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8: Recognising Abuse

Recognising Abuse: Picture of Dr Deena Rosalky with the episode title and Personal Strength logo

What is abuse? How do we recognise abuse? If we recognise or suspect abuse, what can we do? How can we protect our children and teens from abuse? These are some of the questions we explore with expert Dr Deena Rosalky.

Episode 8- Recognising Abuse


Parents and young people:

·      1800 respect (1800 737 732)

·      E-safety commissioner

·       Youth Law Australia website

·      See What You Made Me Do – Jess Hill

·      Why does he do that? Inside the mindsof anger and controlling men. – Bancroft

·      Research and evidence:

·      Personal Safety Survey – Rates of violence and abuse

·      Child Abuse Royal Commission

·      Disability Royal Commission

·      Mission Australia Survey

·      Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS)

·      Australia's National Research Organisation for Women's Safety (ANROWS)

·      Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW)


Dr Deena Rosalky, Dr Nicky Weeks, Tim Brown

Intro  00:02

Welcome to the personal strength podcast building confidence for life. Here are your hosts, Nicky Weeks and Tim Brown.

Nicky Weeks  00:13

A lot of stereotypes around what abuse is and when and where it occurs are very narrow and popular media can compound the issue by romanticising unhealthy relationships. It's really important that we understand what abuse is to better protect ourselves and the people we care for.

Today, I'm super excited to get to chat about this important topic with Dr. Deena Rosalky, who has taken a leading role in both the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability and the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

This is a difficult topic. If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, please reach out to 1800 Respect. They can help you develop a safety plan and provide information support counselling and further referrals. Their number and website along with many other resources will be available on our website at personal If any of this content is triggering for you, please stay aware of your reactions, take a break whenever you need and cope in ways that work for you before deciding whether to return to listening.

Okay, so abuse takes many forms. How can children parents, bystanders and people with disabilities recognise abuse?

Deena Rosalky  01:29

Prevalence of abuse

Yeah, that's right, Nicky abuse does take many forms. Many children and adolescents experience physical, sexual and psychological violence. One of the best sources of data that we have on the rates of abuse is the Personal Safety Survey, which the ABS runs every few years. And that collects information from Australian adults about the prevalence of violence since the age of 15. And the most recent data that we have from that survey shows that about two and a half million Australians, which is about 13% have experienced abuse during their childhood. And that includes a eight and a half percent who have experienced physical abuse, and seven and a half percent who've experienced sexual abuse. We know those rates are considerably higher for children with disability. So certainly, there's a real issue there.

Recognising abuse

It can be hard to recognise abuse, and particularly if that has been normalised or the child or teen has experienced it over a number of years. They also might not recognise it because the perpetrator is somebody who they love or they trust. And so they don't have an understanding that what their experience is, isn't normal and constitutes abuse or violence. Sometimes this behaviour is actually modelled by the parents. So that's very normalising for children, and can be one of the barriers to recognising abuse, and therefore disclosing abuse. It can really cause delays in disclosure.

Disclosing abuse

One finding that we drew from the child abuse Royal Commission was that the average length of time that children take to disclose in some way is longer than two decades. So if a child has not disclosed that abuse to you, it doesn't mean that it isn't happening, and they may deny it. So it's really important to understand that that disclosure can take a very long time if (abuse is) occurring.

Signs of abuse

So that makes it all the more important then to be aware of the signs of abuse. And those range very much, but some common ones that you might see in children or teenagers, are that you can look out for a sudden increase in crying, excessive crying or crying for no apparent reason, changes in dressing, particularly with sexual abuse. Children might change the way they're covering up, wear clothing that covers bruises or that is more difficult to remove. This might also be the case where a child is exhibiting self harm or cutting as a result of their abuse, they may start wearing long sleeves in warmer weather. So this is something that you could look out for if you had concerns about your child or teen. 

