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On January 1, new legislation came into effect in Ireland that expanded the country’s legal definition of domestic abuse. Now, as well as physical violence, it’s a crime for a person to exercise ‘coercive control’ against their partner – a term typically used to refer to emotional/psychological and financial abuse.
England and Wales enacted similar laws back in 2015, as did Scotland in 2018.
But what exactly does it all mean? And where does Australia stand on the issue?
Coercive control: “a pattern of abuse of power”.
Ireland’s new law criminalises someone engaging in coercive or controlling behaviour against their spouse or partner. That is, behaviour that causes the victim:
(a) to fear that violence will be used against him or her, or;
(b) serious alarm or distress that has a substantial adverse impact on his or her usual day-to-day activities.
As Moo Baulch, CEO of Domestic Violence NSW, previously told Mamamia, “Domestic violence is not just about broken bones and bruises and visits to the accident and emergency department. It’s a pattern of abuse of power and control usually felt by one partner over another, and there may be a number of different sort of types of behaviour that are occurring.
A prime example comes via the case of Graham O’Shea, a man who was convicted and sentenced under England’s coercive control laws in 2016. As the BBC reported, O’Shea moved into his girlfriend’s home in March that year, and before long enforced a series of rules: he forbade her from washing; he took her bank cards and restricted her to a weekly allowance of 10 GBP; he cut her off from family and friends; and escorted her to and from her bus stop each day. He also physically assaulted her on two occasions.
As in O’Shea’s case, domestic abusers often use a combination of physical, emotional and financial abuse in order to trap their partner in the relationship. The latter two, especially, can help answer that persistent, reductive question: ‘why didn’t she just leave?’
From today, women must feel change quickly. It must be positive, it must be practical and it must make them and their children safer from abuse. What is promised on paper must be fully resourced to be effective in protecting those affected by domestic violence. #DVAct2018
— Women’s Aid Ireland (@Womens_Aid) January 1, 2019