Ireland’s New Domestic Violence Law Recognizes That Emotional Abuse Is A Crime, Too

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Ireland's Domestic Violence Act 2018 went to effect on Jan. 1, marking reforms to the country's current laws, and expanding protections for victims. Included in the changes is Ireland's formal criminalization of emotional abuse, something the country's Justice and Equality Minister says can be "as harmful to victims as physical abuse."

"For too long, domestic violence has been seen primarily as physical abuse..." Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan, said in a statement. "This new provision sends a message that society will no longer tolerate the appalling breach of trust committed by one partner against the other in an intimate context."

The country's domestic violence legislation will now consider "coercive control" to be a crime, and those who are convicted could serve up to five years in prison, according to the Irish Examiner. The crimine will cover both psychological and emotional abuse

More specifically, Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTE), Ireland's national public service broadcaster, reported that the formal definition of coercive control will include "psychological abuse in intimate relationships that causes fear of violence or serious alarm or distress that has a substantial adverse impact on a person's day-to-day life, manifesting as a pattern of intimidation or humiliation involving psychological or emotional abuse."

Beyond criminalizing coercive control, the law changes how Ireland's judicial system and law enforcement handle reports of domestic violence in a myriad of ways. The law criminalizes forced marriage, which will carry a punishment of up to seven years in prison, and repealed legislative provisions which allowed people under 18 to get married, according to a government press release.

Additionally, safety orders — which prohibit offenders from perpetrating threats or acts of violence — will be made available even when couples aren't living together; and, emergency barring orders — which require offenders to leave a cohabitated home — will be made available even if the victim doesn't own or pay for their joint residence.

Courts will also now be required to provide victims with information on domestic violence services, and victims will be allowed to bring a supportive friend or family member to legal proceedings. Additionally, any sexual offense or violent act within an intimate relationship will be considered an aggravating factor at sentencing procedures, which women's rights groups — who by and large supported the legislation in general — were particularly pleased about.

"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," Margaret Martin, director of Women's Aid, an Irish anti-domestic violence organization, told the Irish Independent.

In a separate press release, Martin underscored the importance of thoroughly implementing the new legal changes. "From 1st January 2019, women must feel change quickly," she said. "It must be positive, it must be practical and it must make them and their children safer from abuse. What is promised on paper must be fully resourced to be effective in protecting those affected by domestic violence."