How to ask for what you wantLeadership
Catherine Brenner, Louise Adler and Sam Mostyn offered their advic...
INTRO: This series comes with a content note – some of what you’ll hear is distressing. Please check the show notes for phone numbers you can contact to receive confidential support.
In this series abuse perpetrated by an intimate partner will be described as “family violence”, “domestic abuse” or “domestic violence”. We acknowledge that production took place on what always has been, and always will be, Aboriginal land.
EMILY MAGUIRE: If somebody is telling you that they can’t live without you, that is not romantic. That is terrifying and worrying.
TARANG CHAWLA: My name is Tarang Chawla and my sister Nikita was killed by her partner in 2015. I’m a writer, lawyer and anti-violence activist. I’m also the host of There’s No Place Like Home.
In season 1 of this podcast, we put the voices of victim-survivors at the centre of the story.
This season we’ve brought together experts and people with lived experience to help you identify the tiny, subtle – and sometimes invisible – warning signs in abusive relationships… and the patterns of power and control that underpin them.
The research tells us that more than half of all victim-survivors will go to family and friends first. This podcast dives into the complex nuances of domestic abuse.
So consider this season your practical resource. For yourself, and others. Because chances are, you – or someone you love – will need it.
EMILY MAGUIRE: One in three women experience violence… one in four women experience emotional abuse… if you’re sitting in a meeting, if you’re sitting on a train, if you are out at the pub for drinks with a friend, if you’re at church, wherever you are, you will be sitting in a room probably with someone who has either experienced violence or used violence.
TARANG CHAWLA: This episode, we’ll look at love bombing. But first, let’s talk about non-physical abuse more broadly. Emily Maguire, the CEO of Respect Victoria, describes and decodes abusive behaviours for a living, and she notes it’s extremely hard to pick a perpetrator.
EMILY MAGUIRE: I have been working in this field for more than 15 years, and I have been deeply embedded in what the risk factors are, what the kind of warning signs are, what the red flags are. I miss it. It’s easy to miss.
TARANG CHAWLA: Emotional and psychological abuse also leave no physical scars, allowing the abuser to build a relationship of fear and control, outside the scrutiny of loved ones.
EMILY MAGUIRE: If you ask people ‘is hitting your partner, okay?’ Mostly people say no. If you ask people if controlling how much money she spends on clothes is okay?’, there’s quite a few people who would say yes.
We’ve now in Australia got a threshold of okay, violence is bad – physical violence in particular, sexual violence – but all of the behaviours that actually lead to it, and that women mostly experience much more frequently than physical violence, those are so normalised as part of our society that it’s really hard to push back on them.
TARANG CHAWLA: These behaviours that set up emotional abuse are not only tolerated and minimised by our culture; Emily notes that they’re also glorified.
EMILY MAGUIRE: All you have to do is look at a romantic comedy, where, on a terrifying number of occasions, the literal, legal definition of stalking is classified as he just really likes you, that’s really lovely. And they end up together.
SIXTEEN CANDLES: “What’s the problem here? I’m a boy. You’re a girl. Is there anything wrong with me trying to put together some kind of relationship between us?”
THE NOTEBOOK: “Well will you go out with me?” “No.” “Hey pal, she just told you.” “Why not?” “I don’t know, because I don’t want to.”
EMILY MAGUIRE: We are told that if we aren’t in a romantic relationship, heterosexual or otherwise, then there’s something wrong with us. And we should always be on the hunt for that. It’s not really an overt message. A lot of times it’s really, really subtle. But it means that you are feeling like you need to put up with particular things that you might not put up with otherwise.
TARANG CHAWLA: Elisabeth Shaw, CEO of Relationships Australia New South Wales, says that we can even conflate potentially abusive behaviours with being a good partner.
ELISABETH SHAW: We’ve all got these subliminal messages about meeting someone who’s just really ready for a relationship, so someone who comes on quite strong, even on the first date, you know, taking your hands gazing into your eyes and saying, ‘I feel something really special between us.’ You don’t want to be suspicious of that, you know, you want to think well, that’s a lovely moment. I hope that’s true. I feel it a bit, too.
