A former plumber was arrested for throwing her glass at a man's face after he hit on her in a bar. But a judge gave her a lenient sentence, ruling that she lost control because of prior sexual harassment at work. Are we seeing the birth of a new kind of defense?
According to the Telegraph, 22-year-old Sheona Keith went to a bar after she was fired from her plumbing job, at which she says she was routinely sexually harassed. When James Kirkham started hitting on her (the term the Telegraph uses is "paying her unwanted attention"), she threw a glass at him, giving him a one-inch cut above the eyebrow. Judge Phillip Wassall fined her £400 (about $600), but gave her no jail time, explaining,
You worked hard but your chosen line of work took you into a completely male dominated environment and one where I am afraid you had to put up with sexist comments and harassment which there is no excuse for.
This forms the background of why you lost your job and in the end resulted in all this. You went to a night club even though you normally don't drink and don't go out.
He added, "You felt threatened by this man although he had not done anything wrong. You felt intimidated because of your experiences at work and he happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time." Of course, there's still the question of whether Kirkham's "unwanted attention" was itself threatening and scary — we'll have to take the judge's word for it that he did nothing wrong. Assuming that's true, though, the decision sets kind of a disturbing precedent. What if Keith had been a man who went home after losing his job and threw a drink at his wife? Abusers sometimes lash out at family after setbacks in their lives, and the law doesn't treat them more leniently because of their past problems. Nor should it.
Keith does appear to have been the victim of sustained and socially sanctioned assholery at her job, which makes her different from some average dude who happened to get fired. Offering clemency to someone who lashed out after a longstanding pattern of oppression is different from offering the same to somebody who was simply reacting to a personal setback. All that said, I'm still uncomfortable giving Keith a pass on assault because other people in her life treated her badly. That paves the way for multiplying the harm caused by oppression, rather than limiting it.
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