Turning point in how Ireland treats domestic abusers

The landmark conviction of coercive control is vital in tackling domestic abuse, write Liz Dunphy and Brion Hoban
Turning point in how Ireland treats domestic abusers

Chief Superintendent Finbarr Murphy pictured speaking outside The Criminal Courts of Justice in Dublin this morning. Picture: Collins Courts

The landmark conviction of coercive control is vital in tackling domestic abuse, write Liz Dunphy and Brion Hoban

The first person to be convicted of coercive control by a jury in Ireland was sentenced to 10-and-a-half years in prison this week.

The landmark case, tried under domestic abuse laws introduced in January 2019 which created the crime of coercive control, marks a turning point in how Ireland treats domestic abusers and their victims.

Daniel Kane, 52, was convicted of coercively controlling and repeatedly assaulting his former partner during a 20-month reign of domestic terror.

He sliced the woman’s skin with a pizza cutter, stamped on her arm until multiple bones fractured, headbutted her in the face while she was recovering from nasal surgery, burned her foot, stamped on her head and strangled her so hard that he left the imprint of his fingers on her neck.

The successive attacks and demeaning verbal and psychological abuse “sucked the life and soul of confidence” out of her and shattered her sense of self-worth.

She became “meek and submissive” and said in her victim impact statement that she “might be dead or in a vegetative state” if doctors and gardaí had not intervened to get her away from Kane.

A subtle form of abuse 

Coercive control, a sometimes subtle but potentially deadly form of psychological abuse, is a building block for all domestic abuse. 

It can leave deeper scars than the physical attacks and can result in murder.

Sarah Benson, chief executive of Women’s Aid, said: “The backbone of, the architecture of, an abusive relationship is the emotional abuse, the coercive, psychological abuse.

I’ve had countless women say to me directly that ‘if he hit me it would almost be better because then people would believe what’s going on. 

"'But this constant wearing me down, degrading me, monitoring me. 

"'It feels like he’s in my head constantly.'"

Ms Benson said that although coercive control can include physical and sexual violence, it doesn’t have to.

And tragically, coercive control can jump straight from psychological abuse to murder.

The UK’s Domestic Homicide Reviews — reports which examine the circumstances surrounding a killing in the home or by a partner — have found instances where an adult or a child have been killed in the first physical attack following years of coercive control.

“So coercive control should and increasingly is, being regarded as being as serious and as high risk as it ought to be,” Ms Benson said.

There are in excess of 50 cases [of coercive control] that are proceeding through the system at the moment so hopefully there will be more convictions.

Mary McDermott, CEO of Safe Ireland, said that this week's sentencing reveals that Ireland has gained a deeper understanding of domestic abuse.

"We’re really trying to get away from the caricature of the monster and get to understand how violence and control pervade our personal lives," she said.

"And how intimidation can very quickly replace intimacy in dysfunctional relationships.

"There’s a pattern to that, and that pattern is highly gendered. 

"Gender creates this imbalance around expectations and entitlements. So men and women have different expectations and entitlements - about how they function in relationships, what they are entitled to and what they can expect in everything from sex to money to household labour."

'A shot across the bows'

After years campaigning for coercive control to be made a crime, she was "delighted" to see that the judiciary and gardaí now understand "the subtle nature" of domestic abuse.

"The private domain is the last frontier. When you talk about what it means to live in an open and free society, that freedom must extend to the home as well."

She said that Thursday’s sentencing was “a shot across the bows to all abusers.” 

“What was once secret and privatised, is now public. In Ireland, the coercion and assault of any human being is a crime. Living in a ‘lockdown time’ we are gaining ever greater understandings of these household traumas and imprisonment."

Daniel Kane, was jailed for ten and a half years for coercively controlling and repeatedly assaulting his former partner during a 20-month reign of domestic terror. Picture: RTÉ

Daniel Kane, was jailed for ten and a half years for coercively controlling and repeatedly assaulting his former partner during a 20-month reign of domestic terror. Picture: RTÉ

Kane, from Scariff House, Waterville Terrace in Blanchardstown, pleaded not guilty to coercive control. He showed no remorse for his behaviour, treating his victim with “callous disregard”, Judge Elma Sheahan noted at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court. 

The relationship began around April 2018 when the victim was looking for a place to live and was introduced to Kane. She moved into his apartment and they became romantically involved.

As well as physical assaults, she described emotional abuse in which he said demeaning things, used aggressive language and humiliated her - like making her sit naked in a room while he berated her.

She gave evidence of him interfering with her relationship with her family and friends. 

She said the conduct had a serious effect on her and that waiting for the next act of violence was almost worse than the violence itself.

After he was charged with the repeated attacks, Kane threatened to send explicit images of the victim to her family if she did not withdraw the charges.

When she tried to withdraw all charges, an investigation was launched and recordings were obtained of 146 phone calls made by Kane to the victim while he was remanded in custody, threatening that he would self-harm or be harmed by other prisoners if she did not withdraw her accusations. He received an additional charge of attempting to pervert the course of justice - the only charge he pleaded guilty to. 

Following the sentencing on Thursday, Chief Superintendent Finbarr Murphy commended the victim for her bravery and said she has been “an inspiration to a number of women not only in Ireland but beyond Ireland as well”.

“They have found inspiration by your actions to come forward and a lot of them in the last couple of days have come forward and told their stories,” he said.

Cultural shift

Labour Senator, Trinity law professor and women’s rights campaigner Ivana Bacik said that the conviction and sentencing mark a cultural shift in Ireland.

“It is a very important milestone in the campaign against domestic violence that we have, for the first time, a conviction following a trial for this new offence of coercive control.

I hope that we’ll see more cases, more women coming forward, more of those who are going through coercive control recognising it for what it is.

Coercive control has been successfully prosecuted without additional evidence of physical assault in the UK, she said, and she hopes that Ireland will mirror that experience. 

"Increasingly, it's become more usual to prosecute successfully without other evidence of physical assault. Clearly, there’s always going to be evidential difficulty when you don’t have other evidence but I think you’ll increasingly see coercive control being prosecuted as a stand-alone offence."

Kane is the second man found guilty of coercive control in Ireland but the first to be convicted by a jury.

Last February, Kevin Dunleavy, 33, was jailed for 21 months after he pleaded guilty to coercive control and other charges including harassment.

Letterkenny Circuit Court heard how Dunleavy made more than 5,700 phone calls to a woman he was in a "toxic relationship" with between March and June in 2019. 

He made threats to kill her and physically beat his then-partner. He burned her clothes and broke her hair straightener so she couldn't go out.

Anyone affected by the contents of this article can contact Women’s Aid on 1800 341 900 or womensaid.ie. A list of regional domestic violence services can be found at safeireland.ie

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