27 Nov 2023

Creating awareness of the red flags of domestic abuse

We know abuse presents itself in different ways and it is our role to create a space where we can shout from the roof tops about the prevalence of abuse, that it is not okay, and support is available.

To support the 16 Days of Action against gender-based abuse campaign this year, Grand Union is creating an awareness of recognising red flags of abuse, and what “green flags” – a healthy relationship, looks like. Why is it important? We want our customers to have confidence in approaching us if they are concerned about red flags and it is important to our teams to be able to identify red flags early on, to provide support and guidance.

Red flags. What are they?

Retrospectively, survivors of domestic abuse are able to recognise some of these red flags through concerning behaviours and or attitudes displayed by their partner or family member throughout the relationship.

At the time, especially at the beginning, red flags can be confused for attention from a besotted partner, or a family member ploughing their affection on to you. This can be a form of love bombing where there are extreme displays of attention and affection which, unfortunately, intends to manipulate someone and can lead to gaslighting and disguise signs of abuse.

Here are a selection of some of the red flags our customers have experienced and are happy for us to share:

  • “They wanted to move in with me a few weeks after being together. At the time I didn’t think this was concerning, but after fleeing domestic abuse from this person, I can see there were concerns from the start.”
  • “I’m diabetic and not as mobile as I used to be. They would buy sugary foods knowing I couldn’t do the food shop, but would say to me that I was losing weight and that’s why they were buying these foods. Now I’m as healthy as can be, looking back, I think they were trying to kill me slowly.”
  • “They killed my kitten because they said I showed it more attention than them. They had said to me my family didn’t care about me and made me stop my friendships. This was another way to make me feel alone.”
  • “All the money I earned from work was going into their account. They would eat expensive food and I was left with bread and rice. They said it was because the doctor advised they need a good diet, but I think it was a way to control me by taking all my money so I couldn’t leave.”
  • “I changed and I didn’t know it. I dressed differently, I became weak from the torment and felt a reliance on them to care for me. I was stuck.”

So, what are green flags?

For any survivor, it can be daunting to even consider the idea about what they want their relationships to look like in the future. It can be challenging to shift the focus from “can I see any red flags?” to “can I see any green flags?”. Our advice – take some time to think about what you want, what you need and what your boundaries are, because everyone is entitled to have boundaries.

Supporting those experiencing domestic abuse does not necessarily stop once they are safe.

The effects of that relationship can be long lasting and can be challenging to move past. To enhance the support we offer, in the last year, we have introduced our Domestic Abuse Responders outside of the team who are available to provide advice and guidance on domestic abuse related concerns. Coupled with this, we have successfully delivered Domestic Abuse training (thanks to the Well Programme) for all colleagues, alongside finalising our policies for both customers and colleagues.

We received 147 referrals for customers experiencing abuse for this period. As alarming as this may seem, it goes to show how many of those experiencing abuse are seeking support from their housing associations, and why it’s absolutely necessary for us to have processes in place to respond sensitively to these disclosures and to empower customers to form their versions of what a healthy relationship is.

Having supported seven colleagues who have experienced domestic abuse, we know domestic abuse can happen to anyone. Colleagues often disclose their experience after training, or through raising awareness when discussions are held which may present as true in their own lives. We firmly believe in creating a safe space to chat, cry or simply be still.

Through identifying signs and indicators of abuse, raising its awareness and taking a coordinated response, we can all unite towards eradicating those red flags of abuse.

Written for the 2023 16 days of activism campaign

This was written for CIH by the partnerships team leader for domestic abuse and safeguarding at Grand Union Housing Group.