TARANG CHAWLA: Films, books, TV shows and song lyrics are changing to better represent the desires and life experiences of women. They are evolving with the times instead of further perpetuating outdated patriarchal stereotypes of what romantic love is.
In fact, a recent Australian campaign by Consent Labs is calling for a new ‘lack of consent’ classification to be added, to call out non-consensual acts in TV shows and movies – just like violence, swearing or sexual content.
Simultaneously, how we present, view and understand abuse is also changing.
In the last few years we’ve found the language to articulate things like ‘love bombing’, ‘gaslighting’ and ‘coercive control’.
EMILY MAGUIRE: Coercive control is actually a feature of almost all family violence relationships. It is so prevalent, it is so common, and it is such a significant part of what family violence looks like.
Controlling behaviours can look like telling someone what to wear, where to go out, when to go out, stopping them from seeing their family. It can be controlling the finances and the money and the way in which money is spent. It can be requesting a whole bunch of receipts.
It’s basically anything that makes the person who is experiencing the coercive control feel like they are not actually able to make their own decisions or have any autonomy. And it often is very much designed to make that person feel incredibly scared of the perpetrator.
TARANG CHAWLA: When abuse turns physical, it becomes more difficult to deny that it occurred. But when non-physical abuse builds over time, it’s more complex for victim-survivors to identify and respond to.
EMILY MAGUIRE: You need to trust your gut, and you need to trust your judgement, and that’s really important. But the piece about red flags is important to listen to because coercive control, when you are assessing how much at risk someone is of being killed, coercive control and the presence of coercive control is one of the most significant indicators of risk and risk of lethality.
TARANG CHAWLA: Two people who are intimately familiar with the term are Sue and Lloyd Clarke. They’re the parents of Hannah Clarke. Hannah and her children – Aaliyah, Leiana and Trey – were killed by Hannah’s perpetrator – their father – as they left Sue and Lloyd’s Brisbane’s home in 2020.
The coroner investigating their deaths found that her killer was not mentally ill… but a “master of manipulation”.
SUE CLARKE: Well we first heard of the term coercive control after Hannah and the children were murdered. We knew what he was doing was wrong and it was mind games and a lot of controlling behaviours but we didn’t know there was actually a word for it.
TARANG CHAWLA: So how do these abusive behaviours start? Often, with something called love bombing.
EMILY MAGUIRE: Love bombing is a really common term. A lot of it feels really lovely but if somebody is telling you that they can’t live without you, that is not romantic. That is terrifying and worrying and you should be concerned about what that could potentially escalate into.
TARANG CHAWLA: Love bombing can feel like someone coming on too fast. It can involve extravagant gestures or over-the-top compliments before you’ve really gotten to know one another.
In short, love bombing feels like being suffocated with attention and affection. It is designed to intoxicate a person and to build rapid trust and dependency.
So when a person is devalued or discarded later in the relationship, they will feel like they’re at fault, that they’ve done something to diminish their partner’s love – making them more likely to comply with a perpetrator’s demands to win back the affection that’s now being withheld.
At the beginning, love bombing can look like extravagant gestures, but it can also appear in less visible ways.
EMILY MAGUIRE: Regular and constant gifts, not necessarily expensive gifts, but rocking up at your door every day or leaving something in your mailbox.
Very regular text messages. When it gets up to 4, 5, 6, 7, particularly if it’s not in a back and forth conversation, that’s something that you need to worry about. Saying ‘I love you’ really, really, really early in the relationship. Saying ‘I really badly want to see you tonight. I don’t think that you should go and see that person. I just want us to be spending time together. We’re still getting to know each other.’ It is constantly praising you and overpraising you and talking about how amazing you are and how incredible you are.
TARANG CHAWLA: I want to introduce you to Stacey* – that’s not her real name. Stacey is a survivor-advocate.
She was 20 when she met a man at a bar. Let’s call him Oliver. He was 10 years older than her. And he would later go on to abuse her.
Oliver didn’t love bomb Stacey* with extravagant gifts, but with extravagant statements about their emotional connection.
STACEY: He had these kind of Bonnie and Clyde notions of us against the world… I remember him telling me that he had this psychic premonition of me bearing his children.
