Ireland’s first coercive control conviction highlights the importance of active bystanders. Judge Elma Sheahan sentenced 52-year-old Daniel Kane to 10.5 years in prison for coercive control, intimidation, and repeated assaults on his 43-year-old ex-partner. Kane’s campaign of domestic abuse took place over twenty months between 2018 and 2020.
Coercive control is a pattern of acts used by one person to secure emotional, psychological, and financial dominance over another person. It is the most extreme form of domestic abuse in existence. It was criminalized in Ireland in 2018.
Neighbors feared for victim’s life
Kane is the first person in Ireland to receive a coercive control conviction after a trial. Judge Sheahan found that his aggression was unprovoked and motivated by his contempt for the 43-year-old victim.
His daily alcohol-fueled attacks on his partner caused neighbors to fear for her life. Consequently, the police were called to the premises on five different occasions.
One neighbor recalls, “There were genuinely times I thought he was going to kill her — that’s how bad it was. The level of violence and aggression heard inside those walls was very distressing at times, at all hours of the day and night.
“And it wasn’t just normal rows. It was frightening what you would hear, between his aggression and her screams. I called the gardai and reported it to the management company, that’s all you can really do.”
The extent of Kane’s control over his partner terrified her to such an extent that she initially refused to make a complaint leaving the police unable to intervene.
In 2019, emergency medicine consultant Dr. Niamh Collins contacted investigators and expressed fear of a “real and substantial” threat to her life. Armed with medical evidence, police were able to charge Kane.
From victim to survivor
After Kane was charged, the victim felt safe and found the courage to tell her story. Moreover, she was able to provide a detailed victim impact statement about the intimate terrorism he inflicted on her. Yet he continued to threaten her from behind bars. Between March and July 2020, he told her he would send nude videos of her to her family and friends and publish them online if she didn’t withdraw her statement.
In a display of remarkable courage, she went ahead with the case, testifying to the court that she “might be dead or in a vegetative state” if not for the intervention of the doctor and police. She encouraged other victim-survivors to reach out to services like Woman’s Aid and the National Domestic Violence Hotline for support.
Orla O’Connor, the chief executive of the National Women’s Council of Ireland and Chief Superintendent Finbar Murphy at Blanchardstown Garda Station praised the survivor.
Chief Superintendent Murphy said, “This brave woman’s evidence in this investigation was vital.
“This case shows that any victim of domestic abuse shouldn’t suffer in silence — the abuser will convince them the [police] won’t listen but this is wrong.
“We will listen, we will investigate and the fault always lies with the aggressor. The Garda are skilled and experienced to deal with these types of investigations.”
“There are other tools at our disposal such as barring orders and we will continue to use those. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you are from — it’s against the law for anyone to behave in this appalling fashion. Everyone is entitled to dignity and respect.”
For more information visit Ireland’s National Police and Security Service.
Cruelty of the most vicious nature
The court found that Kane’s coercive and controlling behavior began in earnest once he had isolated his partner from her family and friends.
Judge Sheahan said Kane showed disdain for the victim with totally unprovoked and unpredictable acts of “cruelty of the most vicious nature”, including:
- Financial abuse
- Burning her foot with a cigarette
- Cutting her face and neck with a pizza slicer
- Stomping on and fracturing her arm
- Head-butting when she was recovering from nasal surgery, and
- Strangling her, leaving bruises on her throat
He subjected her to humiliation by forcing her to sit naked on a sofa while he ranted verbal abuse at her. Because Kane took all of the victim’s money she could not escape.
A contributing factor to this lengthy coercive control conviction was Judge Sheahan’s disconcerting observation of Kane’s refusal to accept responsibility for the pain he caused – behavior that is typical of dark triad personalities high in narcissistic and anti-social traits.
In addition to his coercive control conviction, Kane was charged with intending to pervert justice for trying to intimate his ex-partner into withdrawing her statement. He pled guilty.
Domestic abuse occurs in the context of coercive control
Sarah Benson, chief executive of Women’s Aid, underscores the role coercive control plays in domestic abuse relationships. She describes the pattern of abuse as “tactics designed to isolate someone, erode their self-esteem and their sense of self-worth.”
Signs of coercive control include but are not limited to:
- Obstruction of employment
- Monitoring time
- Deprivation of basic needs
- Monitoring communication
- Taking control of daily life
- Rules and regulations
- Financial abuse
- Criminal damage
- Assault or rape
“It would be true to say that the vast majority of domestic violence and domestic abuse relationships occur in the context of coercive control.” said Ms. Benson, “Criminalizing coercive control is an incredibly important piece of legislation because that is how domestic violence and abuse manifests itself, in a pattern of behavior. To see that recognized and vindicated by a jury is excellent progress.”
A landmark coercive control case
Ireland’s first coercive control conviction demonstrates a departure from the culture of silence in which domestic abuse thrives. It also shows the vital role played by informed bystanders in preventing domestic abuse.
With the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union, Ireland is now the only country in Europe with definitive coercive control legislation.
“This is a landmark case in Ireland and we hope that it will encourage many other women living with the terrorizing pattern of coercive control to come forward and to know that they will be believed and understood,” Catríona Gleeson, a spokeswoman for Safe Ireland said, “This case also sends a strong message to abusive men that if they think that it is acceptable to control, isolate, intimidate or degrade a woman, as this man did on a prolonged basis, they will have to stop this behavior or they will be convicted of a very serious crime.”
A gendered crime
While holding space for male survivors and recognizing that it happens to some men, it is important to understand that coercive control is a gendered crime. In other words, the extreme levels of violence and domestic homicide associated are more likely to happen to women.
Forensic social worker Dr. Evan Stark of Rutgers University who first coined the term, explains, “coercive control is a strategic course of oppressive behavior designed to secure and expand gender-based privilege by depriving women of their rights and liberties and establishing a regime of domination in personal life.”
He characterizes coercive control as:
- Rational, instrumental behavior and not a loss of control
- Ongoing rather than episodic, and
- It is based on multiple tactics i.e. violence, intimidation, degradation, isolation, and control.
Global Incidence of Domestic Homicide
The systemic nature of coercive control is such that every year 50 000 women are killed by intimate partners or family members.
Source: UNDOC Homicide Statistics. Page 18.
- Reynolds, P. (2021, January 21). Man jailed for over 10 years for coercive control. Retrieved January 21, 2021.
- Coyne, Ellen (2020, November 13). Conviction for coercive control seen as ‘culture change’. Retrieved January 21, 2021.
- Breen, S. (2021, January 24). Abuser repeatedly reported by neighbour who feared he’d kill his partner. Retrieved January 25, 2021.
- Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence. New York State. Abusive Partners. Retrieved January 25, 2021.
Confidential support is available 24/7/365 to anyone experiencing abuse. In the USA call 1-800-799-7233 or log on to thehotline.org. In the UK call 0808 2000 247 or log on to nationaldahelpline.org.uk.