Obviously pregnancy should be something to consider. It should be something that parents consider whether the child is in a healthy relationship. And a little bit later on, I can talk about coercive control to really bring that home. Children can become aggressive when they're being abused. And this is really exhibiting frustration and anger and confusion. So if your child is exhibiting a sudden increase in aggressive behaviour, it might be a sign that there's something going on there that they are experiencing. You might also see particularly in boys who are being harmed by a man, there might be some confusion about sexual identity, particularly in kids around puberty, that would be an indicator that there could be something going on there, and an increase or the sudden uptake of substance abuse or usage of alcohol, or other substances that seem to come out of the blue, this can be a sign that there is abuse and the substance abuse is a way of the child coping, but it can also be that they are a victim of grooming where a perpetrator who is grooming a child might, it's it's a common feature of grooming that a perpetrator may allow rule breaking, and can even provide alcohol or cigarettes to a child as a way of developing a special relationship with them. So that would be something to look out for as well. A child might withdraw and stop talking openly where previously they had.

Of course, a lot of these are signs of other things occurring. And you know, a child going through puberty might withdraw in a way that is sudden and upsetting. But I guess it's it's important to really consider what the factors that are that are contributing to that. There may be unexplained fear, suddenly, particularly with your younger children about a particular person in their life that is sudden or surprising and unexplained. And that's a common sign.

Nicky Weeks  06:26

And would that generally be directed towards the person who is doing the abusing? Or can it be mis misplaced?

Deena Rosalky  06:35

Well, it can be, it's usually associated with the perpetrator. But it can also be associated with the place of abuse. So it may apply more broadly to other staff at that institution or other kids even. So it could be a more generalised fear of a location. And then the last point that I wanted to make is that sometimes that abuse is apparent where a child seems to have an inappropriate understanding of or sexualized behaviour for their age. So you may start to see sexualized behaviour in your child or sort of an understanding of sexual concepts that are not appropriate for their age. And this certainly would be something you'd want to take note of.

Nicky Weeks  07:19

That's all quite alarming. And, yes, kids don't always even realise that's going on. Which makes sense if that's what they've grown up with, or

Deena Rosalky  07:30

That's right.

Nicky Weeks  07:31

Yeah. You mentioned pregnancy. So what were you meaning about…?

Deena Rosalky  07:37


Yeah, what I meant with pregnancy is that it's important not to assume, when a teen becomes pregnant, which is a situation that causes anxiety in a family, as it is, that the pregnancy may not be the result of a healthy dynamic in the relationship. And it may actually be the outcome of an abuse event, or a rape. And it's important to consider the child's trauma in amongst the anxiety and stress that the child will be experiencing due to the pregnancy itself, that there may be an additional layer of trauma from the events that caused the pregnancy.

Nicky Weeks  08:22

So you need to have a really considered approach because if your first response is, “how could you”, then you're immediately saying that…

Deena Rosalky  08:31

victim blaming, why weren't you more careful when actually, what may have happened is that that event was forced on the child or the teen, and they may be already experiencing feelings of shame and self blaming. And it's important to address the trauma, if that's how that child became pregnant.

Nicky Weeks  08:55

Yeah, that's really important! Actually I am really glad I asked.

Deena Rosalky  08:59

Yeah, because I think that there's a whole set of emotions that a parent goes through when they find out the teenager is pregnant. You then learn that that pregnancy was the result of a rape there's, there's so many emotions and difficult emotional responses for the parents and the child to navigate together. It's important to consider it.

Tim Brown  09:20

Pregnancy, if it's coercive control or domestic violence relationship, and post pregnancy, are escalation red flags.

Deena Rosalky  09:27

That's right. And in fact, pregnancy may have resulted from that controlling behaviour where the perpetrator. It's a behaviour that traps their partner in the relationship by interfering with the birth control or intentionally impregnating her as a means of that possessive behaviour in controlling her.

Tim Brown  09:50

It's all so messed up.

Deena Rosalky  09:51

And terrifyingly common. I can't, I mean, I'm the parent of a 16 and a 15 year old and from affluent areas with all the support that they could ask for, and the number of kids that my kids in their networks who are experiencing things like this, and neglect at home and abuse in the home. The number of girls that my daughter is friends with who have been raped is terrifying. It's really, it's not something that happens to somebody else. You know, it's, it would be so easy to think I'm going to consider these issues for my daughter, but it probably won't happen to her, it will happen to somebody else. But it feels to me, like somewhere in the vicinity of 40 to 50% of the girls that my daughter associates with, has had some kind of sexual assault. It's really scary. And these are not hypotheticals.