TARANG CHAWLA: Oliver was romantic and charming and he invited Stacey* to move in with him just a few weeks after they met.
STACEY: I’m astounded now, when I think back.. how everyone, let me move in with him… I had never been independent… My parents were paying for my rent. And I went from being dependent on them to being financially dependent on him.TARANG CHAWLA: Eloise* – that’s not her real name either by the way – is a smart, successful professional. She was 17 wh
en she met her perpetrator, who we’ll call Josh, several years ago.
ELOISE*: He would be messaging me all the time and telling me lovely things.
TARANG CHAWLA: Josh was at university and a little older than her. Eloise says his constant doting made her feel special and grown up.
ELOISE*: He came from uni every single afternoon and met me after school and we’d go and get coffee and just talk and talk and talk and talk.
TARANG CHAWLA: On one of their first dates, he took Eloise clubbing and she stayed the night at his place.
ELOISE*: In the morning, he was sort of like, ‘I just know I want to be with you. Let’s skip the dating phase. I just want to be in a relationship with you. You know, we’ve seen each other every day for however long, I just know that this is what I want to do.’ And, yeah, 17-year-old me just thought, ‘Oh, my God, He cares about me the way I care about him.’ This sounds amazing. Yes. Let’s just jump straight into it.
TARANG CHAWLA: Aish is a victim-survivor-advocate who works in the family violence reform sector. She’s also a beautiful poet. While she now lives in Australia, she didn’t grow up in this country. She and her perpetrator, let’s call him Manu, met overseas when they were younger.
AISH: It was almost like a dream come true, like a fairy tale actually. He was in the neighbouring school when I was in primary school and secondary school.
TARANG CHAWLA: The couple didn’t get to know each other as children. It wasn’t the norm for girls and boys to form friendships. But Manu tracked Aish down when she was in her early twenties.
AISH: He reappeared in my life with a text message first saying, ‘Hey, how are you? I’m so glad I have your number. I hope you don’t shoo me away now.’
TARANG CHAWLA: Aish didn’t know who it was but her mum did. She told Aish this man was now working with one of their extended family in Australia and encouraged her to talk to him, because he came from a ‘good’ family.
By this time, her cousins were all getting married and Aish’s family were encouraging her to marry too before studying her masters.
AISH: And when this happened through a family member, it was more trusted, it was more known. And there was safety in that. It felt like destiny.
And it just took off, the relationship was great. It felt like I was some Princess and I was placed on this big golden pedestal almost. He made me feel incredibly good about myself… We would speak on the phone for hours, even with the time difference between here and back home… he’d be awake the whole night, just talking to me.
TARANG CHAWLA: As these three relationships show, rapid relationship progression goes hand in hand with love bombing.
Stacey* moved in with Oliver after a few weeks. Eloise* started dating Josh after a month. Aish was engaged to Manu after three months and had moved countries not long after that.
The tricky part about love bombing is that a lot of it can look and sound like the blossoming of a new, healthy romance. So how do you tell the difference?
Maguire’s advice is to think of the early stages of a relationship like the early stages of a new friendship. Are you building trust and a relationship slowly? In any other part of your life, would their behaviour be considered too full-on or concerning?
EMILY MAGUIRE: When you meet someone new, they might say once ‘you’re awesome’, but they’re not going to say it five to six times a day, and there’s not going to be that kind of constant in a whole bunch of different ways.
ELISABETH SHAW: Some of the other ordinary moments that could be illuminating are also exchanges about money and gifts. If you go home, and then you get some enormous present because you went on one date, again, that could be very lovely. But is it out of step with where you’re up to?
Remember, how did you feel about them? Did you come home saying, ‘Well, look, that was pleasant? I don’t know yet.’ And then you get a giant bunch of flowers… It’s just to remember that it’s all of those moments that can make you feel a bit more indebted.
TARANG CHAWLA: Elisabeth Shaw says to set the parameters of the relationship early on by preserving space for yourself and your life. This keeps clear boundaries in place and also gives you an opportunity to observe how the other person reacts to those boundaries.
