Survey finds 40% of people don't understand coercive control

Survey finds 40% of people don't understand coercive control

Just over a quarter of a representative sample of 1,000 adults said that they understood coercive control.

Greater public awareness of coercive control has been called for after new research found that 40% of people do not understand this type of abuse.

The research, commissioned by Safeguarding Ireland and carried out by RED C, found that 25% of adults 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 of a representative sample of 1,000 adults 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 and 13% said they had experienced it themselves.

However, Safeguarding Ireland chairwoman Patricia Rickard-Clarke said she believes coercive control to be even more prevalent because of the low level of understanding, particularly in relation to it happening 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," Ms Rickard-Clarke said.

"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.

"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 found that almost a quarter of cases witnessed happened outside of intimate relationships, 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.

Ms Rickard-Clarke said the law also needs to change to recognise that coercive control occurs outside of intimate relationships.

"Our current laws only recognise coercive control as an identifiable crime in the setting of an intimate relationship between a couple," she added.

"However, this research shows that despite a low level of understanding of coercive control, people can still readily recognise significant levels of this abuse in settings outside of intimate relationships.

"I suspect that, if understanding of coercive control was higher, people would identify an even higher incidence of it occurring, particularly involving psychological abuse of vulnerable adults.

"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."

More information on coercive control is available on the Safeguarding Ireland website at

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