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Friday 19 July 2019

Psychological abuse in a relationship is a criminal offence under new law

Chilling: Women’s Aid launched its Femicide Watch 2018 report revealing that almost nine in 10 women murdered in Ireland are killed by a man known to them. Picture: Paul Sharp
Chilling: Women’s Aid launched its Femicide Watch 2018 report revealing that almost nine in 10 women murdered in Ireland are killed by a man known to them. Picture: Paul Sharp
Ryan Nugent

Ryan Nugent

Psychological abuse in a relationship will be a criminal offence under new domestic violence legislation introduced by Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan and which has now come into force.

The Domestic Violence Act 2018 will see a number of new reforms including safety orders being available to people who are in intimate relationships but who are not living with their partners.

The act, which came into force yesterday, states that victims of domestic violence will be able to apply for an emergency barring order which will last eight working days when there is an immediate risk of harm.

Another change is that a violent or sexual offence committed by a person against their spouse or person they are in an intimate relationship with will be considered as an aggravating factor during sentencing. This was welcomed by director of Women's Aid, Margaret Martin.

"We have long argued that when a perpetrator is a current or former intimate partner of the woman that this should be an aggravating factor rather than a mitigating one when it comes to sentencing to acknowledge the unique position that the perpetrator is in, including the fact that they have intimate knowledge of and access to their victim and so brutally betrays that trust."

The Department of Justice said one of the key new protections for victims under the criminal law introduced by the act will be the offence of coercive control.

"This is psychological abuse in an intimate relationship that causes fear of violence, or serious alarm or distress that has a substantial adverse impact on a person's day-to-day activities," the department said.

Also among the changes to the law will be the possibility for victims to give evidence by live television link both in civil cases and in criminal cases for breaches of orders.

"The court will be able to seek the views of children where a safety or barring order is sought on behalf of the child," the department added.

Ms Martin said that additional resources need to be included if the new act is to be a success.

This includes more resources for gardaí and courts as well as specialist support services.

"From January 1, 2019, women must feel change quickly. It must be positive, it must be practical and it must make them and their children safer from abuse," Ms Martin said.

"What is promised on paper must be fully resourced to be effective in protecting those affected by domestic violence.

"We are concerned that an already overstretched system will see an increase in demand when the new provisions commence," she warned.

Ms Martin also said that Women's Aid supports the extension of eligibility for safety and barring orders for those in relationships but who are not cohabiting.

"This change will make a significant difference to the safety of younger women.

"We also welcome the move to prevent abusers to communicate electronically with their victims, a step in the right direction to address the digital abuse and online harassment of women by partners and exes."

Out-of-hours sittings of the District Court will be held to provide orders in emergency situations.

"We hope that the Garda will use this provision to offer vulnerable women the chance to apply for immediate protection when it is needed and that this measure is adequately resourced, so that it will work in practice," said Ms Martin.

Forced marriage will now be a criminal offence, while provisions that enable people who are under 18 to marry are also repealed under the new legislation.

Irish Independent

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