ELISABETH SHAW: If you are caught up at work, and you can’t reply for three hours, and the person says, you know, ‘I thought you’d gone silent’, if you say ‘I was at work’, and they say, ‘Oh, silly me, of course you can’t be texting at work, I’ll talk to you at the end of the day’, then that’s a good sign.
If they say, ‘Well, if I was important, you’d pop to the bathroom or something so that you could reply,’ that’s not a good sign. Because already it’s indicating that your feelings could be questioned, and doubted. And the relationship could be threatened that fast, and that makes everybody anxious. But also, it’s an indicator that they are expecting you to start to put your life on hold for them, and that they’ll evaluate you accordingly.
TARANG CHAWLA: So… what do you need to look out for as a friend, family member or colleague? And if you sense someone you care about is being love bombed, how do you raise it without alienating the person?
EMILY MAGUIRE: If you’re looking at a friend or a colleague and you hear them say things like, ‘Oh, it’s so amazing. He just wants to see me every day’ or ‘He sent me five text messages, he must really love me’, or, ‘We’ve only been on a couple of dates and already he’s calling me his girlfriend,’ that’s a red flag. Sometimes that’s just people not having a good level of emotional intelligence and being excited and enthusiastic. But when there’s more than one thing, that’s the thing that you need to look out for.
EMILY MAGUIRE : As a friend, or as a colleague, you need to have your ears open and just ask them open-ended questions. So ask them, you know, ‘You’re still seeing your friends? How often do you see him?’ Encourage them to take a bit of a step back and reflect…
TARANG CHAWLA: Emily Maguire says another red flag to look out for at the early stages of dating is when someone denigrates their ex.
EMILY MACGUIRE : If they call her bitch, and they say she’s crazy, if they use terminology that is just denigrating her – in particular her and the relationship more broadly – that, for me, is a really, really big red flag.
TARANG CHAWLA: Aish’s perpetrator told her that his ex had abused him and threatened to kill him.
AISH: I ended up thinking, how could this woman be so mean to him, and it almost felt like, I’m so glad I’m in his life, because it’s almost like I’m rescuing him. And he made me feel that way. He made me feel like I was in his life, after he had gone through all of this, and that this is meant to be…. I believed that.
TARANG CHAWLA: After Aish moved to Australia, married this man and was sponsored on a spouse visa, he began emotionally and physically abusing her.
Eventually, Aish reacted to his violence in self-defence. When she did, he immediately left their home and cut off contact – as well as power and water to their home. He rescinded his sponsorship of her partner visa and told people Aish was the one who had been abusing him.
Emily Maguire says it’s not just important to observe how someone speaks about their ex. Pay attention to how they talk to women and about women.
EMILY MACGUIRE: When you sit down and watch TV with them and a female news presenter comes on, is the first thing that they say something about what she looks like? Do they slag off Taylor Swift and Beyoncé, not about their music but just because they are women, and they are young women without actually ever making that statement. You’ve really got to read between some of those lines.
TARANG CHAWLA: For Stacey*, it was her mum, Jane*, who noticed her partner’s broader disrespect for women. He was brought up in a conservative household where there were clear and rigid gender roles. Jane* believes this played a part in his attitudes.
JANE: There was an element of women’s opinions are not being worth much..
I may have something to say and have an opinion on some topic, but that wasn’t really valued and was sort of skated over and anything that my husband said was of more value.
TARANG CHAWLA: Emily Maguire says it’s also important to listen to how this person speaks about men and masculinity.
EMILY MAGUIRE: If you are dating someone who seems hyper focused on being a particular sort of man, is talking about the fact that there’s only one way to be a man, uses language like ‘he’s not a real man’, that sort of stuff is a bit of a flag I think because what it signifies is that he is fairly likely to have a really strong connection to fairly rigid norms about men and masculinity.
One of the drivers of men’s violence against women is a really rigid adherence to gender stereotyping and particularly dominant forms of masculinity that emphasise aggression and control. Those are the things that you need to look out for.
TARANG CHAWLA: Eloise* met her perpetrator at a party. He had attended one of the private boys schools, which she found alluring at the time… but the group of men he hung out with called themselves ‘The Wolf Pack’. Eloise said they perpetuated a culture of entitlement.
