Graphic Logo for COSC depicting a harp and text

The National Office for the Prevention of Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence.

An Oifig Náisiúnta um Fhoréigean Baile, Gnéasach agus Inscnebhunaithe a Chosc

  1. The Domestic Violence Act 2018

The Domestic Violence Act 2018

 

The Domestic Violence Act 2018 is an important piece of legislation which was commenced on 1 January 2019 and represents a significant improvement in legal protections available to victims of Domestic Violence. The legislation enhances the legislative measures available within the civil law system to support and protect victims including measures required to ratify the Istanbul Convention.

The Act provides for a new criminal 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.

Given the complexity of relationships and the range of behaviours that could be considered controlling and/or coercive, it is difficult to define in statute such an offence. What is controlling for one person may not be considered controlling by another. In that regard the fear felt by a victim is subjective, and varies from person to person.

Coercive control is controlling behaviour that can have serious and damaging effects on those experiencing domestic abuse. It is psychological abuse causing fear of violence, or serious alarm or distress that has a substantial adverse impact on a person’s day-to-day activities. This psychological element is arguably a defining feature of cases of domestic violence, and its effect can be as harmful to victims as physical violence.

It was felt that capturing this in legislation may also help victims identify the behaviour they are suffering as wrong and encourage them to report it, and cause perpetrators to rethink their controlling behaviour.

Front line and specialist gardaí are being trained in relation to all aspects of the new Act, including the offence of coercive control. Given the innovative nature of the offence it will take some time to bed down.  A key point is that the offence requires that a person “persistently” engages in behaviour that is controlling or coercive and has a serious effect on the victim. The offence came into force on 1 January. No criminal law can make back dated behaviour criminal. So victims are advised to start keeping records of coercive or controlling behaviour from 1 January in order to establish/demonstrate a pattern of persistent behaviour