Charles Dickens had one of his more memorable characters, Mr Bumble, scathingly analyse the legal system in the epic novel Oliver Twist. When he learned from Mr Brownlow that, under Victorian law, he was responsible for actions carried out by his wife, he reacted indignantly.
“If the law supposes that,” said Mr Bumble, squeezing his hat emphatically in both hands, “the law is a ass – a idiot.” Those words of Dickens date from 1838 – but down the years they have often been cited and repeated after unhappy occasions and unsatisfactory outcomes in the legal system.
But this week is a happy and total exception as we have seen a relatively new piece of legislation, dating only from January 2019, delivering positive outcomes in two very harrowing cases.
The outcomes of these two separate cases, involving coercive control by two reprehensible men against two women in their lives, also give the lie to Mr Bumble’s commentary, which contained some reflexive misogyny from the Victorian era.
The women in each of these high-profile cases who suffered this appalling abuse have courageously come forward to speak of their horrific experiences in hopes they can encourage others to seek help. On Tuesday, former garda Paul Moody was jailed for three years and three months for a four-year campaign of harassment, threats and wicked control of a woman suffering from cancer.
It includes all or some forms of domestic abuse, be it emotional, physical, financial and/or sexual
Yesterday, Dean Ward was jailed for 17 years for raping, falsely imprisoning, assaulting, threatening to kill and coercively controlling a woman after invading almost every aspect of her everyday life over a period of six weeks.
A prominent feature of both these distressing stories was the use of the relatively new legislation outlawing the crime of coercive control, which is described as a persistent pattern of controlling, forceful and threatening behaviour.
It includes all or some forms of domestic abuse, be it emotional, physical, financial and/or sexual. It includes threats by a current or former friend, partner or spouse.
To date, it more usually involves men abusing women, trapping them in a relationship and making it impossible or dangerous to leave. But it can involve women abusing men and same-sex partnerships. The law also applies in such instances.
Support groups who help people who suffer in such instances have warmly welcomed the use of the new legislation, which comes under Section 39 of the new Domestic Violence Act voted through the Dáil and Seanad in the course of 2018. These two high-profile cases this week have been a good example of new legislation working well and it is encouraging to see that happen.
Every right-thinking man and woman across the country will hope this legislation will be used more and more to help combat the distressing scourge of domestic violence in which coercive control plays a central role.
Domestic violence in all its forms has for too long remained hidden in the shadows while too many families suffered damage that lasted the entirety of their lives.