ELOISE: He would have considered himself one of the ringleaders… the way that they viewed the world was that you behaved in a certain way. And that was expected, and then you deserve certain things, and you had ownership over certain things.
TARANG CHAWLA: Emily Maguire says rigid gender stereotypes create an environment that allows this abuse to occur.
EMILY MACGUIRE: When you look at how to prevent this sort of violence, we’re not talking about criminal justice responses, those are necessary and really critical. But when you look at what actually is driving violence in the first place, it is things like dominant forms of masculinity, it is gender stereotyping, it is victim blaming. It is the lack of women’s independence. And it’s men’s control of decision making. It’s all of those sorts of things and how they appear in individuals lives, but also at a structural level. That really is what pushes violence forward.
TARANG CHAWLA: Another red flag to look out for in the early stages is whether someone is pushing your boundaries. Just as relationship boundaries are different for different people, boundary pushing looks different in different circumstances.
Stacey* recalls a night – not long after she moved in with her perpetrator – when he tested a boundary and, ultimately, how far he could push it. He went out to dinner with his ex-girlfriend.
Stacey* had been told the two were ‘just friends’ but she felt insecure about this woman. Her perpetrator knew this, because it wasn’t an unfounded insecurity. There were still lingerie-clad photos of this woman laying around the house.
STACEY: He went out with her that night, and every hour that he didn’t come home and didn’t respond to my texts, I just kept feeling sicker and sicker. And eventually, he came home at four o’clock in the morning and dismissed my anxiety as petty school girl jealousy.
Years later, I would find out that my intuition was correct and that he had been unfaithful. But I think the saddest part about that story is that he learned that night that he could manipulate my vulnerability and have me second-guess myself, which really bode well for him in the future, because he would gaslight me into thinking that his serial infidelity was a figment of my imagination.
He tested my boundaries in those early days, my boundaries were already shot… But he wanted to see how far he could get in terms of how I would respond to him.
TARANG CHAWLA: In the early days of dating, Maguire says to pay attention to how someone reacts when you refuse to compromise on something.
EMILY MACGUIRE: When you set a boundary, and you say, ‘No, I think I’m gonna go out with my girlfriends tonight, I’ll see you tomorrow.’ Do they say, ‘Yeah, no worries, what time do you want to catch up tomorrow?’ Or do they say, ‘I just so badly wanted to see you today’ or ‘I miss you so much.’
They’re not going to have a crack at you in the early days of a relationship. But are they pushing back on your boundary as the first port of call? That, I think, is something that we really need to pay attention to…
If you know that your boundaries are being pushed, which is much more of an objective thing to be able to see, that’s one of the times where you can go, actually, no, this is getting too far. And I will take a step back, and I’ll have a bit of a think.
TARANG CHAWLA: Elisabeth Shaw says that one way to see whether a new partner respects your boundaries, is to consciously make space for your interests and your loved ones.
ELISABETH SHAW: You might play sport once a week, you go to the gym three times a week, you see your girlfriends, to be able to keep doing those things is important… You’ve got to be very careful about what you give away early on, and why and just keep a little bookmark there about what’s being set up for the future.
TARANG CHAWLA: Perpetrators tend to target people they are likely to have control over. It’s easier to push the boundaries of someone who holds less power than you.
EMILY MACGUIRE: All you’ve got to do is scroll Instagram, or Tiktok, when you’re seeing some 45-year-old bloke talking about the fact that, hey, if you get younger women, it’s not about their bodies being a particular way, although that’s definitely part of it, it is about the fact that they can be controlled because they are younger, or they don’t have as much life experience, or they’re much more likely to be willing to move off their friends for a little while. And they’re more receptive to that love bombing. It’s definitely not just an age thing, but it’s something that perpetrators do and target.
TARANG CHAWLA: Stacey* wasn’t just more vulnerable because she was a decade younger than her perpetrator. While she had a positive relationship with her step-dad, her biological father was absent.
STACEY: That left a big hole in my self worth… I am sure that he was attracted to me because of the vulnerability that came with my age, my childhood trauma, and my poor self esteem.
TARANG CHAWLA: All of this made it easier for Stacey’s* perpetrator to manipulate her. He would criticise her character and interests and weight. When they had a child, he criticised her mothering.
