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Rosie Batty: These are the "red flags" that signal an abusive relationship.

Australian of the Year Rosie Batty, who lost her son Luke Batty to family violence last year, has listed some early warning signs of abuse in a relationship.

Trigger warning: This post deals with family violence and may be triggering for some readers.

If we can empower women to recognise the signs of an abusive relationship, she may be able to escape harm. Abuse is not just physical – it can take many other damaging forms.

Rosie Batty and her son luke, who was killed by his father in February 2014 (Photo: Twitter/Rosie Batty)

Speaking at the All About Women conference at the Sydney Opera House yesterday, Ms Batty spoke frankly about the need for the legal system to be overhauled to better support victims.

“Why, as women, do we have to work so hard to be believed when we talk about family violence?,” she asked.

“Our organisations who respond and should be responding with the best interests of our victims in mind … let us down because, you see, strangely, a woman can’t be believed,” she said.

Tara Moss chaired Rosie Batty’s session at the All About Women event at the weekend (Photo: Prudence Upton)


“We have to work until we have every policeman, every magistrate, every judge understanding the complexities of family violence.”

Speaking to Full Stop Foundation patron Tara Moss, who hosted the session, Ms Batty reiterated that, contrary to the common misconceptions, abuse can take a number of forms including emotional, spiritual, sexual or financial.

Asked by an audience member what warning signs may signal that a relationship is abusive, Ms Batty said: “They confine you. They bring you down. They insult you.”

Rosie Batty spoke at the All About Women event at the weekend. (Photo: Prudence Upton)

Overall, she said, a relationship that makes you feel bad about yourself rather than enjoy the “lightness” associated with a healthy relationship, should set off alarm bells.


She added that “isolation” – the tendency for perpetrators to isolate their partner from support networks — and controlling behaviour were also red flags.

Related content: Mia Freedman talks at the All About Women conference.

Ms Batty and Ms Moss both emphasised that without serious intervention, early signs of abuse would escalate to more life-threatening forms of violence.

“Violence is a continuum,” Ms Batty said. “Violence will always get worse without major intervention.”

Rosie Batty’s advice to women living with violence, as she mentioned on Q&A. (Post continues after video):

It’s important advice that needs to be heeded. So print it out, email it to all the women you know — do whatever you need to do to spread the message that violence often starts subtly and then escalates.

And if it’s a friend you’re worried about, experts in domestic abuse and women’s proitection previously told Mamamia about several simple, important signs that someone you know could be in the throes of an emotionally abusive relationship. The things to look out for include:

1. Her confidence is bruised.

An emotionally destructive person will tease, criticise and humiliate their partner until they’re a shadow of their former vivacious self. Your friend might be anxious, jumpy, or so deep in self-doubt that it changes the way she speaks and behaves around you, her trusted buddy.

2. She has to ask permission to leave the house.

An emotionally destructive relationship makes a cosy home into a prison. If your friend doesn’t have free reign around her own home, lives under surveillance there, or can’t leave without being granted permission, that should be a huge red flag. Happy couples are autonomous.

3. She uses words like “jealous” and “controlling” to describe her partner.

It’s very rare that your friend will come out and say, “I think I’m in an emotionally abusive relationship”. That’s why you have to look out for subtler hints she drops in her choice of words. Saying he’s “jealous and controlling” could be the closest she’ll come to admitting something’s wrong.

Related content: This is how emotional abuse happens.

4. She cancels plans with you at short notice, without explanation. 

An abusive partner likes to keep their victim on a short leash, constantly reminding her that she belongs to him. Forcing a woman to cancel her social plans at last minute is a swift way to remind her that she belongs to him.

5. Her partner controls what she’s allowed to wear. 

A free, emotionally independent woman can wear what she wants. A trapped woman has to follow rigid rules about what clothes she can wear in public, what make-up she can wear, and how she looks outside her home.

6. She cuts phone conversations short when her partner comes into the room. 

This could mean her partner is either listening to her calls or monitoring her contact with other people. The emotional abuser wants to keep his partner captive and all to himself, so if she wraps up a conversation abruptly when he ‘catches’ her talking to other people.


Here are Rosie and Tara at the All About Women event at the weekend:

Related content: If your friend starts receiving abusive texts, show her this.

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live: they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home.