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Maid on Netflix: NI Lawyer Explains Coercive Control and How Abuse Doesn’t Have to Be Physical

The Netflix series Maid shone a light on coercive control and emotional abuse.

The ten-part series quickly became one of the streaming service’s most successful shows when it was released in October 2021 with more than 67 million people watching it globally to date.

Maid has won critical acclaim for her portrayal of issues around parenthood, relationship breakdown, poverty and domestic violence.

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The show centers on Alex, the young mother of her two-year-old daughter Maddy, and the difficulties she faces when trying to escape a toxic relationship with Maddy’s abusive and alcoholic father Sean. .

When Alex runs away in the middle of the night with Maddy with no money, no home, or a job, she’s further victimized by a system that’s broken down and providing her with little or no support.

Alex’s unwavering determination to succeed and provide a better life for his daughter suffers one setback after another as she tries to regain control of her life and escape the deep-rooted shackles of an emotionally abusive relationship. .

Abuse doesn’t have to be physical

Since its premiere, Maid has been applauded for not only bringing to light and raising awareness of the existence of coercive control and emotional abuse in relationships, but also helping to help those struggling in emotionally abusive relationships identify this behavior not physically violent. and empower them to ask for help.

In the first episode, Alex tells a social worker, “Maddy’s dad is drinking and he passes out and hits things.” When asked if he is hitting her or Maddy, she responds; “No, I’m not abused.”

When asked if she would like to report Sean’s abusive behavior to the police, Alex replies “and say what? That he didn’t hit me?

Until recent years, it was a common misconception, not only within society, but among victims, that for there to be domestic violence in a relationship, there had to be an element of physical abuse in this relationship.

In Northern Ireland, historic legislation will come into force in March 2022 which will hopefully dispel this myth. The Northern Ireland Domestic Abuse and Civil Proceedings Act 2021 will criminalize a range of abusive behavior including physical and non-physical abusive behavior such as controlling and coercive behaviour.

Karen Connolly of Francis Hanna & Co Solicitors

Coercive control will be punishable by law in NI

One of the most important aspects of this law will be the introduction of coercive control as a criminal offense in Northern Ireland.

In addition to violent or threatening behavior, the following behavior will also be punishable by law:-

  1. Making a victim feel dependent or subordinate to an abuser
  2. Isolate a victim from friends, family members or other sources of social interaction or support
  3. Controlling, regulating or monitoring the daily activities of a victim
  4. Depriving a victim or restricting their freedom of action
  5. Making a victim feel frightened, humiliated, degraded, punished or intimidated.

The legislation also includes provisions that recognize the detrimental effect that domestic violence can have on children, with harsher penalties possible in cases where a child is exposed to an incident of domestic violence.

Convictions for the most serious domestic violence offenses will carry a sentence of up to 14 years in prison.

‘Maid’ is not an easy watch at times, although it has an important and compelling message.

Domestic violence is often much more complex than the standardized “man hits woman” narrative. The impact that emotional abuse and coercive control can have on a person’s mental health and emotional well-being cannot be underestimated.

It is overwhelmingly positive that the success of this series has brought focus to this neglected thread of abusive behavior.

The show’s success comes at a good time against the backdrop of Northern Ireland’s own changes to the law in this area. Allowing criminal charges to arise from non-physical abusive behavior will go some way to providing additional protection for Alexes in our society who are trying to break free from abusive relationships.

Karen Connolly is a partner in the family law department of Francis Hanna & Co Solicitors.

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