May 10, 2021.

41% would not know what to do if they witnessed Coercive Control

The public overwhelmingly favours laws on coercive control being expanded – and a significant number would not know what to do if they encountered coercive control.

The findings are contained in research commissioned by Safeguarding Ireland and carried out by RED C on a representative sample of 1,000 Irish adults.

Safeguarding Ireland Chairperson Patricia Rickard-Clarke said the research shows that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought coercive control more to light as a serious abuse and there is a need for greater awareness and new laws.

Findings include:

  • 86% want laws against coercive control expanded to cover all circumstances in which the abuse occurs
  • 41% would not know what to do if they witnessed Coercive Control
  • 39% would not know who to contact if they needed advice about helping someone experiencing coercive control
  • 71% said that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought coercive control more to light as a type of abuse
  • 69% would take steps to stop a circumstance of coercive control they witnessed
  • 45% said they would be able to identify coercive control.

Ms Rickard-Clarke said: “Coercive control could be detaining a vulnerable person at home, keeping their phone from them, controlling their money or medical care, preventing contact with family and friends, or constant undermining of a person’s independence and making decisions on their behalf.

“It is the use of threats, humiliation, intimidation, or assault to make a person dependent, to isolate them in order to exploit and deprive people of their rightful independence.”

The RED C research also found that almost a quarter of the coercive control cases that people said they witnessed occurred outside of ‘intimate couple relationships’ which are not legislated for – such as between frail older people and family members, or in the care of people with intellectual or physical disabilities either at home or in an institution.

Ms Rickard-Clarke continued: “Our current laws only recognise coercive control as a convictable crime in specific situations such as between a couple who are or who have been in an intimate relationship. It is clear that our laws need to change to recognise that coercive control often occurs outside of intimate relationships. Safeguarding Ireland is calling for our laws to include the coercive control of another person as a crime in any close adult relationship or setting. This is particularly important for vulnerable adults.”

The research also found a low level of awareness of this form of abuse, as 25% said they were not familiar with coercive control at all, while 15% said they had heard the term but did not understand it. Just over a quarter (28%) said that they understood it.

When then respondents were provided with an explanation of coercive control – 30% then said they had witnessed it happening to someone they knew and 13% said they had experienced it themselves.

Ms Rickard-Clarke concluded: “This research shows that despite a low level of understanding of coercive control, people can readily recognise significant levels of this abuse, including in settings outside of intimate couple relationships.

“I suspect that, if understanding of coercive control was higher, people would identify an even higher incidence of it occurring, in many different settings and particularly involving psychological abuse of vulnerable adults. Our laws must change to reflect this reality and better protect our citizens.”

More information on coercive control is available on the Safeguarding Ireland website at www.safeguardingireland.org.

Safeguarding means living safely, free from abuse or neglect. It means our choices, particularly if we are vulnerable, are clearly heard and respected.

Further Information

Ronan Cavanagh, Safeguarding Ireland / Cavanagh Communications: (086) 317 9731.

Notes to Editors

Safeguarding Ireland promotes safeguarding of vulnerable adults to protect them from was all forms of abuse by persons, organisations and institutions and to develop a national plan for promoting their welfare.

Coercive Control is a pattern of behaviour which is designed to exert control over another person.

Coercive Control is used, with intent by the abuser, to make a person dependent and isolate them in order to exploit them, deprive them of their independence – and exercise control over their behaviour and choices. This can have a serious impact and damage a person’s physical and emotional well-being and cause them to change their routine behaviours and lose contact with family and friends.

Report Coercive Control 

  • If any person is in immediate danger they should contact An Garda Siochana at 999 /112. If a person is being mistreated but there isn’t an immediate danger, it should be reported to the local Garda station, or contact the Garda confidential line at 1800 666 111.
  • For an ongoing safeguarding concern that support is needed with – contact the HSE National Safeguarding Office at safeguarding.socialcare@hse.ie / (061) 461 358.
  • There are also support and helpline services available for people who need to talk confidentially at Men’s Aid: www.mensaid.ie, Men’s Network: www.mensnetwork.ie, Safe Ireland www.safeireland.ie and Women’s Aid: www.womensaid.ie.