Nicky Weeks  10:56

Yeah, I found that as a teen, when I started opening up about what had happened to me. I was surprised that the vast majority of my friends said, oh, me too. You know, like, it wasn't rare. It was very rare that they said anything else. Yeah, amazing. Yeah, shocking. Yeah. But I think you didn't talk about it as much back then. I feel like people are a bit more open now.

Deena Rosalky  11:25

More open, and I think more aware of some behaviours that are abusive, that perhaps would have been put down to, that's how guys are or, you know, you just put up with a bit of that. And now I think there's some recognition. And in fact, that's one thing that I did want to say in question six, that one of the benefits of the Royal commissions are just increasing community awareness of some of these issues. And it's one of the benefits that I feel came out of the child abuse Royal Commission, is that we now have a generation of Australian children who are much closer to to the ideas and concepts of sexual abuse and where their bodily boundaries are and what consent is. It accelerates the conversation, I think in the community.

Nicky Weeks  12:14

Yeah, I agree. And I think accelerates the healing too, because it helps people to get past the shame.

Deena Rosalky  12:22

Yeah and legitimise and validate their experiences that have been so shrouded in shame for sometimes decades.

Nicky Weeks  12:30

How can parents help their kids to recognise abuse?

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So as a parent, there's this balance between allowing that relatively carefree childhood and telling your child enough that they would recognise and tell you if they were being abused, what would you recommend to parents wondering how best to protect their children from abuse and what to discuss with them. And when?

Deena Rosalky  12:49

It gets really important to work on open communication and a mutual trust with your child from an early age, children need to know that they're going to be believed and not judged for disclosing information about something that's occurring to them. And that that disclosure won't put them at further harm of risk, or retraumatization. They wouldn't think of it in those terms, but they would have an instinct of whether or not it's safe to talk about what's occurring to them.

At the child abuse Royal Commission, we heard from many victims survivors who told us that the fear of not being believed prevented them from disclosing the abuse. And we also heard from victim-survivors who've reflected that the damage done by caregivers not validating their disclosure was equivalent to the damage done by the abuse. So it's really important to have that open communication. And in fact, I believe it's foundational to disclosure.

There's also benefit to speaking to children about their bodies from an early age, and normalising anatomically correct discussion of bodies and body parts. And as they approach adolescence, it's important to be proactive about discussing concepts like consent, and boundaries. And this isn't just for the child to know when their own boundary has been crossed. Although that is really important that children understand where the extent of their body ends. But it's also about understanding how to carry on healthy relationships with other children's so that they're not inadvertently perpetrating harm on other children. So I think it's really important. As soon as puberty starts in adolescence to really be exploring those concepts and making them part of conversation.

Nicky Weeks  14:48

Yeah, I've been surprised how early some of those discussions can come into play with kids. You know, you just watch younger kids playing together. And one of them you know, They both look like they're enjoying it. And then one of them starts, you know, you can see their facial expression saying, I'm no longer enjoying this game and the other one is keeping going. And that's a there's so many teaching moments like that, where you can say, Look, you need to check in, is the other person enjoying this game still?

Deena Rosalky  15:17

And if they say they are not, it's important to respect that. Exactly. Yeah, exactly.

Nicky Weeks  15:21

Yeah, sorry to interrupt.

Deena Rosalky  15:23

Online safety

No, that's okay. I'm sorry that I'm just sort of, on my my pathway. So with teenagers, it's important to think about online safety as well, we probably are of a generation where we grew up thinking about the stranger handing out candy, but those strangers are now online and that's really where the child is probably most at risk. Also, most children love their phones more than they love life. So it is a given that this risk exists. And so the challenge for parents and caregivers is managing that risk, because the window of time to keep that at a distance is very limited.

Common forms of online abuse include cyberbullying, sharing pictures, but also identity theft, online grooming is somewhat common. And of course, pornography, which is prolific. And there's a number of strategies that parents and carers can adopt. With younger teens, it's a good idea to have an open door policy. So it's preventing that disengagement between the caregiver and the child, and gives the parent the opportunity to pop in and say, ‘how are you going?', ‘who are you chatting with?' And also obviously, the child is less likely to engage inappropriately with somebody that they're talking to. If the door is open.

Nicky Weeks  16:46

When you say, just to clarify, an open door policy, your meaning when they're in their bedroom, that door should be open. So that you can see at any time, what's going on?

