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Coercive control conviction described as 'landmark' decision which brings hope to survivors

The first trial conviction for coercive control in Ireland has been described as a "landmark" dec...
Marita Moloney
Marita Moloney

09.51 15 Nov 2020


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Coercive control conviction de...

Coercive control conviction described as 'landmark' decision which brings hope to survivors

Marita Moloney
Marita Moloney

09.51 15 Nov 2020


Share this article


The first trial conviction for coercive control in Ireland has been described as a "landmark" decision which can bring hope to people in similar situations.

Katie Dawson, a barrister and member of the Family Lawyers Association of Ireland, said the conviction sends a message to perpetrators of domestic violence that there are consequences to their behaviour.

It comes as Ireland’s first trial conviction for coercive control concluded last week.

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A 52-year-old man was convicted of coercive control, intimidation and multiple assault charges following a 21-day trial.

It was the first time a jury has found anyone guilty of coercive control since the offence was introduced under the Domestic Violence Act 2018.

Speaking after the conviction, Garda Chief Superintendent Finbarr Murphy praised the woman for coming forward and described her as a “beacon of hope to a lot of people who find themselves in a similar situation.”

Speaking on Newstalk Breakfast with Susan Keogh, Ms Dawson said the criminal standard which must be met to prove coercive control in the courts can often be a difficult threshold to reach.

On last week's decision, she said: "It does send a message that if you're going to engage in this behaviour, there are going to be consequences.

"It is a really strong statement and I really hope it gives hope to people who find themselves in this situation.

"People use the word landmark but this really is a landmark decision because trying to prove coercive control in a court of law to a criminal standard is actually very difficult.

"When the Domestic Violence Act 2018 came in, and it wasn't enacted until January 1st, 2019, I and others had concerns that while it was fantastic to have a criminal offence of coercive control, proving that in court would be very difficult.

Ms Dawson said legal practitioners are "not where we need to be" in terms of how to deal with coercive control cases as there isn't training provided for lawyers and judges.

She added that "it's important to say that domestic violence isn't something that just affects women alone, it does affect men".

Warning signs

It was revealed yesterday that there has been an 87% increase in the number of domestic violence cases sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions compared with 2019.

The Director of the DPP, Claire Loftus, has welcomed the fact that courts are giving priority to these cases.

Ms Dawson said the difficulty arises as the signs that coercive control is taking place in a relationship are not as obvious as physical violence.

She added: "You have to understand that in most domestic violence cases, coercive control and control is a key element to it.

"It's harder to prove than if somebody walks into a court with a black eye or with a broken arm and a judge can see they've been physically assaulted.

"The difficulty is that in terms of coercive control, it's just more difficult to prove because often the warning signs in terms of coercive control arent the obvious signs."

Ms Dawson said that the warning signs can arise among couples who move in together very quickly, or at the beginning of relationships where "there's often a love bombardment".

She said: "One of the things they do after the love bombardment is they try to isolate them from family members and friends and that's done over a period of time.

"That's something that friends and family need to be aware of and they need to be careful because if they control somebody directly, they may just deny it and they may not even know they are a victim of domestic violence.

"But it is a huge warning sign when they're trying to isolate somebody from their family and friends.

"It is absolutely an issue of control and if there's anything we can gain from this case and awareness of this case, its to understand domestic violence in terms of control.

"Coercive control is about controlling somebody, it's about threatening them, it's not necessarily about physical violence."

If you are the victim of domestic abuse, please call Women’s Aid 24-hr Freephone Helpline on 1800 341 900 or dial 999 if it’s an emergency situation.

Coercive control conviction described as 'landmark' decision which brings hope to survivors

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Main image: A general view of the Four Courts in Dublin, Ireland. Credit: Press Association 

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