Proposed domestic abuse laws for Northern Ireland have a similar aim as legislation which has just outlawed certain types of behaviour within relationships in England and Wales, the Department of Justice says.
The far reaching English legislation has been applauded by some in NI but also raised concerns that it could in itself be used to perpetuate abuse.
Some of the new English offences are; persistent name-calling, mocking and other forms of insulting behaviour, as well as extreme jealousy or “ridiculous” accusations of cheating. Other offences include forced obedience to rules which “humiliate, degrade or dehumanise the victim” and refusing a partner a choice in decisions.
The PSNI says almost 30,000 NI domestic abuse incidents were reported in 2017/18, however only half reached the standard of NI criminal offences.
SDLP policing and justice spokeswoman Dolores Kelly said she is “a strong supporter” of the English legislation, as lower level abuse can precede more extreme behaviour.
“In the 2011-2016 assembly mandate I asked the justice minister to bring forward similar legislation to deal with coercive control, to better protect victims of domestic violence,” she said. “Evidence over many years and the experience of victims tells us that quite often the cycle of domestic violence begins with such behaviours as outlined in the legislation.
“This conditions the victim to reduce their self esteem and isolate her, as women are the majority of victims, and is ultimately about control.
“Whilst not all abuse is physical, these behaviours have a devastating affect on a victim’s emotional and psychological well-being and can have as an appalling impact on their physical well-being as a punch or a kick, only the scars are not as visible.”
Former NI UKIP leader David McNarry said he had received many requests for help from both male and female domestic abuse victims, when he was a sitting MLA.
“The depth of depravity of some of these types of domestic abuse needs legislation,” he said of the English law.
“However I could see how such legislation could be manipulated, so I think what we need to do is to make sure any loopholes are tightened before it would become law in NI.”
It is not hard to see how the ‘#Metoo’ movement could abuse such legislation to name and shame people, he said.
“Otherwise I could see how a crescendo could be built up in which some guys could be put off getting into a lasting relationship.”
He was concerned that if not framed correctly, the legislation could be abused in a similar manner to malicious rape allegations, he said.
A Department of Justice spokeswoman said that a draft Domestic Abuse Bill has been prepared for NI but cannot be published without the approval of a minister and can only become law on the return of an assembly.
The NI bill includes “abusive behaviour that is violent or threatening or could have the effect, amongst others, of isolating, controlling, frightening or degrading a person,” she said.
Whilst the overall aim of is similar to England and Wales, the specific content and approach differs, she added.
The 11 behaviours which can now constitute criminal abuse in England and Wales are;-
1. Sharing sexually explicit images of a partner
2. Restricting access to money
3. Repeated put downs
4. Stopping a partner from seeing friends or family
5. Scaring or intimidating a partner
6. Threatening to reveal private information
7. Putting tracking devices on a phone
8. Extreme jealousy or accusations of cheating
9. Forcing obedience to rules set by one partner
10. Controlling what clothes a partner wears
11. Making a partner do things they don’t want to do
The Department of Justice advises that sharing sexual photographs of a partner is already an offence in NI.