IN 2014 I wrote an opinion piece that legislation in Ireland needed to be amended to recognise psychological abuse as a crime.
Last week it was announced that, following in the footsteps of the UK, psychological abuse within an intimate relationship is to become a crime in Ireland.
The offense of ‘coercive control’ is to be included in the forthcoming Domestic Violence Bill 2017, put forward by Minister of State for Justice, David Stanton.
I welcome this bill
As a victim of coercive abuse, otherwise known as psychological or emotional abuse, I welcome this Bill with relief.
The amendment is significant on two fronts: it gives victims a channel through which to confront their abuser, and secondly, it unequivocally confirms that psychological abuse is real, dangerous and a crime.
Probably one of the most challenging fallouts of being open about my experience was how sceptical people were, not understanding or believing that psychological violence is real, dismissing me as possibly nuts rather than a victim of abuse. Some people around me were so disbelieving that they suggested I had perpetrated the harm on myself.
If this legislation was in place a couple of years ago, I believe my life would have taken a much different path. I did not have the option to go to court, to have my suffering recognised. This was an almost unbearable form of cruelty. Without any legal recourse or legal precedent, my healing – my validation – was to write.
I did not realise it was happening to me
I did not realise what was happening to me. It left me mentally injured, not ill, but traumatised. It’s essential to make that distinction.
My brain was violently harmed, and I had a long road to recovery. I was in a living hell.
I was not mentally ill and I had never suffered from depression. I had always been a positive, happy person. I was confident and ran my own business. I had an active and fulfilling family and social life until I was sucked into a destructively abusive relationship.
The abuse has left an indelible scar. The scar manifested in depression, suicidal feelings, and extreme and dulled emotional responsiveness. It interferes with my ability to live an emotionally fulfilled life.
He was subtly destroying me
With his abuse, he invaded my territory, controlled my movements, destroyed my confidence, infiltrated my finances, isolated me from my friends and family, threatened my stability and security.
He perversely led me to believe that he cared about my welfare, that I was his only true friend. All the while he was subtly debilitating and destroying me, and he knew it.
He would shower me with love than withhold it. He would praise me as though I was his angel and in the next breath he would criticise me, humiliate me and question my stability. He was playing yo-yo with my emotions, with my mind and my life.
New legislation will allow prosecution
This new legislation will allow the prosecution of the type of abuse inflicted on me: of someone who creates an ongoing threatening atmosphere within a relationship, even in the absence of violence or overt threats of violence.
The amendment states that a person commits an offense if they engage in “controlling or coercive” behaviour “likely to have a serious effect on a relevant person”.
Once the Bill becomes law, a victim can feel some sense of empowerment via the courts, and the perpetrator of psychological abuse can be prosecuted.
Since it’s introduction in the UK authorities have sued 155 people for engaging in coercive control. 59 were found guilty and of those, 28 were sent to prison. It’s real, it’s happening, and it’s about to become a crime in Ireland.
Patricia Tsouris is a Greek-Irish businesswoman with expertise in the emerging contemporary art market and the Co-Founder and Head of Innovation at www.artfetch.com. She is a mother, dog lover, and traveller, with a passion for photography, poetry and politics and fashion.