Sentencing of Catherine Therese Collyer sends poor message to other victims

Catherine Therese Collyer

Catherine Therese Collyer (left) leaves the Supreme Court with a friend. Pic: Chris Mangan Source: AdelaideNow

WOMEN’S groups are outraged at the jailing of a woman who killed her abusive partner in self-defence, calling it “madness” and a step backward for victims.

They warn that the sentencing of Catherine Therese Collyer – a week before a vigil for domestic violence victims – sends a poor message to those suffering in silence.

>>Read the court’s sentencing remarks

The groups say the Supreme Court has retreated from a stance that spared already-victimised women serving jail time.

But men’s groups say domestic violence is often falsely claimed to excuse lethal actions and it usually works because the men are dead and cannot defend their reputations.


Yesterday, another alleged domestic violence case led to serious charges.

A woman, 37, was charged with aggravated assault causing harm after a man was allegedly stabbed in the chest and abdomen at Twyford St, Elizabeth Grove.

The man was taken to the Royal Adelaide Hospital where his condition is serious but stable.

The woman will appear in court at a later date.

Last Wednesday, the Supreme Court jailed Collyer – who pleaded guilty to manslaughter – for a minimum of nine months.

She admitted she killed her de facto husband, Troy Hannah, in self-defence at Edithburgh, on the Yorke Peninsula, in 2009.

Justice John Sulan said Collyer was remorseful and posed no threat to the community, but declined to suspend her jail term.

Coalition of Women’s Domestic Violence Services of SA co-chair Vicki Lachlan said victims would now be too scared to resist violent men. “The message this sends to the community is one of double-layered madness,” she said.

“It blames the victim for the situation caused by a male perpetrator.

“Women will think they just have to put up with abuse, and never defend themselves for fear of going to jail.”

She said Justice Sulan’s approach was perplexing because he had given spouse-killer Rajini Narayan a suspended sentence.

“This goes completely against what His Honour has said in the past,” she said. “It says that society, community and judges will turn on a beaten woman and see her as the problem.”

Dr Elspeth McInnes, from Women Everywhere Advocating Violence Elimination, said the sentence was inconsistent with past cases of excessive self-defence.

“This case sends a punitive message to victims of domestic violence,” she said. “No one wants women reacting with lethal violence, but we do want victims to be able to defend themselves without being judged.”

Men’s Rights Agency director Sue Price said self-defence was often claimed by women who killed their partners.

“It is used as a defence and the other party is no longer there to defend themselves,” she said.

“It’s a dangerous assumption to rely on claims of domestic violence as an excuse for killing someone, especially when there are so many services available for women who claim they are victims.”

She said men were also victims of domestic violence, but that government funding favoured women’s groups.


>>What women say

SINCE July 2008, there have been 20 fatal events against a background of domestic violence in SA, leaving 30 people dead.

Of those, 17 (57 per cent) were women killed by a male partner or former partner.

National homicide statistics reveal that around 75 women die every year at the hand of a violent partner or former partner.

Research into men’s and women’s descriptions of domestic violence reveals clear differences. Women speak of high levels of fear. Men did not speak about being afraid of violent partners.

By jailing women who hit back, SA is falling behind states which recognise that people should be able to defend themselves against ongoing violence.

Dr Elspeth McInnes, AM, Women Everywhere Advocating Violence Elimination


>>What men say

WHILE there is a need to protect women and children from abuse, there is also a need to recognise men and children need protection from women who are abusive and violent.

More children die at the hands of mothers than fathers.

There is a growing awareness that much of the hyperbole surrounding claims of rampant domestic violence is overstated.

The problem affects a small part of the community, but those opposing the 2006 Family Law amendments claim this is the lot of most women and children.

All victims of violence and abuse deserve policies based on up-to-date, accurate data.

Flawed data can only lead to flawed policies and actions, and children continue to be exposed to violence because of this.

Sue Price, director, Men’s Rights Agency