In October 2021, Netflix released fictional 10-part series ‘Maid’ which quickly became one of the streaming site’s most successful shows, with over 67 million people having watched it worldwide to date.
‘Maid’ has received critical acclaim and recognition for its portrayal of issues surrounding parenthood, relationship breakdown, poverty and domestic abuse.
The show’s storyline centres around Alex, the young mother of 2-year-old daughter Maddy, and the struggles she faces when she tries to escape a toxic relationship with Maddy’s father, the abusive and alcoholic Sean. When Alex flees in the middle of the night with Maddy with no money, housing or job, she falls further victim to a system that is broken and that provides her with little to no support. Alex’s steely determination to succeed and to provide a better life for her daughter suffers one setback after another and with each episode, we become emotionally invested in the journey that this young woman takes in trying to regain control of her life and escape the deep-rooted shackles of an emotionally abusive relationship.
Abuse does not have to be physical
Since its premiere, ‘Maid’ has been applauded for not only shining a light and raising awareness on the existence of coercive control and emotional abuse within relationships, but it has also assisted in helping those struggling in emotionally abusive relationships to identify this non-physically violent behaviour and to empower them to seek support.
In the first episode, Alex tells a Social Worker, “Maddy’s dad drinks and he blacks out and punches stuff.” When asked if he punches her or Maddy, she replies; “No, I’m not abused.” When asked whether she wishes to report Sean’s abusive behaviour to the police, Alex replies “and say what? That he didn’t hit me?”
Until recent years it has been a common misconception, not just within society but among victims, that for there to be domestic abuse in a relationship, there needs to be a physically abusive element to that relationship. In Northern Ireland, a landmark piece of legislation will come into force in March 2022 which it is hoped will dispel this myth. The Domestic Abuse and Civil Proceedings Act Northern Ireland 2021 will criminalise a course of abusive behaviour including both physical and non-physical abusive behaviours such as controlling and coercive behaviours.
Coercive control to be punishable by law in NI
One of the most significant aspects of this Act will be the introduction of coercive control as a criminal offence in Northern Ireland. As well as violent or threatening behaviour, the following behaviour will also be punishable by law: –
- Making a victim feel dependent on, or subordinate to a perpetrator
- Isolating a victim from friends, family members or other sources of social interaction or support
- Controlling, regulating or monitoring a victim’s day to day activities
- Depriving a victim of, or restricting their freedom of action
- Making a victim feel frightened, humiliated, degraded, punished or intimidated.
The legislation also includes provisions which recognise the detrimental effect that domestic abuse can have on children, with enhanced sentences possible in cases where a child is exposed to an incident of domestic abuse. Convictions for the most serious domestic abuse offences will carry a penalty of up to 14 years imprisonment.
‘Maid’ is not an easy watch at times, though it has an important and compelling message. Domestic abuse is often far more complex that the standardized ‘man hits woman’ narrative. The impact that emotional abuse and coercive control can have on a person’s mental health and emotional wellbeing cannot be underestimated. It is hugely positive that the success of this series has allowed some focus to be given to this overlooked thread of abusive behaviour.
The show’s success is timely in the backdrop of Northern Ireland’s own changes to the law in this area. Allowing for criminal prosecutions to arise from non-physical abusive behaviours will go some way to providing further protection to the Alex’s in our society who are trying to break free from abusive relationships.
For further information, advice and support with domestic abuse, please feel free to contact us here.