Deena Rosalky  16:54

That's right,

Nicky Weeks  16:55

Is that right? Yeah,

Deena Rosalky  16:58

And I think an extension of that is that you can create rules like there are no devices in wet rooms. For example, I think we have a speaker that connects by wi-fi to my daughter's phone so that the speaker is on the inside of the bathroom, and the phone is on the outside of the bathroom. So I think it's really important to be considering doors in your home and how you create a culture of maintaining engagement. And being wary of when the child is alone with the online world. With the door closed.

Nicky Weeks  17:34

I guess all those signs that you mentioned before would be relevant. If someone's experiencing cyberbullying or sort of abuse online, you'd see a lot of similar signs,

Deena Rosalky  17:45

You'd see the similar changes in behaviour, the emotional responses, and you may see the self harm. That's a fairly common behavioural response to online bullying, particularly in young girls. Obviously, some of the signs I mentioned that have a more physical aspect, you may not see if it's removed by the by being in cyberspace.

I think it's not always obvious to children, why they shouldn't share their personal details. And while it might seem really obvious to us, it's really important, I think, for parents and caregivers to reinforce what some of the risks are to sharing details about yourself online. And that extends to things you might put in a username. So coaching the children not to use their name, not to use their location, their birth year is a common thing, any details that might be identifying in their online activity to minimise the risk of being able to identify who they are, or give the perpetrator any information they can use in an attempt to adopt? That's what I'm looking for identity theft, to steal their identity. So yes, while I think it's quite obvious for us to not include those details, it's important to reinforce those messages to kids and not assume that it is, understood.

Nicky Weeks  19:07

Yeah, and what reasons do you give the kids for that? I sort of feel like being open is good about what the risks really are. But what's the balance between keeping them innocent for longer?

Deena Rosalky  19:19

Yeah, I mean, it obviously depends on the age of the child. But I think you can, you can indicate that there are people online who aren't good people, and might want to do bad things, that for a young child without having to go into the details of what occurs. But one thing I would say is that children are very aware at a increasingly younger age about what those risks are. And one aspect of this online world is that they learn from their peers far earlier than we would introduce generally the concept like that, and so on.

I agree with you, it's really positive to be open with your children, and possibly even earlier than your you would otherwise have done. So to try to get ahead of what they're going to discuss with their mates, so that they have some context to place that conversation in. So, yeah, very open and transparent and fact driven, I think is really important.

Tim Brown  20:27

So I have I have two follow ups to that, if I may. One is it seems that kids from when they first start hearing stories are introduced to the concept of goodies and baddies. So really, if it could be, would it be fair to say that if it was framed in that way, even from a very young age to go, here are some things we're putting in place to keep you safe from baddies? That that might be something that can be scaled up age appropriately?

Deena Rosalky  20:52

Yes, I think that's a really nice way to do it. As long as you were prepared to answer the inevitable follow up questions that five year old son is going to have about what do those baddies do, which is can be difficult. But I think just introducing the concept that there are baddies who mean to cause harm is enough to justify you saying to your child, this is why we're using this username. We're going to take that out. That information. that's for you. For us.

Tim Brown  21:21

Well, that was actually related to the second one I was going to ask, which is would you recommend anonymized usernames?

Deena Rosalky  21:27

Yes, I think there is very little harm in maintaining an anonymous profile online wherever possible. although that's not always possible. And particularly right now, where the kids are using Zoom, like they draw breath. And it's really important for children to be identifiable. But it's probably a good idea for parents and caregivers, to draw a distinction between those two types of spaces. So reinforcing the idea that when we're in Zoom, and in the classroom, we can use your name. And when we're over here, where there are people we don't know, and we don't know who they are, and we don't know what they want, we're going to try to keep that information to ourselves.

Nicky Weeks  22:09

Did you have more to say on that?

Deena Rosalky  22:11

Yes, yes, I spoke about having an open door policy with your teen. And reinforcing the idea of not sharing those personal details. I think it's also a really good idea to encourage your kids to count to 10, before they click post, I think there is a lot of harm done by posting things that might be written in anger, or some other influencing emotion. And it's really good practice. And I'm sure taken into adulthood to get into the habit of deliberately adding a pause between writing your post and posting your post. And I think what might help with that is suggesting to a child that in those 10 seconds, they think about what the consequences and the impact would be if your teacher read that post, your grandmother read that post, your boss, if they're an older teen, read that post and give them an opportunity to really sort of try to see that post from an alternate perspective, and maybe rethink it.

