40% of people don't understand coercive control, new research says

The findings are included in a study of 1,000 people carried out by RED C on behalf of Safeguarding Ireland. 
40% of people don't understand coercive control, new research says

Patricia Rickard Clarke, Safeguarding Ireland chairperson.

New research suggests a broad lack of understanding about coercive control and how prominent it is.

The findings also found that many cases of coercive control involved older or frail family members, or people with physical or intellectual disabilities.

Some four out of 10 people don't understand coercive control, which can occur in any close adult relationship, the new research suggests.

However, when an explanation was then provided, almost one-third (30%) said they had witnessed this happen to someone they know, and 13% said they experienced it themselves.

The findings are included in a study of 1,000 people carried out by RED C on behalf of Safeguarding Ireland. 

Coercive control could be even more prevalent because of the low level of understanding, particularly in relation to it occurring to vulnerable adults, according to Patricia Rickard-Clarke, Safeguarding Ireland chairperson.

“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 public awareness is needed, she added. 

“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.

The law also needs to change to recognise that coercive control occurs outside of intimate relationships.

“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," Ms Rickard-Clarke said.

“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 research, carried out by RED C, found that almost a quarter of cases witnessed occurred 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: “Our current laws only recognise coercive control as an identifiable crime in the setting of an intimate relationship between a couple." 

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."

“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 www.safeguardingireland.org

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