key element of Safeguarding Ireland’s work is enhanced public understanding of attitudes, behaviours, circumstances and systems that create vulnerability and require a safeguarding response.


Click to read a Summary of RED C Public Awareness research findings from Safeguarding Ireland’s work from 2017-2021.

Coercive Control – March 2021.

Safeguarding Ireland’s current Public Awareness campaign (March 2021) is on coercive control. What is coercive control and how do we understand it better and have strong laws to prevent and stop it.

What is Coercive Control?

What is Coercive Control?

Coercive control is the use of threats, humiliation, intimidation, or assault 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.

It can include some or all forms of abuse (emotional, physical, financial and sexual) between two adults, who are in close contact with each other.

This can have a serious impact and damage a person’s physical and emotional well-being and cause them to lose contact with family and friends and to change their routine behaviours.

Difficult to detect

Coercive control can be difficult to detect from the outside looking into a relationship (where one person trusts or is dependent on another person), so too can it be hard to spot when in the relationship itself. The abuser may be careful to conceal it from public view. As the behaviour worsens and each iteration of abuse becomes a new normal. Low self-esteem is just one of the many factors that can stop victims from seeing the reality of the situation.

What are the signs of Coercive Control?

  • Preventing contact with family or friends
  • Detaining a person at home
  • Keeping a person’s phone from them
  • Controlling money or medical care
  • Constant undermining of a person’s independence
  • Making decisions on someone’s behalf
  • In serious cases, assault and violence.

Low Level of Public Awareness of Coercive Control

In research commissioned by Safeguarding Ireland, and carried out by RED C, on a representative sample of 1,000 adults, a low level of public awareness of coercive control was found.

  • 40% said they don’t understand coercive control
  • 25% said they were not familiar with coercive control at all
  • 15% said they had heard term but did not understand it.
  • Just over a quarter (28%) said that they understood it.

When then provided with an explanation of coercive control:

  • 30% said they had witnessed this happening to someone they knew
  • 13% said they had experienced it themselves.

Coercive Control is more common than we think 

Safeguarding Ireland believes coercive control to be more common than we think because of the low level of understanding, particularly in relation to it occurring to vulnerable adults.

Domestic abuse within an intimate couple is widely reported to have increased significantly during COVID-19 and this is generally what is understood to be coercive control. However, coercive control is much broader than physical assault, can be subtle and can occur in any close adult relationship, with vulnerable adults particularly at risk.  

Greater awareness is needed among the vulnerable, the general public and among professionals in identifying and reporting this form of abuse.

Need for better legislation on Coercive Control to protect more people

In the 2018 Domestic Violence Act coercive control is listed as a crime but only in the context of an ‘intimate’ relationship or close couple. However, Safeguarding Ireland believes that much wider reaching laws and public understanding are needed. 

Abusive influence, threatening, violence and control can equally arise among adults in close relationships which are not ‘intimate’, including 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.

The RED C research found that almost a quarter of cases witnessed occurred outside of intimate relationships 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.

Safeguarding Ireland is calling for our laws on coercive control to be expanded to include the coercive control of another person as a crime in any close adult relationship. This is particularly important for vulnerable adults.

Report Coercive Control

If you suspect that you are experiencing coercive control, or that you are witnessing this occurring to someone else – you should not hesitate to report it.

  • If you there is an immediate danger to any person contact An Garda Siochana at – confidential line1800 666 111.
  • For an ongoing safeguarding concern that support is needed with – contact the HSE National Safeguarding Office at [email protected] / (061) 461 358.There are nine regional Safeguarding and Protection Teams covering all community health regions in the country.

More information on reporting abuse is available on Reporting Abuse page on the Safeguarding Ireland website.

There are also support groups with 24 hour helplines available for people which find themselves in difficult circumstances and need to talk confidentially. These include:

What constitutes adult abuse? – December 2020.

Safeguarding Ireland’s most recent Public Awareness campaign (December 2020) was  on what constitutes abuse? Locking someone in a room, over-medicating, or keeping some change. Abuse can be subtle and start with smaller things – we all need to be aware.

Financial Safeguarding during COVID-19 – October 2020

tSafeguarding Ireland ran Public Awareness campaign in October 2020 on Financial Safeguarding together with Banking & Payments Federation Ireland (BPFI).

Also, see more at



Safeguarding Ireland does not deal with specific cases of abuse, or alleged abuse.

For detailed information about Reporting Abuse, please go to our dedicated page which includes comprehensive guidance on suggested contacts. General queries to [email protected].

Registered Charity Number (RCN): 20204851.