Ireland just expanded the legal definition of domestic violence to include emotional and psychological abuse.
As part of the country’s Domestic Violence Act 2018, which went into effect on New Year’s Day, “coercive control” is now recognized as domestic violence and is punishable by up to five years in prison. The legislation defines coercive control as “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 new law makes Ireland one of only a handful of countries that have set such a precedent. It’s an important step in Ireland, where one in five women experiences some form of emotional, physical, sexual and financial abuse by an intimate partner in her lifetime, according to the Irish anti-domestic violence organization Women’s Aid.
The new law recognizes that “the effect of non-violent control in an intimate relationship can be as harmful to victims as physical abuse because it is an abuse of the unique trust associated with an intimate relationship,” Ireland’s Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan, said in a statement on Wednesday.
“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,” he continued.
The Domestic Violence Act 2018 also criminalizes forced marriage, allows restraining orders for couples who do not live together and restricts media coverage in cases of gender-based violence.
Women’s Aid director Margaret Martin said her organization will be closely monitoring the implementation of the legislation.
“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,” she said in a Tuesday statement.
She noted that budget constraints could hinder the law’s effectiveness.
“What is promised on paper must be fully resourced to be effective in protecting those affected by domestic violence,” Martin said. “We are concerned that an already over-stretched system will see an increase in demand when the new provisions commence.”
Cases of emotional abuse far exceeded reported cases of physical abuse in Ireland in 2017, according to data obtained by Women’s Aid. Last year alone, there were 15,833 reports of domestic violence. Of those, 10,281 were cases of emotional and psychological abuse, and 3,502 were cases of physical abuse. Additionally, there were 1,443 reported cases of financial abuse and 607 reported cases of sexual abuse.