In yesterday’s newspaper, we read how three young men stripped a young woman, groped and beat her, humiliated her, and dragged her face-down across the ground... all because she refused to marry one of them.

Anywhere else in the world, a story like that would cause national outrage. Such behaviour is—or should be—a shock to anyone’s conscience, a scandal in any community, and cause for the strongest revulsion.

In the mind of some Supreme Court justices, apparently, it’s cause for a suspended sentence, 200 hours of community service in one’s village and a fine of 30,000 vatu each.

This sentence is more shocking, more scandalous and more repulsive than the crime itself.

I am quite literally unable to conceive of the kind of legal arithmetic that could arrive at a suspended sentence and community service as a worthy punishment for what can only be characterised as a heinous act of brutality.

The victim of any major crime should have some confidence, once justice is done, that they will never have to go through that again. Equally, the public should be reassured that the example set by the sentence will be sufficient to dissuade others from committing the same crime.

This sentence achieves exactly the opposite effect. Three drunken louts brutalise a young woman and are told effectively to go home and do some chores as penance.

This is not kastom. This is not reconciliation or peace-making. This is betrayal, nothing less.

It’s true that kastom and justice are not at all the same thing.

But kastom, I’m told time and again, is about making peace. What peace is there for the victim? What peace is there for any Ni Vanuatu woman, knowing that men can act with utter brutality, then stitch up a resolution between themselves and carry on as if nothing happened?

It’s a moot point whether kastom served the interests of women in the past. It evidently and emphatically does not serve their interests today. The judiciary are wrong to defer to it.

The Public Prosecutor has the power to appeal a sentence if he feels it is too lenient. He must, as a matter of urgency, appeal this one.

And he should appeal all sentences that are so clearly subject to parochial, backward, mysogynist thinking.

How can any of us look our own daughters in the eye if we know that people can treat women with such callous brutality and face only a fine and a bit of public shaming?

This cannot stand. This must not stand.

We call on the Public Prosecutor to appeal this ruling, and insist on a custodial sentence for all three perpetrators of this heinous and hateful act of violence against women.

Dan McGarry

Media Director

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