Content warning: This article discusses sexual assault and domestic abuse in a way that may be distressing to some readers.
The levels of domestic violence (DV) in Australia are at a critical high. In 2016, it was found that 1 in 6 women had experienced physical or sexual violence by a current or previous cohabitating partner. The Australian Institute of Health & Welfare also reported that an average of 20 people over the age of 15 were hospitalised every single day in 2019-2020 due to assault by a partner or other family member, painting a grim picture of the prevalence of DV in the country.
These relationships don’t often start out abusive. According to Psychology Today, during the early stages of a relationship, abusers tend to “mask their abusive tendencies," so “by the time many people notice the obvious red flags, they're already attached to an abuser, which makes it much harder for them to leave the relationship.” Or as one anonymous survivor of domestic violence wrote for Refinery29, “Domestic abuse isn’t something of which the participants are necessarily aware [of] until it’s been pointed out by someone else.”
If you think that your relationship, or a loved one’s, may be heading towards domestic violence, here are some potential early warning signs of abuse. Remember, not all abusive relationships look the same, and a relationship doesn't have to include every warning sign listed here to be abusive.
Extreme jealousy and possessiveness
The NCDAV lists extreme jealousy and possessiveness as two early warning signs of domestic violence. In a viral Imgur post, one abuse survivor described how her husband became convinced that she was having an affair with a coworker she barely knew. The husband monitored both his wife and the coworker’s work schedules, sent her near-constant text messages while she was at work, and when she wasn't with him, demanded that she send photos or call to prove where she was. Eventually, this jealousy escalated to physical and sexual abuse.
Controlling what their partner wears and what they do
Another early warning sign is exerting control over what their partner wears, where they go, and how they act. The woman whose husband was convinced she was having an affair also describes how he wouldn’t let her wear clothes that fit her because they “showed off her body.”
Monitoring phone, texts, emails, and social media
According to Break the Cycle, a nonprofit organisation dedicated to helping young people ages 12-24 create a culture without abuse, a partner checking your phone without your permission is a common early sign of abuse: “The simple act of crossing someone’s boundaries by looking at their personal property without permission is what causes these actions to slip into unhealthy relationship territory.”
Cruelty to animals, children, or other family members
If your partner is sweet to you but cruel to their pets or family members, they may soon change how they treat you, too. The woman behind the viral Imgur post writes that she left the relationship after her partner harmed her dog and kitten.
Isolating their partner from friends and family
Abusers often slowly cut their partners off from access to their loved ones, according to Break the Cycle. This may start subtly, such as asking a partner to check in frequently or telling the partner to quit hobbies because they should want to focus on the relationship. When the partner is more isolated, the abuser can escalate the abuse, and the partner will have limited access to their support system.
If you or anyone you know has experienced sexual or domestic violence and is in need of support, please call 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732), the National Sexual Assault Domestic Family Violence Service.