Agencies campaigning against domestic violence have welcomed the first conviction for “coercive control” and hope it is the “first of many”.
The sentencing of a man to 21 months for the new offence – which was enacted into law a year ago – comes as gardai reveal they are investigating 35 such incidents.
At Letterkenny Circuit Court on Tuesday, local man Kevin Dunleavy, aged 33, was sentenced to 21 months for harassing his girlfriend Caoimhe Crossan with almost 65,800 calls over three months.
The court heard that the mother of three was fearful for her safety. In one phone call, Dunleavy is heard screaming to Ms Crossan: “I'll kill you, I'll kill you stone dead. I'll cut your throat out. I'll get you. Mark my words, I'll get you tomorrow night.”
In a statement issued after the sentencing, Detective Chief Superintendent Declan Daly, Garda National Protective Services Bureau, said: "Coercive control is an insidious and demeaning crime designed to degrade and debilitate an individual and their persona.
He added: "This conviction and sentencing, the first of its kind in the state, further demonstrates An Garda Síochána's dedication to fully investigate all matters related to this vital legislation in order to protect some of Ireland's most vulnerable persons."
His colleague, Superintendent Gerry Murphy praised the work of local gardai, under Supt Dave Kelly, and said the NPSB provided advice to them.
He told RTE’s News at One that gardai were investigating 35 incidents of coercive control, all of them women. He predicted the number would increase the more awareness spread of the offence.
Anyone with information of coercive control is advised to contact their local Garda Station or the Garda Confidential Line on 1800 666 111.
Reacting to the conviction and sentencing, Sarah Benson, CEO of Women’s Aid, said: “The first ever conviction for coercive control is an important step forward for victims of domestic abuse. Women’s Aid sees this as an important test case for the legislation and we hope that this is the first of many such convictions.”
She said one of the challenges for the new offence was that it was not just a single incident, which the courts are geared towards, but multiple incidents.
"It can have a serious impact including the fear of violence, cause serious alarm and distress and can result in a woman giving up work, changing her routines, losing contact with family and friends. Its impact can be devastating.”
Caitriona Gleeson, Programme and Communications Manager of Safe Ireland, said: “Coercive control is at the very heart of domestic abuse. It is a crime since the implementation of the ground-breaking Domestic Violence Act 2018. We commend the Gardaí and the DPP for moving on this case so quickly.”
She said tracking the pattern of behaviour required resources and an understanding of the crime.
“We need a commitment to adequate resourcing for first responders to women so that the true nature of domestic violence can be prosecuted,” she said.