Northern Ireland

Calls for public awareness campaign on coercive control

Coercive control is a form of domestic abuse
Coercive control is a form of domestic abuse

THERE were calls last night for a public awareness campaign on coercive control after a new report found a third of people showed a lack of understanding of the abuse.

With new legislation making it an offence in Northern Ireland, researchers say it should be accompanied by a campaign focusing on what it means.

Coercive control is a form of domestic abuse also known as emotional or psychological abuse, indirect abuse or emotional torture.

In January,the Domestic Abuse and Civil Proceedings Bill passed its final stage in the assembly.

It recognises coercive control as a criminal offence and brings Northern Ireland in line with England, Scotland and Wales.

A research study by ARK - a joint initiative between Queen's University Belfast and Ulster University - on public understanding of coercive control reveals 36 per cent of respondents showed a lack of understanding.

It also found that 18-24 year-olds were less likely to recognise the term coercive control and know what it means.

The report Public Understanding of Coercive Control used data from the 2020 Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey.

Dr Susan Lagdon from Ulster University said: "The survey findings indicate that a significant number of respondents are not aware of the term 'coercive control' and are therefore unlikely to recognise the signs of this type of abuse.

"Our results show that male victims of coercive control are perceived as being at lower risk of harm, possibly due to gender biases in what behaviours are considered acceptable in relationships.

"Although women are at greater risk of victimisation, there needs to be appropriate awareness of risk amongst the wider public and access to support for all victims regardless of their personal demographics."

Dr Julie-Ann Jordan from the Northern Health and Social Care Trust said: "During 2020, there were 31,848 domestic abuse incidents recorded by the PSNI.

"It is important that the introduction of the coercive control as a criminal offence should be accompanied with a public awareness campaign focusing on what coercive control means and signposting victims and their friends and family to appropriate courses of action and sources of support.

"Policy and advocacy services should also receive specialist training."

Dr Paula Devine from Queen's added: "These survey findings provide important baseline data of what the public think before the coercive control legislation comes into effect."