Special report: A 'coming of age' in how we understand domestic violence

Criminalising coercive control in the home will keep women alive but the law has yet to be implemented, says social change agency Safe Ireland.

Special report: A 'coming of age' in how we understand domestic violence

Chief executive of Safe Ireland, Sharon O’Halloran, said the groundbreaking new Domestic Violence Act represented a “coming of age” in Ireland’s understanding of domestic violence.

She said the creation of the criminal offence of coercive control in the act is transformative and would help change the culture in Ireland.

Coercive control is a pattern of acts of assaults, threats, humiliation, and intimidation or other psychological or emotional abuse. It is used to control and limit the freedom of an intimate partner or family member.

The commencement of the act is a matter for the Minister for Justice, Charlie Flanagan. He signs the regulations that dictate how the act should be applied in law. It is understood that regulations under the act dealing with the criminal elements will commence as soon as possible this year.

There is ongoing preparatory work that will need to be completed first, particularly with An Garda Síochána.

Also, the courts have to develop new forms and brief their staff about the new orders that can be made under the act.

At a seminar in Dublin yesterday, Ms O’Halloran said, too often, domestic violence escaped the attention of the community because coercive control had not been taken seriously or had been minimised.

For too long we have been having too small a conversation about too big a problem. If you wait for a severe injury before you identify domestic violence, then you are going to miss 98% of cases,” she said.

‘Coercive control’ forces everybody to focus not only on incidents of physical violence but on the cumulative patterns of abuse and the denial of human rights that are at the core of domestic violence, she said.

Safe Ireland urged the Government to introduce homicide reviews to increase understanding of how such fatalities can be prevented. Coercive control has been recognised as a serious offence in Britain since 2015 where research found it in 92% of domestic killings.

Former justice minister Frances Fitzgerald, who also spoke at the conference, said she remembered being told that, legally, they could not introduce ‘coercive control’ as, constitutionally, more importance could not be placed on people over property. “But through collaboration and problem-solving we did it,” she said.

However, legislation is just one part of the puzzle, said Ms Fitzgerald, as 79% of women still do not report domestic violence.

Safe Ireland has launched Resolve, a dedicated legal information and advocacy service to support women’s access to justice and the legal remedies soon to be open to them under the new act.

In Ireland, one in three women has experienced some form of psychological violence by a partner, a EU-wide study in 2014 showed. Yearly, in Ireland, over 10,000 women and 3,600 children seek safety from abusive men.

Case study: ‘This is not about revenge... We simply want the sentence that has been given to be served’

The mother of two young sons killed by their father says her quest to get sentencing changes is “for her boys”.

Kathleen Chada’s sons, Eoghan and Ruairí, were killed by their father, Sanjeev Chada, in July 2013.

I am doing it for the boys. They had an incredible sense of fairness themselves when they were in school and playing sports,” she said.

The boys, aged 10 and five, were found dead in the boot of a car near Westport, Co Mayo, following a single car crash.

Kathleen Chada
Kathleen Chada

Their father who was driving the car survived the impact and was sentenced to two life sentences in 2014.

Kathleen is a member of the campaign group called SAVE — Sentencing and Victim Equality — that wants minimum sentences for homicide and serious crimes and changes to the parole system.

“This is not about revenge or wanting tougher sentences. We simply want the sentence that has been given to be served,” she said.

Kathleen said her husband could apply for parole in two years’ time. He received two sentences but they are running concurrently.

It is not about throwing away the key. It is about balance and it is about serving the sentence,” she said.

“If I knew that my husband was going to be in prison for 20 years, that’s OK because I know I don’t have to think about it for 20 years.

“I don’t have to be worried about bumping into him somewhere in the next 20 years. I would have that peace of mind.”

It was also possible that she would be in a better place when he was released after serving his sentence.

Kathleen said she was hoping to divorce her husband in the next six months.

“I really don’t know how to refer to him. I sometimes say he is Eoin and Ruairi’s father. That feels wrong but he is. It becomes very complicated.”

Kathleen said she felt “incredibly lucky” to have a strong family and good friends to help her cope.

More in this section