Nicky Weeks  23:11

That's really good advice.

Deena Rosalky  23:12

And then the last one that I wanted to really refer to is quite an important one, I think it's very common. We know it's very common for children to share nudes. And this is a problem for a number of reasons that are important to reinforce with the child with your teenager, whether it be potentially affecting their reputation in their peer group or their school environment. But there are serious, more serious consequences of sharing pictures like that.

It's important for children to understand that as soon as they send that picture or post that picture, it is out of their hands, and it is out of their control. And there is nothing they can do to regain control of that picture, no matter how much they trust that person that they've sent it to. In addition to that there are certain Commonwealth laws against possession and sharing of sexualized images of children and young people under the age of 18. Those laws vary slightly from state to state, and it would be wise for teens and their parents and caregivers to be familiar with the laws in their own state, which that those can be found on the Youth Law Australia website.

Nicky Weeks  24:22

Yeah, I think that's really good advice. And I believe that e-Safety Commissioner, I didn't realise, but they can help you out with removing posts. Not that, I mean, not having them there in the first place is better. But

Deena Rosalky  24:34

yes, that's right, because you don't know who's taking the screenshot or post it up forward from there. But the e-Safety Commission website actually has so many helpful resources. It's a really good place for parents and caregivers to go to learn more about how to keep their children safe online.

Nicky Weeks  24:53

Awesome. Thank you. Sorry, did I interrupt was there more?

Deena Rosalky  24:57

The next thing I was gonna say is the e-Safety Commission website has really good resources for children and parents. I mean, the show notes…

Nicky Weeks  25:06

Abuse red flags

Sorry to steal your thunder. So when you were looking into the Royal Commissions, did you see much of a pattern around when and where abuse occurred and what signs people could could have seen to recognise the abuse earlier,

Deena Rosalky  25:26

The Royal Commission examined Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. So it was a, it was a very broad terms of reference, but a narrow cross section, I guess, of the types of abuse that occur in Australia against children. It was only institutional abuse and only sexual abuse. Having said that, we had 8000 victims survivors come to us and tell us about their experiences. So I certainly do not take away from the extent of the problem, only to indicate that it wasn't didn't consider all types of abuse in all locations of abuse.

Having said that, one of the findings that came out of the Royal Commission is the extent of the increase in risk for children in closed institutional environments. So where the children are in an environment that is closed, such as a boarding school, for example, and a lot of these concerns were historical. So there certainly have been reforms made that makes these institutions safer today, the findings that emerged from that were that any environment that works to reduce a child's connection to their network and to their family has an inverse relationship with their safety. So the risk increases dramatically, with the increasing closed nature of the institution.

Nicky Weeks  26:55

So when you say closed, is that referring to the amount of connections inside versus outside the organisation?

Deena Rosalky  27:04

Yes, a reduction in the number of people in that child's life who are seeing them on a regular basis, and are able to gauge their welfare through regular contact.

Nicky Weeks  27:17

So a closed institution is one where those children mainly interact with others within the same institution. And there's very few interactions with people from outside that institution?

Deena Rosalky  27:31

That's right, and a fairly static set of caregivers who do not rotate through. So it is increasingly possible for caregivers to cover for a perpetrator who may be harming the children, because there are reduced opportunities for the child to disclose to somebody outside of that environment.

Nicky Weeks  27:52

I'd imagine that would be how quite a few institutions would operate just for continuity of care so that the children had a continuous care person. So what's the balance there, I guess, to balance the safety. And yeah, having a clear attachment figure?

Deena Rosalky  28:09

Well, as I mentioned, a lot of these cases were historical. And there has been reform policy and legislation reform that has reduced the number and the nature of the closed institutions in today's society. And a really good example of that is the community visitors programme that you see in disability residential care facilities, where somebody from the outside community is coming and providing a different perspective on what is occurring inside the institution. So it makes any concerns more visible to people outside of the network within the institution.

Nicky Weeks  28:45

Did you did you have more to say on that question?

