Psychology, Department of



Heather Littleton

Date of this Version



Journal of Family Violence;

PMCID: PMC9085367


© The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2022


The COVID-19 pandemic represents a “perfect storm” with regards to risk for intimate partner violence (IPV). Abusive partners may engage in novel forms of coercive control, such as pressuring their partner to engage in activities associated with COVID-19 infection risk (e.g., attend a large gathering). However, no empirical research has focused on COVIDspecific coercive control. The current study sought to evaluate the prevalence of COVID-specific coercive control in a large sample of U.S. college students, as well as its association with other forms of IPV and depression and anxiety. A total of 2,289 undergraduate students attending eight U.S. universities who were currently in a sexual/dating/romantic relationship completed an online survey in Fall 2020 about COVID-specific coercive control, other forms of IPV (psychological, physical, sexual, coercive control) and depression and anxiety symptoms. Overall, 15.5% (n = 355) of students reported experiencing COVID-specific coercive control. Individuals who experienced COVID-specific coercive control were more likely to have experienced all other forms of IPV than those who did not experience COVID-specific coercive control. Further, individuals who experienced COVID-specific coercive control had significantly greater anxiety than individuals who did not experience any form of IPV. Individuals who experienced both COVID-specific coercive control and other forms of IPV had the highest levels of depression and anxiety. COVID-specific coercive control may serve to increase depression and anxiety, particularly if it co-occurs with other forms of IPV. Future work should evaluate the prevalence and long-term impact of coercive control during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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