What is coercive control? Expert says it ‘is a liberty crime… takes away people’s equality and dignity’

The Paul Moody case was a textbook example of coercive control, according to the leading global authority on the crime.

rofessor Evan Stark, a sociologist and forensic social worker, is credited with helping to design laws which explicitly recognised and criminalised sustained controlling behaviour and emotional abuse.

He has been directly involved in the implementation of the criminalisation of coercive control in England, Wales, Scotland and in various US states.

Speaking to the Irish Independent, Prof Stark said that the case of former garda Paul Moody “illustrates everything we know about what coercive control is” and could end up being a landmark case that raises public awareness of what coercive control means.

Moody, a former garda, was jailed for three years and three months this week for coercive control. His campaign of harassment against a terminally ill woman included beating, kicking, punching and choking her.

‘The case seems to include everything we know about coercive control. The isolation, physical violence and intimidation, the manipulation’

He sent over 30,000 abusive and threatening messages to the woman. He told her he hoped she would die in pain. Moody took pictures of the woman while she was naked without her knowledge or consent, and threatened to share them online.

The woman, who is suffering from cancer, had her medication stolen by Moody. She told the court she could not afford to replace it.

“The case seems to include everything we know about coercive control. The isolation, physical violence and intimidation, the manipulation,” Prof Stark said.

“The case illustrates the fact that coercive control is also an ongoing offence that goes on for a long period of time. And that also educates people. And it also shows that coercive control does not meet the traditional idea of domestic abuse, something that happens behind closed doors. This victim was being assaulted in a car, assaulted in the street, on a beach and in a hospital. It was happening in a social space.

“The other thing that this case illustrates quite nicely is how hard coercive control is to police. Because here we have examples of hundreds of assaults, all kinds of crimes going on, and police did not have the foggiest idea that it was going on. All these violations were taking place against this person, and it shows that policing coercive control requires highly specialised policing.”

Moody was finally caught after he made a complaint about one of the woman’s family members and handed in his phone as part of the investigation.

Detectives from the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation then realised the crimes and approached the woman, who was his former partner.

Prof Stark said that coercive control was often perpetrated against a network of people – not just the victim, but often her family and friends also.

Coercive control was criminalised in Ireland in 2018. Prof Stark said that the public should regard coercive control as an attack on a woman’s liberty, and the law should lead the public to think differently about the way society views women.

“Coercive control is a liberty crime. It takes away people’s liberty, equality and dignity. These are all of the things that this woman lost. We have to ask ourselves if we value those rights. And then we have to ask ourselves, do we value those rights the same way for a female-bodied person as we do for a male-bodied person?

“These offences violate the most basic bodily dignity of a woman. Her peace of mind, her privacy, her liberty. These were things that were expected to be tolerated by women if they were married, or who had a boyfriend who was carrying them out on them,” Prof Stark said. “Coercive control is a new law, which means women’s status in Ireland is new too.”

Prof Stark said that a growing number of convictions of coercive control in Ireland was to be welcomed.

However, he said he believed Ireland’s law would be better if attacks like sexual assault and stalking were considered as part of a pattern of coercive control rather than as separate offences.

Moody was finally caught after he made a complaint about one of the woman’s family members and handed in his phone as part of the investigation

“Sexual assault and stalking, both of them should be part of the coercive control offence in my opinion.

“Because even though they are already crimes in Ireland, when they occur in the context of coercive control they are completely different to sexual assault when a stranger is involved and stalking when a stranger is involved,” Prof Stark said.

“Sexual assault in the context of coercive control is repeated. It covers a broad spectrum of crime, including rape, as routine.

“And stalking in the context of coercive control begins, almost always, when the relationship is still together. And when stalking is present in coercive control, it is much more likely to lead to a homicide.”

Professor Stark said that coercive control was a completely bespoke crime, where other offences were used as part of a pattern of terrorising someone, and so those crimes had to be considered in that context.

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