Trigger warning: this piece discusses domestic abuse that some readers may find distressing.
New legislation has been put in place in Northern Ireland that will recognize coercive control as a criminal offense. The law came into power in February 2022 under Section 28 of the Domestic Abuse and Civil Proceedings Act Northern Ireland which means this type of domestic abuse is now illegal across every country in the UK.
What is coercive control?
Women’s Aid Federation Northern Ireland (WAFNI) defines coercive control as “an intentional pattern of behavior (often used alongside other forms of abuse) which can include threats, excessive regulation, intimidation, humiliation and enforced isolation. It is designed to punish, dominate, exploit, exhaust, create fear, confusion, and increase dependency. Over time it can lead to a complete loss of self.”
Coercive control can happen to all sexes, though the issue overwhelmingly impacts women. This crime is a huge problem in Northern Ireland, with statistics showing an instance of abuse occurs every 17 minutes in the country.
Sonya McMullan, who works at WAFNI stated: “In Northern Ireland, we have some of the highest rates of domestic abuse in the UK. There were 31,817 domestic abuse incidents recorded from April 1, 2019, to March 21, 2020, which is, on average, one incident every 17 minutes. There have been five women murdered with a domestic abuse motivation in the last year.”
Additional legal aid support
The new law change means survivors of coercive control will also get support in the form of legal aid. A characteristic of cohesive control is the abuser taking control of the victims’ money or restricting their access to income.
After going through this traumatic process, the victim is commonly not able to afford legal aid for court cases and child custody battles. This new law change means that victims will now be given free access to this deserving legal aid when they jointly own property with the abuser, giving people a chance to get a fair verdict on their case.
Why is this new law important?
This type of domestic abuse can have devastating and sometimes even fatal consequences for its victims. Legal recognition of the issue means that people’s human rights are being protected. The new law means coercive control breaches several Human Rights Act regulations, including your right to life, right to freedom from torture and inhuman or degrading treatment, and your right to peaceful enjoyment of your property.
Supporting victims in this way lets them know that their voices are heard, confirms what happens to them was wrong after their abuser has manipulated them into feeling otherwise, and prioritizes their recovery.