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Clare Haven highlights insidious nature of ‘coercive control’


THE courageous decision taken by South Galway mother Sourney Linnane to publicly outline her experience of coercive control has been praised by Clare Haven House manager, Dr Siobhán O’Connor.
Dr O’Connor praised Ms Linnane for taking the “incredibly brave” step of waving her anonymity to raise important issues affecting victims of domestic abuse in a bid to improve services for others in similar situations. “It is an incredibly brave thing what Sourney Linnane did. The fact she has survived what she went through and came out the other side and was still so cognisant of the benefit of sharing her story is commendable.
“Sourney is so passionate about ensuring that everyone understands the insidiousness of coercive control.
“She is such a brave and honourable woman. She has put a spotlight on the gaps in the system where she feels it let her down.”
Dr O’Connor stressed there is an onus on the government to address the deficits that Ms Linnane has identified through her experience.
Coercive control is the overarching element of domestic abuse. It is how domestic abuse manifests itself and how it can be perpetuated.
“Domestic abuse is never a single incident. It never starts off in a big eruption. Most of the time it is an evolving developmental increase of abuses, be it financial, sexual, physical, emotional, under the arc of coercive control. “It is about the perpetrator taking power and control from the woman who placed her trust, integrity and love in him and how that is manipulated into something that is so cruel.
“Abuse is a choice. Every perpetrator makes a choice to abuse someone. There is never an excuse to abuse. If there was an excuse to abuse, then we are saying a woman is lesser to a man’s needs, which isn’t the case.” She is totally in awe of women who volunteer as witnesses in a domestic abuse court case.
“Their whole experience is laid out in front of the world for people to judge and nitpick. Everyone has an opinion on what she should have done. “It is very important for women to do this or otherwise men can literally get away with murder.”
Asked about the incidence of coercive control, Ms O’Connor pointed out coercive control and domestic abuse can almost be interchangeable phrases. She explained coercive control takes place in the domestic sphere for domestic abuse, while the perpetrator is managing this insidious control all of the time.
“This isn’t an erratic response or an emotional outburst. This is a planned sequence of events that a perpetrator is doing in order to take power and control from somebody and that is done in an organised way. It is perpetrated in the domestic sphere and manifests itself in domestic abuse. “All domestic abuse is a form of coercive control in some way. They are intertwined. The perpetrator is taking control through coercion. “Why would a person live in that situation unless they were coerced into it through different types of abuse – ‘if you don’t do this, this is the consequence”.
“Ultimate power and control is what the perpetrator is trying to achieve.”
The Clare Haven manager pointed out coercive control is a relatively new criminal offence, having entered the statue books almost two years ago and was previously used in academic literature.
Previously, she recalled people used to look at domestic abuse as individual incidents. However, a greater understanding of coercive control has facilitated an overview of a planned attack of the perpetrator almost from the moment he meets his victim all the way through.
She acknowledged introducing coercive control as a criminal offence is very useful for women who have experienced long history of abuse within the same relationship and allows prosecutors to look at a series of events as a pattern in a broad perspective.
She warned coercive control can often be very subtle and can involve isolating a victim away from family and friends.
She cited cases when a woman who was abused said her partner was constantly around without fully realising at the time she was being constantly monitored.
“Perpetrators of coercive control are very good at what they do. They can build up their skill set over a lot of relationships. “They might give a look which might seem to be loving but could mean something totally different to the victim or may mean they have stepped over the line in the perpetrator’s eyes.”
If people want to help victims of domestic abuse, Ms O’Connor stressed it is important to listen to a victim when they are voicing their concerns over what is happening to them and to believe them when they speak. She stressed all victims of crime are very concerned about the release dates of criminals from prison. While the perpetrator has a right to have their privacy protected, she said it is even more significant for victims of domestic abuse to learn about a prisoner’s official release date because in many cases they may be released back to the home where there their partner is still living, which was the scene of the crime. She said the question of whether this issue could be addressed on a statutory basis or in the form of better policies and procedures adopted by the prison service deserved further consideration. Depending on the wording of a barring order, which is usually quite standard, she pointed out a perpetrator is not supposed to contact the victim by any means, regardless of where they are residing.
She advised any woman who is concerned about the terms of their barring order to present it to a women’s support service, which has the expertise to address her concerns.
Clare Haven House was set up by two women Colette Reddington and Mary Fitzgerald who saw a need for a service 25 years ago.
It gets funding from different agencies to provide specific services on an annual basis. While Clare Haven does develop three and five-year plans, they are all subject to the major caveat of availability of funding. Ms O’Connor believes Clare Haven provides an excellent services to service users thanks to their hard working staff.
She said it would be great if the government provided a proper counselling service for everyone experiencing mental health issues and if Clare Haven could refer victims of domestic abuse to a quality counselling service informed by the specialist services on the ground.
“With domestic abuse comes a need for counselling, homeless and addiction problems. There should be all wrapped around and integrated together. Currently, we have stand alone services. More state support could be provided for victims of domestic abuse led by specialist services and the voice of women like Sourney Linnane. It is important that gaps that are identified by women are filled.”
Anyone who needs the support of Clare Haven Services can contact their confidential 24- hour Helpline 065-6822435.

by Dan Danaher

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