Coercive Control is a common and often unseen form of Domestic Abuse. Ireland is one of the first countrries in the world to recognise coercive control as an offfence and introduce legislation to protect people from the subtle form of abuse. Here Orlagh Sharkey, Head of Family Law, explains what is meant by Coercive Control, and what steps victims should take.

What is Coercive Control?

Section 39 (1) of the domestic violence act 2018 sets out the offence of coercive control. It is a criminal offence for a person knowingly and persistently to engage in behaviour that is controlling or coercive. In order to satisfy this criteria, section 39 sets out that a person’s behaviour has a serious effect if the behaviour causes the relevant person to fear that violence will be used against him or her, or serious alarm or distress that has a substantial adverse impact on his or her usual day-to-day activities. The penalties if convicted of such an offence is a fine or imprisonment up to 5 years.

A relevant person is set out under section 39 as the spouse or civil partner of that other person or someone who is not related but is or was in an intimate relationship with that other person.

What are Some of the Signs of Coercive Control?

  1. Humiliating and degrading treatment of you by this person
  2. Restricting or controlling your finances
  3. Intimidation or threats to you
  4. You are subjected to physical violence or sexual abuse
  5. Restricting your movements or controlling your everyday life to such an extent that you are restricted in what you can wear, where you can go, when you can sleep etc
  6. Damaging your belongings
  7. And isolating you from family and friends

What To Do if You Are a Victim of Coercive Control

Make a Report

The first step is to report the abuse to an Garda Siochana. They will assist you, give you advice and obtain a statement from you. The Gardaí will then investigate the allegation which will involve gathering evidence such as obtaining your general practitioner records and looking at financial records such as bank statements and viewing social media ,text messages, emails etc.

Identify Witnesses and Retain Evidence

The Gardaí will contact any witnesses who may have evidence of this behaviour towards you and seek to obtain statements from any such witnesses. Mobile phones, laptops and computers will be examined by the Gardaí and when a file is complete it will be forwarded to the director of public prosecution seeking a direction on prosecution, that is whether or not a prosecution should be pursued.

Seek Help

Any person living in a controlling or abusive relationship should seek help. There are many supports available through women’s aid and the domestic violence advocacy services which will support a person in making The necessary court applications. Coercive control and domestic violence can have a detrimental effect on one’s confidence and general well-being and as a result it is best to avail of help immediately and obtain the protections of the court.

In my experience dealing with victims of domestic violence the situation does not get better with time but rather worsens and the effects of a violent relationship are long-lasting on the adults and children involved. It is therefore advisable that any person who is suffering abuse at the hands of another person would seek immediate assistance.

If you have any questions about the issues raised in this article you can contact Orlagh Sharkey by email at or by phone on 071 916 2032.