When I took up the Justice portfolio just over a year ago, I said bringing forward legislation to support victims of domestic abuse suffering non-physical abuse, including coercive control, was my priority.
Today, as that pledge becomes a reality and the Domestic Abuse and Civil Proceedings Bill reaches its final stage, I find myself full of mixed emotions. I am immensely grateful to everyone who has worked hard to get us here. Getting the first piece of justice legislation through in this mandate is an important and positive landmark.
But first and foremost, I feel I must apologise.
I am genuinely sorry that this final stage is taking place today, in January 2021, rather than as it originally could have in 2018. I am all too aware that the three years during which we had no Executive, no Assembly and therefore no ability to make legislation meant the cost of political failure has been borne by people when they were at their most vulnerable.
That is what happens when politics doesn't work.
In contrast, with the Assembly up and running and even though this has been a year filled with challenges none of us ever could imagined, the Bill will become a reality. A reality that will make a tangible difference where and when it is most needed.
The Bill will make a real and tangible difference for those that are affected by a range of abusive behaviours by intimate partners - including former partners - or close family members. This abuse could be emotional, financial, sexual, technological/digital or through controlling and coercive behaviour.
Hearing from victims, as well as our voluntary sector partners, has been key in shaping the legislation and it will be the key to bringing perpetrators to justice.
What shocks most people who have experienced domestic abuse is that when they finally confide in someone about what is happening to them, they discover that they are not the only one.
Quite often, the person they confide in may already know someone who has experienced domestic abuse, had their suspicions, or witnessed it within their own family.
The sad truth is that domestic abuse is all too common but the stigma surrounding it means that it is simply not talked about by the people who really matter: the victims and those closest to them.
We need this to change.
Today marks an important step in not only encouraging more people to talk to someone but in changing the conversation. And that has never been more important than it is now, when we are in the midst of a lockdown that we know abusers may seek to exploit. The stay at home message does not mean suffer at home.
There is no shame in being a victim of domestic abuse or coercive control.
The shame lies with the abuser, with the bully, which is precisely why the perpetrator never wants their victim to have the courage to talk about what is happening to them or to reach out for help.
Completion of this legislation will play a crucial part in giving victims the courage they need.
Courage to know they are not in the wrong and that they have nothing to be ashamed of.
Courage to know they will be believed.
Courage to know the system works and that it has their back.
Naomi Long is Minister for Justice
The 24-hour Domestic and Sexual Abuse Helpline is available to call free of charge 24/7 on 0808 802 1414, with non-verbal options also available via the internet or instant messaging. Web chat is also available at www.dsahelpline.org or email email@example.com. Support is also available from local Women's Aid Groups, www.womensaidni.org/get-help/local-groups/, as well as the Men's Advisory Project (028 9024 1929 or 028 7116 0001). Children can contact Childline on 0800 1111 or via www.childline.org.uk. For those who need to call 999 but are scared to speak, a 'silent solution' exists to press 55 when prompted. This allows police to know it is a genuine emergency.