," pointing to her masters degree and her "network of friends": I am not convinced she was a vulnerable person. Sometimes women who moved here from their country become trapped in a relationship where they lose their support network of family and friends and cannot speak the language ... This is not the case here. She is plainly an intelligent woman with a network of friends and did go on to graduate university with a 2:1 and a masters — although this has had an ongoing effect on her. Mansell did eventually enforce Bashir's suspended 18-month sentence after finding out the cricket player had misled him about having been offered a contract with the Leicestershire County Cricket club.
I "Know The Mob Mentality" That Exists
A Canadian judge,
Allen LeTourneau, delayed the sentencing of Chance Macdonald, a university student convicted of common assault against a woman, so that a criminal record would not interfere with his completion of a mandatory summer internship.
In addition to his flexibility in sentencing, LeTourneau was chastised for his apparent tendency to praise the accused, appearing highly concerned with
Macdonald's future as a hockey player and the impact of the case on his prospects, rather than on the impact of the crime on the victim. LeTourneau's words to Macdonald, whom he ended up sentencing to 88 days of intermittent jail on weekends and two years of probation, capture these sentiments: I played extremely high-end hockey and I know the mob mentality that can exist in that atmosphere. I'm sure you disappointed not only a lot of people including your parents, but yourself. Not everyone has the talents that you have, but you have them.
"A Woman's Adultery Is A Very Serious Attack On The Honor And Dignity Of A Man"
In Portugal, a woman was simultaneously attacked by both her ex-husband and her ex-boyfriend, who
used a nail-spiked club with which to beat her. The men were convicted of the crime but given very light sentences of a suspended jail sentence and a fine. The case went to an appeals court this year, which upheld the light sentence, saying it was justified because the men may have been driven to commit the crime by adultery.
In their opinion, Judges Neto de Moura and Maria Luisa Arantes wrote:
A woman’s adultery is a very serious attack on the honor and dignity of a man. Societies exist where an adulterous woman is stoned to death. In the Bible, we can read that the adulterous woman should be punished by death. Not long ago the criminal law (Penal Code of 1886, article 372º) punished, with little more than a symbolic penalty, the man who, on finding his adulterous wife, killed her ... These references are merely intended to stress that the society has always strongly condemned adultery by a woman and therefore sees the violence by a betrayed, humiliated man with some understanding.
There Was "No Crying, No Screaming"
Judge Diamante Minucci of Italy acquitted a man accused of sexually assaulting a woman on her hospital bed in March of this year. The woman had reported that she told the accused "enough" while he allegedly assaulted her, but Judge Minucci claimed her response was not assertive enough, saying:
There was no crying, no screaming ... You didn't push him away. We have to ask why? [Her reaction did not] betray the emotion that a violation of her person had to inspire in her.
In response to the judge's ruling, Italian MP Annagrazia Calabria expressed her outrage, saying, "Certainly, you
cannot punish the personal reaction of a woman terrified by what is happening to her.”
"He Had A Right To Do So"
In October, a Canadian judge ruled that an Ottawa man was
not guilty of sexually assaulting his wife because he believed that it was his right to have sex with her whenever he wanted — and that he did not know that doing so without her consent was a criminal act. In explaining his ruling, Ontario Superior Court Justice Robert Smith asserted: I find that the accused probably had sex with his wife on many occasions without her specific consent, as both he and she believed that he had the right to do so.
"She's A Little Overweight But She Has A Pretty Face"
In May, Canadian Judge Jean-Paul Braun presided over a trial in which
a girl accused a taxi driver of sexual assault, alleging that the driver, Carlo Figaro, had forcefully tried to kiss her and grope her while she was in the cab. Braun did find Figaro guilty of sexual assault, but made several shocking comments about the victim and about Figaro's behavior throughout the duration of the trial. One example: She’s a young girl, 17. Maybe she’s a little overweight but she has a pretty face, no? ... She was a bit flattered. Maybe it was the first time he showed interest in her ... A man is interested in her, he tries to kiss her. Surely the same consent isn’t required to try to kiss someone as for – as we say – putting one’s hand in the basket.
Women Can Be Paid Less Than Men Based On Prior Salaries
In April, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower-court ruling which said that
pay differences based exclusively on prior salaries were discriminatory under the Equal Pay Act. The lower court had ruled that pay differences based on prior salaries were discriminatory because differences in prior salaries were "were almost certainly the result of gender bias."
In overturning this ruling, the 9th Circuit Court said that using prior salaries to determine pay does not violate the Equal Pay Act and that companies can do so as long as they use the practice reasonably and have a business policy to justify it. As the court noted:
On appeal, we rejected the district court’s interpretation of the Equal Pay Act ... We held that " the Equal Pay Act does not impose a strict prohibition against the use of prior salary," even though an employer could “manipulate its use of prior salary to underpay female employees."
Many condemned the court's decision as detrimental to pay equity. Deborah Rhode, a professor of gender equity law at Stanford Law School, told the
Los Angeles Times, "This decision is a step in the wrong direction if we're trying to really ensure that women have work opportunities of equal pay ... You can't allow prior discriminatory salary setting to justify future ones or you perpetuate the discrimination.”
Sadly, these quotes from judges around the world point to the fact that sexism still very much plays a role in judicial rulings in 2017. Hopefully, by bringing attention to cases like these, more people will be made aware of the problem and instances of judicial rulings undergirded by sexism will be less prevalent in the future.