PTSD, Domestic Violence, and Personal Responsibility
Cameron Hayhurst "pled guilty to assaulting his wife to the danger of (Caroline McGhee) life as he appeared at the High Court in Glasgow". Lord Turnbull deferred sentencing for a year so that Hayhurst, who suffers from PTSD following a tour of duty in Afghanistan, so that Hayhurst can undergo "intensive treatment" and "prove he can stay out of trouble".
We have a number of concerns about this case and how it was reported. PTSD is not uncommon in soldiers returning from war zones. We also know that self-harm or the harming of others is not unusual, yet, support for soldiers returning remains low (and effectively non-existent for those leaving the army). Lord Turnbull's decision to not give Hayhurst a custodial sentence which would have resulted in him being dismissed by the army could be seen as a positive if it means that Hayhurst will have access to better care for his PTSD.
Yet, there is an issue which does not appear in media coverage. Strangulation, to the point of near-death, is a red flag for fatal male violence of current or former partners. When Hayhurst pled guilty to the assault, after originally being charged with attempted murder, he also pled not guilty to five other assaults on McGhee and not guilty to threatening to kill her and dispose of the body. It is not clear if these 5 incidents were prior assaults or charges related to the strangulation. If they are indeed 5 prior assaults, then there is a clear pattern of domestic violence; particularly if these pre-dated the diagnosis of PTSD. In which case, a non-custodial sentence is inappropriate. PTSD accompanied by multiple acts of violence should result in a custodial sentence: not necessarily in a prison, but a man who has perpetrated multiple assaults is not a safe man.
What is deeply disturbing about this case is the judge's comments. Lord Turnbull refers to Hayhurst as a "brave soldier who had served his country well", but one who acted in a "hurtful" manner to his wife. Attempting to strangle your wife, regardless of wether or not you have PTSD, is not "acting in a hurtful manner". Referring to it as such is a minimising tactic which demonstrates a lack of awareness of both PTSD and domestic violence. Lord Turnbull also said: "The fact he acted while suffering from PTSD does not make the matter less upsetting for his victim, but goes some way to explain that a man she cared for could have acted in such a manner."
I have to wonder if the judge would have made similar statements about a woman with PTSD who committed a near-fatal act of violence. I rather suspect he wouldn't.
Having PTSD as a result of combat is not an excuse when committing violence. We need to give returning soldiers better and faster access to mental health services but we also need to recognise the issue of personal responsibility. Hayhurst attempted to kill his wife Had she not escaped, would he have killed her? This is a question we can't answer but Hayhurst's bravery as a soldier is irrelevant when investigating his responsibility for criminal assault against his partner.