Sexual Health

Coercive Control: What is it & How to Spot it

On the 25th of February, the country watched in horrified silence as the family of Clodagh Hawe appeared on Claire Byrne Live to talk about her murder.

Mary and Jacqueline Coll were poised and adamant as they declared their belief that Alan Hawe, the man who had murdered his wife and children, was not mentally ill.

“He said in his letter ‘if it’s any consolation, we were happy’. Clodagh was happy, the boys were happy, ‘we were happy’” Jacqueline Coll, Clodagh’s sister, told Claire Byrne.

“It’s very rare that you would hear someone suffering from depression say that they were happy. Alan Hawe was attending his GP for five years and she didn’t diagnose him with depression.”

Clodagh’s mother, Mary Coll went even further, detailing that the meticulous planning that went into the murders indicated Hawe’s mentality was that of an abuser: if he couldn’t have her, nobody could.

“That is evil. That is not depression. That is force, brutality and it is control,” she said.

In hindsight, there were many signs that Hawe had a pattern of coercive, controlling behaviour: he went with her to pick her wedding dress, and rarely let her spend time alone with her family.

Coercive behaviour is hard to pick up on, especially if it’s being used on you. It’s a pattern that tends to develop slowly and often leads to emotional, physical or sexual abuse.

“Young women can be at even higher risk of abuse in a relationship than their older counterparts,” said Margaret Martin, director of Women’s Aid Ireland.

“It can be difficult for young women to see what is happening to them as abuse.”

According to Safe Ireland’s 2014 National Domestic Violence Services Statistics Report, 1 in 3 women in Ireland have experienced some form of psychological abuse from a male partner.

In January 2019 the Domestic Violence Act made emotional abuse a criminal offence, defining coercive control 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, manifesting as a pattern of intimidation or humiliation involving psychological or emotional abuse”.

But what does coercive control actually look like? And how do you know if you’re at risk?

According to research by Women’s Aid, common warning signs are:

  1. He hates your friends and wants you to spend time with him, not them

  2. He criticises how you dress and picks your clothes for you

  3. He expects you to reply to his messages instantly and gets mad when you don’t

  4. He gets angry if you disagree with him

  5. He makes you feel guilty for not spending enough time with him

  6. He says he’ll hurt himself if you leave him

  7. He wants to know all of your passwords

  8. He repeatedly accuses you of cheating on him

  9. He makes you do things sexually you’re not comfortable with

  10. He gets physically violent when angry

  11. He threatens to hurt you or someone else if he doesn’t get his way

Martin stresses that women facing coercive manipulation aren’t to blame for their abuse, and urges them to seek help;

“You may feel like you are ‘walking on eggshells’ and living in fear of his moods and temper. Dating abuse is wrong and no one deserves to be threatened, beaten or be in fear for their lives”

Women’s Aid has a 24 hour National Freephone Helpline that is available 7 days a week for anyone who needs to call. Contact 1800 341 900 if you have been affected by anything in this article and would like to seek help.