NI 'dragging behind' over protection for victims
Northern Ireland is "dragging behind" the rest of the UK on dealing with domestic violence, it has been warned.
A new domestic abuse offence of coercive and controlling behaviour is to be introduced in England and Wales to strengthen protection for victims.
It will also provide an additional charging option to police where there is continuous or repeated coercive or controlling behaviour.
Calls have been made for similar legislation to be introduced here, where police are responding to a domestic abuse incident every 19 minutes.
"We are dragging behind the rest of the UK in terms of tackling domestic violence and abuse, wse really need to get on top of this," said Policing Board member Dolores Kelly.
The SDLP MLA added: "I would like to see the criminalisation of coercive control. A research paper is currently going through the Assembly, so it is something that is being looked at. But we need to try and shorten the timeframe and introduce new legislation here sooner rather than later."
Coercive and controlling behaviour can include the abuser preventing their victim from having friendships or hobbies, refusing them access to money and determining many aspects of their everyday life, such as when they are allowed to eat, sleep and go to the toilet.
The maximum penalty for the new offence in England and Wales will be five years' imprisonment and a fine.
Criminalising coercive control is one of a number of changes the Belfast Telegraph identified during our End The Silence series earlier this month, which highlighted the issue of domestic abuse in Northern Ireland. The series also led to calls for the introduction of a domestic violence disclosure scheme, similar to Clare's Law, which is available in England and Wales.
The measure, which was named after Clare Wood, who was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 2009, lets people find out from police if their partner has a history of domestic violence.
Women's Aid Northern Ireland has argued that such a scheme would provide information that could protect someone from being the victim of an attack.
And director Annie Campbell claimed it "could save lives".
"Not all women would want to seek that information or act upon it, but some would. It would be a critical aspect of empowering women to protect themselves. Not to bring that, or something similar, in is leaving women incredibly vulnerable," she said.
The criminalisation of coercive control would place psychological and emotional abuse within a relationship on a par with domestic violence. This means controlling partners could face prison.