A Guide to Coercive Control

A Guide to Coercive Control

The Domestic Violence Act, 2018 came into effect on the 2nd of January, 2019. The Act reflects that domestic abuse is not always physical in nature and coercive control is now a criminal offence.

What is it?

Coercive control has been defined as:


“psychological abuse in intimate relationships that causes

 fear of violence or serious alarm or distress

that has a substantial adverse impact

 on a person’s day-to-day life”


This can appear as a pattern of intimidation or humiliation involving psychological or emotional abuse.

Victims frequently fear violence may occur and while physical abuse can also be present, coercive control is more likely to be sustained on a daily basis with tighter and tighter control used by the abuser.

“Gaslighting” is a word commonly used that can accurately explain one part of coercive control. The abuser engages in manipulation and turns situations around on the victim leading them to believe they are ‘losing their mind’ or imagining things.

Perpetrators of coercive control tend to alienate victims from family and friends who might be more aware of the degree being exerted over the victim and try and help them.

Verbal abuse such as “you’re useless” or “you can’t do anything right” or constant belittling of a victim is also common. They might feel like they are walking a tightrope as anything may set the other person off. This affects the victim’s self-confidence and makes them less likely to seek outside assistance. The perpetrator wants to reducing their victim’s world until they are wholly dependent on them and, therefore, far less likely to leave them.

What Can You Do?

Coercive control does not start overnight. It has usually been taking place for a significant period of time before the victim even realises what is happening. It can take even longer for a victim to understand that the behaviour is wrong and seek help.

If you believe your spouse or partner is using coercive control, keep a diary. Write down anything you feel is controlling behaviour and how it made you feel, so you have an account of it as well as a timeline. Keep the diary in a secure place.

Confide in a family member or friend.

There are a number of local and national organisations that can help you. Adapt House in Limerick and Clare Haven in Ennis are two local supports. Women’s Aid, Men’s Aid and Safe Ireland are national organisations available to help you.

Both men and women can be victims of coercive control.

If you know someone who you believe is being subject to coercive control, please contact one of the above services and they can provide you with the information you need to help the person.

How is it proven in Court?

If you make a formal complaint to Gardaí and the matter proceeds to Court, three things must be proven to get a conviction:

  1. The prosecution must establish the fact that there has been a pattern of controlling or coercive behaviour. Having a diary noting the various incidents and the impact on you will be helpful in this regard;
  1. The behaviour has a serious effect on the relevant person (i.e. victim); and
  1. A reasonable person would likely consider the behaviour to have a serious effect on the relevant person.

It is encouraging to note that the first conviction for coercive control was handed down in Ireland in February 2020. This should give hope to those in these types of situations that not only are there people and organisations who want to help you, the legal system in Ireland does too.

If you think that you might be a victim of coercive control, please contact one of the organisations below for help and information:

Women’s Aid – www.womensaid.ie

Men’s Aid – www.mensaid.ie

Safe Ireland – www.safeireland.ie


If you would like to discuss the other legal options to end the relationship, please contact us for a confidential consultation on (085) 1577274 or email us at info@listonfamilylaw.ie.