Domestic violence survivor says system failed her after abuser gets 12 months home detention for years of vicious attacks

"It's invalidating of that trauma."
"It's invalidating of that trauma." Photo credit: Getty Images

Warning: This article contains graphic recounts of domestic violence, mental health and suicide.

A domestic violence survivor is speaking out after her ex-boyfriend was sentenced to 12 months of home detention and ordered to pay $4600 after subjecting her to two years of extreme abuse.  

Caelan, whose last name Newshub has agreed not to share, said she met the love of her life in 2017. She was just 16 while her partner was 18. But several months into their young relationship, it took a vicious turn. 

The now 20-year-old told Newshub it had been two years since she reported and detailed the abuse she faced to police. 

"My first statement took 10 hours across two days."

In an interview with Newshub, Caelan spoke of the exhausting and lengthy process of reporting domestic violence through Aotearoa's justice system. 

"It was two years of police interviews and bouncing back and forth, and hearings and just such a lengthy process."

But finally, on May 25, 2022 Caelan's abuser faced the justice system, a moment she hoped would bring justice to the abuse she experienced. 

Caelan's story of survival 

The 20-year-old described the two years of abuse to the Manukau District Court in her victim impact statement.

"It began with mental and emotional abuse where the offender slowly destroyed my sense of self-worth," she told the court. 

She described being comfortable in her own skin before she started dating him and loving "life so much".

"He told me that my friends hated me and that my family did not love me. He twisted everything I had ever known," Caelan said.

"He started calling me names so constantly that it became my truth."

Caelan said every aspect of her life began to be under her ex-boyfriend's control, from the way she spent her money to the amount of food she ate.

"This was so deeply ingrained into my head that now I can not make any decision for myself, I have to constantly call my mum for reassurance about simple things."

Caelan also detailed the numerous physical and emotional abusive attacks she endured - one of which left her suicidal. 

"The torture I was forced to endure when I pulled the handbrake while he was speeding in the car after knocking a blow to my head, I thought he was going to kill us both, I thought this was it, this is how I die. So I pulled the handbrake to stop the car, we spun out and then he grabbed my hair with such force scratching up the side of my neck, then proceeded to knock a few more blows to my head leaving me with bruising and swelling on my actual head under my hair and a small bruise by my eye," she told the court.

"I went from being petrified of him killing us both to wanting to kill myself, the pain he was putting me through was such hell that I wanted out."

She went further to explain to the court another instance where her abuser strangled her leaving Caelan in tears, which seemed to further anger the abusive boyfriend.

"I was lying in a foetal position and he beat the side of my body that was supposed to stop me from crying, he rolled me over and then wiped my snot and tears into my eyes, mouth, ears and hair so viciously I was in pain," she said

"[This] made me feel worthless like I wasn’t a person, a worthless piece of trash, dehumanised, alienated, a shell of myself, he then proceeded to add his own spit to my face and rub that in extra hard, this was tormenting."

In court documents seen by Newshub, Caelan's ex-boyfriend was sentenced on three charges that were representative of 18. 

The charges included assault on a person in a family relationship, strangulation and wilful damage. 

Caelan said the judge sentenced her ex-boyfriend to a maximum of four years imprisonment, but she said he received sentencing discounts due to his youth and guilty plea.

He instead received 12 months of home detention and was ordered to pay Caelan $4600 in compensation. 

'I feel let down by the justice system'

Caelan sat in court with her mum on the day of her ex-boyfriend's sentencing. She said when the judge handed down her abuser's sentence she had to walk out of the courtroom. 

"It made me feel like what had happened wasn't serious and that it doesn't matter."

Caelan told Newshub the entire process from start to finish has been re-victimising, and then to get to the end of it with what she feels is "unjust" sentencing. 

"It's invalidating of that trauma." 

She worries her abuser's sentence leaves little hope for other domestic violence survivors. 

"What's the point when you go through two years of explaining it and getting nowhere."

Caelan said the sentencing shows young boys can get away with it because they're young. 

"It's a year of watching Netflix at home."

Because of the outcome, Caelan told Newshub she would never go through the system again if she found herself in another abusive relationship.

"There is no way I would speak up to police about it again, having to go through and explain it all over again so many times and then not having a result anywhere near just, I wouldn't speak up again," she said. 

"The sentencing not being just, it should carry more of a prison sentence and for it not to get that it's frustrating - I feel let down by the New Zealand justice system."

"You can hurt someone so badly and just get a slap on the wrist because you're a young person and because this is the first time you've done it," she added. 

'Weekly reminders' of the abuse

Caelan's abuser was ordered to pay $4600 in compensation, which will be paid in $10 weekly payments. By the time the payment has been made in full, the 20-year-old will be nearing 30. 

"I don't want to have to remember this every week for nine years."

She said the payment will be made to the justice system and then to her to avoid any interaction between the pair.

Women's Refuge 

Newshub put Caelan's story to the Women's Refuge, spokesperson Johanna Bower said in a statement "every time another light sentence is reported, we fear it will deter victims from reaching out for help".

"Light sentences trivialise the harm family violence causes in communities, downplaying the devastating reality of the violence," Bower said.

"This woman spent two years of her life after the violence building a case against her perpetrator, only for him to get a mere 12 months home detention, rather than a custodial term which surely was merited."

Bower said victims who have been strangled by their partner are seven times more likely to later be killed by their partner.

"Death can occur within minutes. Until we start holding perpetrators accountable for the seriousness of their offending, we are failing women in our courts." 

Newshub approached the Ministry of Justice but they were unable to comment on judicial decisions. 

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