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Recognising Red Flags with Legal Aid NSW

Domestic and family violence includes any behaviour, in an intimate or family relationship, which is violent, threatening, coercive or controlling, causing a person to live in fear.  It doesn’t always appear in relationships straight away, it may escalate slowly and subtly or suddenly. Sometimes it is not recognised as unacceptable behaviour until it is pointed out.  

Domestic and family violence is complex and complicated. We spoke to members of the Domestic Violence Unit of Legal Aid New South Wales for their advice on what behaviours we should look out for early in relationships. They’ve shared some red and green flags to help us understand what could indicate a relationship is safe or unsafe. 

By Carla Scotto

Everyone keeps talking about red and green flags in relationships what does this even mean? 

When we talk about “red flags”, we are talking about behaviours that may indicate your relationship is becoming violent or abusive and that you may be experiencing domestic and family violence. When we talk about “green flags” we are talking about traits and behaviours that create healthy and positive relationships. These are things like open communication, mutual trust, respect and honesty, equality, support and consent.  

I’ve been in a relationship for 6 months and I’ve noticed I’m paying for more and more things for my boyfriend. Is this a red flag? Is there a line between him being rubbish with money and financial abuse?  

It very much depends on the particular circumstances of each relationship as to whether behaviour amounts to financial or economic abuse. Like all other forms of domestic violence – central to this abuse is a pattern of behaviour that attempts to control another person. This may include stopping a person’s ability to get, use, and save money – like pressuring a person into taking out a loan or credit that they can’t afford or don’t want for the perpetrator’s use, preventing someone from leaving the house to work or go to a job interview or harassing a person at their workplace resulting in them getting fired. These behaviours can leave victims with large debts they struggle to repay or without much financial independence which can make them feel unable to leave an unsafe relationship.  

By the time someone needs the support of the Domestic Violence Unit at Legal Aid NSW, what kind of red flags may they have experienced 

As DV lawyers, we are often told about red flags that appeared at the beginning of a relationship that our clients later recognised as a warning sign that their relationship was not safe. A common one is that many of our clients were discouraged or stopped from seeing family or friends. This meant that they had no one to talk to about what was happening in their relationship and made them feel like they had nowhere to go when they felt unsafe.  

Other early red flags include constant calls or messages over text or social media, preventing or discouraging the person they are in a relationship with from working or attending school, making their own decisions, monitoring their whereabouts constantly, pressuring them to have sex or do other things sexually they are not comfortable with.  

There’s been coverage recently about financial abuse. Is this there a line between someone being rubbish with money and financial abuse?  

It very much depends on the particular circumstances of each relationship as to whether behaviour amounts to financial or economic abuse. Like all other forms of domestic violence – central to this abuse is a pattern of behaviour that attempts to control another person. This may include stopping a person’s ability to get, use, and save money – like pressuring a person into taking out a loan or credit that they can’t afford or don’t want for the perpetrator’s use, preventing someone from leaving the house to work or go to a job interview or harassing a person at their workplace resulting in them getting fired. These behaviours can leave victims with large debts they struggle to repay or without much financial independence which can make them feel unable to leave an unsafe relationship.  

What are some green flags you think would make a huge difference in relationships?  

Relationships are not always smooth sailing, and arguments happen in couples and families. What matters is how we show up for each other. It’s important to feel as though you can be your authentic self in your relationships – be they with family, friends, housemates or a romantic partner. Traits like open communication, trust, respect, honesty, equality and consent allow for us to navigate the difficult bits in a safe and supportive way. 


The Domestic Violence Unit is a dedicated state-wide service of Legal Aid NSW. They bring together specialist domestic violence lawyers, social workers and financial counsellors to help people with their legal and non-legal needs.

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