He became physically abusive, but Stacey says it was the emotional abuse that hurt her more than anything.
STACEY: Emotional abuse, it feels like you’re trying to scream, but there’s a cloth in your mouth. It’s really hard to articulate but it is suffocating.
Mostly, I just feel like he was trying to tear down my sense of self, the belittling of my intelligence and the pop culture that I used to consume. He once said that I would never reach a particular salary threshold, which I did the year that I left him. But he tended to target my vulnerabilities in particular.
TARANG CHAWLA: Eloise* was also incredibly vulnerable when she met Josh. She was only 17 and was having difficulties in her family life at home. Her sibling was unwell.
ELOISE: It meant that my parents had to put a lot of time and energy into looking after them… Home wasn’t a nice place to be or a safe place to be at all times.
The usual support networks that you would turn to I didn’t have around me.
And so I was definitely looking around at who could be those supports for me and kind of grasping on to anyone and anything that came within range.
TARANG CHAWLA: To Eloise, Josh seemed older and cooler and held a certain level of reverence… but he also presented himself as a safe haven for her.
ELOISE*: He was really clever in the way that he set everything up from the get-go. And he would be really vulnerable at the start in a way that I can now see as shallowness but, to me, at the time felt like, ‘wow, he’s being vulnerable with me.’ Let me tell him these things about my life and what’s going on. Let me let him in. Because he’s doing the same for me.
TARANG CHAWLA: We know young people are more vulnerable to abuse. They’re used to feeling like others are in control of them; their parents set boundaries at home, their teachers make the rules at school.
So it makes sense that younger people, whose brains are also still developing, might be less alive to the threat of a controlling relationship.
ELOISE*: I often think about how vulnerable I was, as a young girl. And I see myself in so many young women, and I don’t see stories about relationships that are abusive, represented for young women in a way that they can understand or see.
And I think at that age, you want love and you’re so excited about the world and you want to be an adult. And you are almost an adult. I don’t think we’re having adult conversations with young women. I don’t think we’re preparing them for this world where so many men feel like they have a monopoly and ownership over them.
TARANG CHAWLA: No matter whether you are young or old, when you meet someone new, it’s important to trust your gut.
EMILY MAGUIRE: One of the things that I would usually say is, check in with a friend. Have a conversation with them, ask them to sense check what you’re feeling. And you know, ask that question of, ‘Am I making excuses for someone? Am I making excuses for myself?’
TARANG CHAWLA: We began this episode by talking about the romantic tropes in film and television. Where a person doesn’t know who they are until they fall in love with someone who completes them.
This is rarely how real relationships are formed. In fact, healthy and equal partnerships don’t require one person to trade in their interests or shrink their world to fit into someone else’s.
ELISABETH SHAW: And I think it’s important to be able to say, ‘Well, I’ve got a good life and I’m adding to it’ not ‘I’ve had a poor life’ or ‘I’ve got a life I’m happy to give away for the right person’.
I think keeping that in balance is important.
TARANG CHAWLA: Next week on There’s No Place Like Home we will explore isolation.
MOO BAULCH: That might be a very gradual thing, a very slow kind of undermining of those relationships, or it might be absolutely explosive. I’m not going to be in the same room as your mom anymore. You know, like she does this and this and this to you.
TARANG CHAWLA: See you then.
OUTRO: There’s No Place Like Home is a Future Women podcast in collaboration with our proud partner, Commonwealth Bank, who are committed to helping end financial abuse through CommBank Next Chapter.
No matter who you bank with, if you are worried about your finances because of domestic and family violence, you can contact CommBank’s Next Chapter Team.
Contact the team on 1800 222 387, within Australia or visit commbank.com.au/nextchapter.If you need help or advice, please check the shownotes for phone numbers for confidential support.
If you enjoyed this podcast, please rate and review. It will help these important stories to reach more people’s ears. For more information about There’s No Place Like Home, or to join the movement, please head to futurewomen.com.
This episode was produced by Jamila Rizvi, Emily Brooks, Mel Fulton, Sally Spicer, Hannah Fahour and Tarang Chawla. Editing by Bad Producer Productions. Artwork by Patti Andrews.
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