Woman thinking, man in backgroundAs you may have heard on the news this morning, Simon Gittany was convicted today of throwing his girlfriend Lisa Harnum, a Canadian, off the 15th floor balcony of their apartment in Sydney Australia.

After the verdict was read, Lisa’s mother told reporters her daughter’s death was a “powerful wakeup call to young women and to parents, siblings and friends of these young women, to be aware of the warning signs of a controlling relationship and to take a pro-active approach to assisting them.”

Here are some warning signs you may be in a controlling or abusive relationship.

Has your partner ever:

  • Called you names, made jokes at your expense, or humiliated you in private or in front of others?
  • Told you what to wear, or harshly criticized how you dress?
  • Insisted you have sex when you don’t want to, or insisted you take part in sexual activities you dislike or that cause pain?
  • Refused to let you work, or forced you to work?
  • Refused to let you leave the house?
  • Constantly demanded to know where you are, what you are doing, and who you are with?
  • Monitored your phone calls, text messages, emails, Facebook, etc?
  • Refused to let you phone your friends or family?
  • Told you who you can and can’t talk to?
  • Constantly questioned your spending or taken control of your money? If you are financially dependent on them, have they unreasonable limited the money they give you or refused to tell you about your family’s financial situation?
  • Followed you in a way that made you fearful?
  • Used physical force (push, punch, slap, choke, shake, use objects/weapons, etc.)?
  • Physically harmed others (children, pets, family members, friends, neighbours, etc.)?
  • Threatened to use physical force? Threats aren’t always spoken – they can be silent too, such as looks, gestures, displaying weapons, etc.
  • Threatened to kill you or others if you leave?
  • Threatened to kill themselves if you leave?
  • Threatened to turn you into the authorities (police, immigration, etc.) if you leave?
  • Used your religious or spiritual beliefs to manipulate or control you, or to justify violence against women? Denied you freedom of religion, by refusing to let you practice your spiritual beliefs or insisting that you follow theirs?
  • Blamed you for their abusive behaviour, and told you it was your fault?
  • Destroyed your possessions?
  • Showed up unexpectedly, when they were not invited and not welcome, to social or work events?
  • Stolen your money?
  • Insisted you use drugs or alcohol against your will?
  • Insisted you take part in dangerous or criminal activities?
  • Hidden your keys or purse so you can’t leave the house?

Some abusers deny being abusive. Some freely admit they have behaved badly, show great remorse, and promise never to do it again – though they almost always do.

Many abusive relationships develop gradually and, at first, it might be tempting to write their behaviour off as harmless, perhaps just signs of love or jealousy or emotional insecurity.

But as women have said for years, abuse is NOT about jealousy or love – it is about power and control. The Public Health Agency of Canada puts it this way: “This abuse is rooted in a power imbalance — between individuals, within families and in society. Basically, when one person is considered less worthy than another one — as an individual or because they are a woman, homosexual, Aboriginal or disabled person — there is the potential for abuse.

Abusers use many different methods. If they have not yet used physical violence, it can be easy to deny that abuse is even taking place. But other forms of abuse – emotional, sexual, financial, or spiritual – can be just as damaging and are often the precursor to physical violence.

And when an abuser’s usual methods cease to work – such as when women try to leave – the abuse can quickly become deadly.

According to newspaper reports, Simon Gittany was “domineering and had tried to control everything his fiancée did, even the way she wore her hair and what clothes she chose to go out in.” But Lisa Harnum was planning to leave him and return to Canada and – tragically – he found out.

The most dangerous time for an abused woman is when she attempts to leave. In one study, half of the murdered women were killed within two months of leaving the relationship.

The two best tools for ending violence against women are knowledge and speaking out. Now that you know the warning signs of an abusive relationship, I invite you to learn the facts about violence against women.

Together, we can stop the violence, for good.

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