Some men care more about their reputation than they do about women’s lives.
In the days after the Paul Moody case, the story of the former garda who tortured a terminal cancer patient through a sustained campaign of heinous abuse, I was thinking a lot about men who try to find ways to demand respect rather than accept they’d probably fail to earn it on their own.
Newsreaders recalling examples of Moody’s horror tactics made my knuckles whiten and my stomach drop. How he left his ill victim stranded on a beach, from which she had to crawl home. Stealing her expensive cancer medicine. Sitting beside her hospital bed, spitting vicious and violent thoughts in her ear. The hatred he felt for her, and tenacity he had for making her suffer and ruining her life.
Those of us who had the good fortune not to have known Moody had him introduced to us as a character who was indisputably monstrous. But within the lines of this awful story we got to know a little bit about the other Moody, the false version of himself that this despicable abuser must have worked so hard to present to the world.
We learned of the garda colleague who was manipulated into putting his victim through to Moody, after she had called the garda station trying to raise the alarm about him. We heard about how he, an insider who may well have been trading on ill-gotten esteem, was able to manipulate the system not just against the victim but those close to her too.
There is no doubt that those who had been close to Moody, or those who had worked alongside him have probably spent a very hard few days trying to reconcile the person they thought they knew with the man we’ve all read about in the news. But we also know from his brave victim that there were people in Moody’s life who continued to stand by him even after learning of what he did, even after having all the evidence they could have needed to see what he is truly like.
Abusers are often master manipulators, who sometimes but not always use big, bombastic personalities as a brilliant disguise. How many times has a woman been killed in Ireland, only for her own town or village to fail her memory by wondering aloud about the good character of the “pillar of the community” who killed her?
I wonder what exactly it was that called Paul Moody to serve in the gardaí. Do we think it was the desire to protect the public? Or do we think maybe it could have been a desire to protect himself? Moody chose a profession that shrouded him in respectability. His uniform was a costume. When Moody was dressed as a garda, he was dressed as someone that the rest of us were expected to respect.
What matters to these kinds of abusers is so often not the damage that they do to others, but the damage that being caught out does to their reputation. For that reason, I do wonder how much justice we can expect from Paul Moody’s sentence.
Coercive control isn’t one crime, it’s a crusade. It requires a kind of devotion on the part of the abuser to the most brutal, sustained harassment that ultimately smothers the victim in hellish isolation. Though we mean well, I often think it’s a mistake to measure the harm of coercive control solely through the impact statements of victims. I think that the effort that men — and it is mostly men — go to to deny women their liberty and their life through coercive control should always be seen as an aberration that is totally anathema to the values we hold as a society.
So considering the effort that coercive control requires, do we think that the current maximum sentence of five years is an appropriate punishment for that kind of crime? I’d well believe that even if they were given the maximum sentence, there must be abusers who would spend less time in prison than they had spent orchestrating their evil crusade of torment and torture.
So I found it hard to feel that the three years and three months handed down to Moody truly matched his crimes. I don’t have enough faith to feel a sentence that short could ever change or reform someone who is capable of doing what he did.
But what would feel a little bit more just to me would be for Paul Moody to be infamous. Just three years into the criminalisation of coercive control, I strongly believe that his crimes should remain one of the most notorious examples of why this law needs to exist. Long, long, long after his sentence is served, I hope everyone in the country recognises Paul Moody for who he is — and what he has done. Let’s make sure Paul Moody finally has the kind of reputation that he really, truly deserves.