Ryan and Luke Hart didn't realise that they had lived all their lives with an abusive and controlling father, until they sat in a police station waiting for their first meeting with a family liaison officer.

It was July 2016 and their father had shot their mother Claire and sister Charlotte dead in a car park in Spalding, England before he took his own life. 

As Ryan and Luke sat in that police station, their eyes drifted to a poster on the wall. Coercive control had just been made an offense in legislation in England and this poster detailed how to recognise it, record it and report it.

As the brothers read that poster, they knew for the first time that their lived experience as children and young men had been dominated by insidious control, damaging abuse and the gradual erosion of freedoms culminating in the murder of their mother and sister.

Ryan spoke movingly at the Women’s Aid Femicide Conference yesterday detailing how their father psychologically and financially abused the family for over two decades.

They thought at one point that his behaviour had improved, but now realise that they had been gaslighted into succumbing to him so much that they mistook their own compliance for a relaxation of the 'rules’. 

In fact, the opposite was the case and they knew no other way of life - isolation, enforced poverty, constant belittling and being subject to random erratic and unpredictable demands. 

When the Hart brothers began to earn money, they plotted to get their mother out.

In July 2016, they collected her and her belongings in a moving truck and moved her to a small rented house.

Five days later, their father hid under Claire’s car while she and Charlotte were in the local pool.

When they came out he shot Charlotte first with a sawn-off shotgun, then Claire, then himself.

Unfortunately, the Hart brothers story is not unfamiliar to us here in Ireland.

Women’s Aid has said that five women so far this year have been victims of domestic homicide.

More than 230 women have died violently since 1996, and 87% of those victims knew their killers. 

"We know that almost 17,000 women disclosed abuse to Women’s Aid last year, but for all of those, we have to assume that there are multiples of that number who don’t tell a soul"

Likewise, there will be many beyond the almost 900 women who told Women’s Aid last year that a man threatened to kill them, their children, another family member or themselves, who have never said a word to anyone about similar threats. 

Monday is the UN Day of Elimination of Violence Against Women.

It’s a lofty ambition in the context of where we are today and it’s easy to feel powerless in the face of such unfathomable atrocities perpetrated in domestic situations.

But what we can all do is educate our children about coercive control and how to spot it, remove the taboos around domestic violence, campaign for statutory domestic homicide reviews, and interrogate the language we all use around the murder of women by men who are known to them. 

Helpline and information

Women's Aid: 1800 341 900 or womensaid.ie

Luke and Ryan Hart cocoawareness.co.uk