[Trigger warning: abuse, violence, drugs, rape]
Lavinia Woodward physically abused her boyfriend after a drug and alcohol fuelled night, but she will not serve any jail time for these crimes because she attends the University of Oxford. Her educational privilege and aspirations to become a heart surgeon have been assessed as too affluent to be damaged by the black mark of incarceration for hitting, throwing objects, and stabbing her boyfriend with a bread knife. The judge overlooking this case claimed this outburst to be a one-off that should not be condemned.
Commentators on these proceedings have praised the judge for tolerating violent actions as an unfortunate by-product of university stress, congratulating him for being so empathetic to young people. Although it is good to acknowledge that university is stressful and can push people to their mental limits, if the person is wielding a knife then their problems are much bigger than just stress and they need to be properly addressed by the court. Woodward’s attack was partly fuelled by drugs, a factor that was not condemned during processing, probably as it would be another stain on her “perfect” record. On the other hand, there are numerous other cases of people receiving outrageous jail time for simple possession of drugs. A London based study revealed people who are black to be almost twice as likely to be charged for their drug possession than carriers who are white. Woodward, who is white, may have benefitted from this apparent societal advantage in sentencing.
The contrast in strength of verdict compared to crimes in different contexts is jarring. There seems to be no analogy between crime and sentencing across the justice system. Previous reports of sentencing jail time for milder offences include faking a job application, streaming films online, or even kicking a hedgehog all of which, though reprehensible, are not nearly as inexcusable as a violent attack.
Moreover, the judge’s reasoning for excusal from jail time is no longer logical as press attention surrounding this case has left the benefit moot. Future employer background checks may not find jail time, but it will unearth the publicity surrounding this case which in itself will render Woodward unemployable in medicine. The judge’s ruling has also not helped Woodward remotely – a far greater support would have been sentencing to counselling or rehab for drug and anger issues. This sentence does not benefit anyone. However, the point still stands – why should Woodward be set free after a violent crime when so many others receive nothing but outrageous and often unjust sentencing for even the smallest misdemeanours?
Woodward’s case is not the only unjust sentencing for violent crimes by privileged youth to hit the headlines. In 2016, Brook Turner, a Stanford University student, was spared a harsher sentence for his crime of rape partly because of his privilege and “promise” in a swimming career. Having apparent potential on paper shouldn’t factor in when reported actions contrast the seemingly pristine record – promise shouldn’t excuse violence.
For a system that should be blind, justice has a habit of supporting a few select while trampling over the many. Woodward’s case again opens debate for fairer trial however, unless this system is soon fixed, it’s one that will continue to fall on deaf ears.
[Michaela Barton – @lowkeypigeon]