9 abuse red flags to look out for in a potential partner

A woman with her partner
A woman with her partner

In just the first week of lockdown, the government Gender-based Violence (GBV) Command Centre received 2 300 calls, and the executive director of People Opposed to Women Abuse (POWA), Mary Makgaba, reported a rise in calls about abuse of all kinds – physical, sexual, emotional and financial. By 17 June, President Cyril Ramaphosa was driven to describe GBV as the country’s “second pandemic”.

In one of our country's most shameful statistics, a woman is killed every three hours, according to SAPS data. This figure is around five times the world average. With this said, it's important that we're aware of some of the most common signs of abuse and the red flags to look out for from the onset. Let's take a look...

Spot the signs of abuse 

  • Physical abuse 

Any unwanted physical contact – from shoving, slapping, scratching, biting, punching and kicking to throwing things at you. This includes threatening you, locking you in or out of the house, leaving you in a dangerous place or refusing to help if you’re injured or ill. 

  • Sexual abuse 

Having sex when you don’t want to, forcing you to have sex with others or to watch others having it, making you do sexual things or wear clothes that make you uncomfortable. 

READ MORE | When I left: 3 women share their brave stories 

  • Emotional abuse 
Insulting, belittling or humiliating you and making you feel stupid and worthless, ignoring or harassing you, being overbearingly possessive or jealous, and cutting you off from your family or friends. Stopping you from going to work or elsewhere, threatening you, your children, family or pets as well as threatening to kill himself if you leave. 

  • Financial abuse 

Taking, using or controlling your money or giving you only a small allowance, expecting you to account for every cent, refusing to give you information about your joint financial situation, preventing you from working and earning as well as using you financially. 

Information from POWA 

Red flags from the onset 

International violence and security expert Gavin de Becker, author of The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us from Violence, stresses the importance of listening to your gut (survival instinct). Beware of a man who: 

  • is quick tempered
  • has mood swings
  • a history of violence and abuses alcohol or drugs.
  • is jealous and possessive
  • is constantly checking up on and trying to control you
  • pressures you into committing to a relationship before you’re ready
  • leaves you feeling that you’re constantly walking on eggs, and always making excuses for his moods or behaviour.
  • blames or resents others for his own misfortunes (soon he may blame you)
  • feels entitles or superior to others (and you). 
Where to get help

POWA: 011 642 4345, Lockdown Counselling number 076 694 5911



Stop Gender Violence Helpline toll-free: 0800 150 150



LifeLine National: 0861 322 322, 



Families SA: (011) 975 7106/7



Child Welfare SA: 087 822 1516

Sonke Gender Justice: 011 339 3589, 021 423 7088, 013 795 5076



Department of Social Development GBV Command Centre toll-free: 0800 428 428, SMS “help” to 31531 

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