Comments made by the judge on a murder conviction contribute to a narrative that treats victims of gender-based violence as disposable victims, advocates say.
On Thursday, Steven Bragg was sentenced to life in prison for the 2017 violent second degree murder of Victoria Head, a 36-year-old woman from St. John’s. Bragg will be eligible for parole in 10 years, the minimum allowed.
In his ruling, Supreme Court Justice Donald Burrage said Bragg was “extremely remorseful and apologetic”. Burrage also said, based on evidence from family and friends, that Bragg’s actions were irrelevant.
“There are times, thankfully rare, when otherwise good people do terrible things. This is one of those occasions,” Burrage said during his sentencing.
Burrage’s statements were quickly condemned by Head’s family and generated backlash as well.
Bridget Clarke, advocacy coordinator with the St. John’s Status of Women Council, said the judge’s comments were unreasonable.
“They contribute to a very pervasive narrative around gender-based violence, one that dehumanizes its victims, that undermines the high rates of violence in our province,” Clarke said in an interview with CBC News.
Clarke said judges have the power to shape the social narrative on issues such as gender-based violence and called Burrage’s statements neglectful. She said some gender-marginalized people might interpret the statements as evidence that the justice system views victims of gender-based violence as collateral damage.
“The ripple effect of grief that we saw last week is being felt broadly and deeply. Most importantly, of course, by the family and loved ones of Victoria Head… but also impacts are felt throughout our community in our province, ”she said. .
More education needed: advocate
In a statement, Paula Sheppard, chair of the Provincial Advisory Council on the Status of Women, said lawyers should be required to complete trauma-informed training in areas such as intimate partner violence before becoming judges.
“Incorporating an education program to include such training ensures that those appointed as judges of our courts are sufficiently equipped to discuss these cases without patriarchal cultural bias,” the statement said.
Amnesty Cornelius, coordinator of Thrive, an organization that provides support to vulnerable people in the St. John’s area, said Burrage’s statements also glossed over the tragic loss of Victoria Head.
“He did not talk about her accomplishments, her resilience, her ability to overcome, ”she said.
Cornelius said the comments also drew attention to a wider conversation about triggers for gender-based violence like misogyny in society, the culture of rape and the lack of education on violence prevention and emotional regulation.
“I think this judge missed a real opportunity to create a space for education, for community dialogue and to really talk about the fact that Victoria Head was not just a victim of Steven Bragg, but she was a victim of a society that makes this happen .every day, ”she said. “This is unacceptable.”
Cornelius said the case was an example of a “systemic failure”, especially since, according to police, Head had worked in the sex trade – although his family argued that was not the case .
“Sex workers are more vulnerable to violence and they desperately need more support, safety and protection in their work,” Cornelius said.
“I think this is just one more example where we can say there was a need for support here.”
Read more about CBC Newfoundland and Labrador