At the Conference on Coercive Control organised by Fermanagh Women’s Aid and hosted at the Lough Erne Resort last week, Chief Executive Officer of Fermanagh Women’s Aid Mary McCann used her platform to speak on behalf of Mary Coll and Jacqueline Connolly, the mother and sister of Clodagh Hawe, who was murdered by her husband.

Ms. Coll and Ms. Connolly were originally to speak at the conference about the coercive control which Clodagh endured prior to her death, but for personal reasons they were unable to attend.

Ms. McCann noted that at times others need to be the voice of victims of domestic abuse until they can speak for themselves. Sharing Ms. Coll and Ms. Connolly’s planned speech, Ms. McCann told elements of Clodagh’s story.

“I will protect you,” were the words Alan Hawe said to Clodagh when they first met.

“His control was hidden quietly in the disguise of devotion,” said Ms. McCann, quoting Ms. Coll’s speech.

During the conference guest speakers from various statutory and voluntary agencies raised awareness of coercive control, a prevalent form of domestic abuse in Fermanagh which is so often misunderstood due to its subtle nature.

UTV journalist Gareth Wilkinson was compere for the conference during which he introduced guest speakers including Ms. McCann, Training Co-ordinator for Fermanagh Women’s Aid Michelle Alonzo, PSNI Superintendent Clive Beatty, Independent MLA and Former Justice Minister Claire Sugden, Solicitor Conor Heaney, Director of Services and Development at Men’s Action Network Michael Lynch and Director of Women and Children Services/Executive Director of Social Work Western Health and Social Care Trust Deirdre Mahon. Also speaking at the conference about their personal experience of living with coercive control were Luke and Ryan Hart, whose mother and sister, Claire and Charlotte Hart, were murdered by their father Lance Hart.

Speaking to The Impartial Reporter on the morning of the conference, Ms. Alonzo, who was a key organiser of the conference, explained that through delivering training and awareness to statutory and voluntary agencies as well as the general public, it was very apparent to her that there was a lack of awareness around coercive control. She said: “I could really understand the frustrations of women who were going through coercive control that people didn’t understand what it was and didn’t understand the subtlety of it.”

She explained that many people associate domestic abuse with physical violence or sexual violence but what underpins all of it is coercive control, which she describes as “the very subtle manipulation that goes on behind all of that.”

Michelle said: “For somebody that is going through coercive control what we would really want, and I am hoping that the conference will do this, we really want women to come forward for support and when we have women coming to the likes of Women’s Aid they always tell us that, ‘this is the first place that I was believed.’ They do feel that it’s not abuse if it’s not physical and with more awareness and more events like this, once people know that yes, this is a form of domestic abuse, women may feel stronger to come forward.”

Superintendent Beatty spoke of key messages he wanted to get across regarding policing and domestic abuse. Sharing one of these key messages with this newspaper ahead of the conference, he said: “Policing cannot do this alone, we cannot arrest our way out of domestic abuse.”

He continued: “We need the support of the whole community, statutory and voluntary agencies, the victims, the law makers. We need it all so that we can collaborate to eradicate domestic abuse.”