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Emotional and psychological abuse within intimate relationships is now a crime in Ireland, showing once again that a nation once mired in religious dogma is making tremendous strides to protect victims.

The Domestic Violence Act 2018 went into effect on Tuesday and provides new protections for victims of “coercive control,” a type of emotional and psychological abuse aimed at stripping a person of their self-worth and agency.

Although psychological and emotional abuse — including controlling behavior, isolation, and threats of violence — can be more difficult to recognize than physical violence, it can be just as damaging, experts say.

Ireland’s Minister of Justice and Equality Charlie Flanagan said in a statement Wednesday that the new law “recognizes that the effect of non-violent control in an intimate relationship can be as harmful to victims as physical abuse because it is an abuse of the unique trust associated with an intimate relationship.”

Emotional and psychological abuse can happen without any physically abusive components, but chances are if a person is being physically or sexually abused, the emotional abuse is already there. Emotional and psychological abuse are often the prelude to physical and sexual violence. While Ireland will have to provide ample resources to women for this law to be effective, it’s certainly an important step in the right direction.

Given that Europe has typically been more progressive in this area than America, I wonder whether public health programs will start to address warning signs of emotional abuse as part of the curriculum. Many people would agree that emotional abuse is bad, but they may not know how to recognize it — especially if it’s happening to them personally.

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