Gardaí are responding to a report of domestic abuse or violence every 10 minutes, with almost 50,000 complaints made to the force this year and many more offences continuing to go unreported, a senior officer has said.
News of the increased number of cases comes as domestic violence killings, usually in the home, replace gangland shootings as the most common types of homicide in Ireland.
Det Supt Sinéad Greene, of the Garda National Protective Services Bureau (GNPSB), said she expects a “spike” in reports of domestic violence and coercive control during the Christmas and new year holiday period, including from people who may have been victimised by the same perpetrators “for decades”.
She encouraged victims, or others who were concerned about someone they know, to contact gardaí over the festive period.
While coercive control became a specific criminal offence in 2019, the number of reports being made has continued to grow, with 173 cases so far this year compared to 36 in 2019 and 108 in 2020.
However, there remains some “uncertainty” about what constituted coercive control, Det Supt Greene said. She defined it as “a pattern of behaviour that involves humiliation, intimidation leading to psychological or emotional abuse that may not include any physical violence at all”.
“It involves a current or ex-partner that is, or was, in an intimate relationship with the victim. Coercive control behaviours can include restricting the victim’s movements, excessive contact or monitoring phone activity and social media. It can involve controlling the victim’s finances, imposing rules and forcibly making decisions on their behalf. Even though this is a relatively new offence, the sad reality is that there are people living with this in their lives for decades.”
Det Supt Greene was speaking on Friday as part of the Garda’s participation in “16 days of activism”. It is an international law enforcement operation to reach and assist vulnerable victims in the areas of sexual, domestic and gender-based violence as well as human trafficking and “intimate image abuse”, which includes so-called revenge porn.
In March 2020, when the first Covid-19 lockdown period began, Operation Faoiseamh was established by the Garda to reach out to those at risk of domestic violence and prosecute perpetrators. Reports of domestic abuse have increased since then, with the 49,257 such incidents reported so far this year, an increase of 9 per cent on last year.
Det Chief Supt Colm Noonan, who leads the GNPSB, said 390 gardaí were now attached to the protective services bureau, which specialises in dealing with vulnerable victims. He added that 90 per cent of frontline gardaí had now undergone training in how to identify, and respond to, coercive control cases.
He said the Garda’s public attitudes survey, published last week, showed 90 per cent of respondents believed sexual offences should be the force’s top crime-fighting priority. Domestic abuse was rated as the second-highest priority, followed by human trafficking.
Det Chief Supt Noonan added that gardaí understood the “enormous step” victims had to take before reporting domestic, sexual or gender-based violence. Gardaí would continue to engage with a victim until they felt ready to commence a prosecution process. As an interim measure, victims could also be advised about securing a barring or safety order which would make them safer.