Domestic abuse victims urge changes to ‘outdated’ NI law

Two women are speaking out about their experiences of domestic abuse in a bid to see NI's law changed. Credit: UTV

Victims of domestic abuse from Northern Ireland are calling for changes to legislation which has been described as 'outdated'.

It comes after the Domestic Violence Act 2018 was made law in the Republic of Ireland on 1 January, effectively making coercive control or psychological abuse in a relationship a criminal offence.

While similar legislation exists in other parts of the UK, it does not extend to Northern Ireland.

Two women have spoke to UTV about the years of abuse they have endured in their marriages.

‘Beth’ and ‘Emma’ – not their real names - have come forward because they believe that Northern Ireland’s domestic violence legislation is broken.

Beth says her former husband used technology and financial knowledge to control and abuse her even after their marriage ended.

“All the accounts in our house were not in my name, I did not know bank details to access everything online ...” she said.

Abuse doesn't have to be physical to exert control over someone's life. Credit: UTV

She added: “I can say the police were wonderful in my case – they have been very, very supportive, very understanding and very caring. But they are powerless.

“They can serve a non-mol (non-molestation order), but in my case, I’ve paid for it. It’s up in court for a mention every month – I pay for that too.

“And I should not be paying for a perpetrator’s behaviour.”

Emma says the financial abuse has left her and her family in poverty, as her former husband lives abroad and she doesn’t receive any child support maintenance.

“We’re barely existing – I wouldn’t call it living, we’re surviving,” she said.

“I’m cutting down trees from my garden by hand to heat my house.”

A recent EU report has branded Northern Ireland’s current law ‘outdated’.

According to the Department of Justice, a domestic abuse bill has been prepared but cannot proceed any further due to a lack of devolved government.

In a statement, it says the bill would “provide for a new offence of physical or psychological abuse”.

It continues: “The bill includes a statutory domestic abuse aggravator, for other offences, which could attract enhanced sentencing.

“The new law will send a clear message that domestic abuse in all its forms will not be tolerated.

“The legislation can only be taken forward on the return of an Assembly.”

In its absence, the women are travelling to Westminster to put these issues to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee.

Police respond to an incident of domestic abuse every 17 minutes in Northern Ireland.

PSNI Superintendent Ryan Henderson said: “Legislation which has been worked on by the Department of Justice would give police officers another avenue to explore.

“But that doesn’t mean that if somebody comes forward now, they’ll not get a full and thorough investigation.”

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