Deena Rosalky  28:49

No, I mean, I could talk about the findings of the Royal Commission till I'm blue in the face, but it's really a different conversation. And I think part of the reason why it's a different conversation is that of those 8000 victims survivors that we heard about, about 300 of them were children and young people at the time of the Royal Commission, so that that cohort was really the group that gave us sort of a contemporary perspective of what was occurring.

Obviously, it's very difficult for a child who's experiencing such child sexual abuse at the time to come and disclose to the royal commission. So the vast majority of disclosures that we received were from people who the abuse of being in their past, whether it was 10 years ago, or 80 years ago, we had some people in their 90s come to us and tell us what had happened to them. And the nature of the institutions changed so much over that time, that that's why I haven't sort of gone into detail about what we learned about contemporary child sexual abuse from the Royal Commission,

Tim Brown  29:50

A question I had, which not to… well it is just putting you on the spot, but I don't mean to, is would you have any data on the relative prevalence between institutional and private instances of abuse in terms of rate?

Deena Rosalky  30:04

Yeah, that's a really good question. And a really important set of statistics to know. The reason why we don't have a good idea about it is because we really don't have a good sense of who is being abused due to that very long disclosure period. It's really hard for people like AIHW and AIFS to understand what those statistics are for the prevalence of child sexual abuse outside of institutions that have mandatory reporting. And even then I think it's very difficult to, really all of the numbers that we know are a gross underestimation, under-reporting, and I think particularly where in some religious institutions where there's been a very strong culture of cover up, and the numbers in those religious institutions are grossly under reported. So it's hard to compare.

Nicky Weeks  30:53

And we have the Personal Safety Survey. But that's only for instance of since 15, do we have any big surveys asking about childhood?

Deena Rosalky  31:01

There is a survey that's been run for about 25 years by mission Australia, and that is a survey of children, 14 to 18, I think, and it asks a lot of questions about their life, not directly about experience of abuse, but there are some proxies that can be interpreted. So that's quite a good source of information. And I certainly would be happy to provide you with that link of the most recent report that you can put in the show notes.

Nicky Weeks  31:28

What is coercive control?

That'd be helpful. Yeah. So what is coercive control, and is coercive control always abusive?

Deena Rosalky  31:36

Coercive control is a form of abuse where the perpetrator systematically applies tactics to control the victim. It's most commonly seen in intimate relationships. And teens are at risk of finding themselves in an abusive relationship where coercive control is occurring, particularly where they've had limited exposure to models of a healthy relationship, either in their own experience or by parents or caregivers. And the loss of opportunity for a comparison puts them at greater risk of not recognising abuse, where it's occurring in a coercive control environment.

One aspect of coercive control that makes it particularly hard to spot is the phenomenon of love bombing, which is not a new concept, but it has in recent years been applied more frequently with coercive control abuse. Love bombing is where there is that intense and extreme affection or doting on the partner, that is often present at the beginning of a relationship and can really make the partner feel very good and boost their confidence and has sort of a positive effect on that person. But it can, once that newness wears off, it can become very controlling and be replaced by a set of behaviours that are far less to do with love and far more to do with control.

And some signs that you might recognise if that's what's occurring for your teen is talk very early about an inappropriately early level of commitment between the teenagers, there might be language like they're destined to be together, or the partner might say, I can't live without you, which is a particular strategy of manipulation, where they, the perpetrator might establish a position of being the victim in the relationship, although they're the one, manipulating their partner.

You often see a sudden tapering of that affection that moves into a series of behaviours that then break down that person's self esteem and confidence. You might see the partner being quite insulting and engaging psychological abuse designed to chip away at that person's sense of self and sense of competence.

Yeah, other features of coercive control include isolating them from their support systems, cutting off their friendships and their relationships, controlling their activity, so telling them where they can and can't go who they can and can't talk to. These are all signs of coercive control. And then there's often behaviour that is prevalent in these sorts of relationships called gaslighting, which is where a partner manipulates the other person in the relationship to give them a sense that something they know is not the case. And so again, it contributes to that breakdown of their self esteem and their competence about who they are and what they know. And that breakdown of self confidence makes them very vulnerable to further controlling behaviour and a real sort of possesion and ownership of that person, where they reach a point where they think they're being told, “No one's going to love you, but me”, and they believe it. So it's sort of that systematic breakdown of that person's competence that results in a dependency on the perpetrator.

Nicky Weeks  35:16

So it's a range of strategies, that all increased dependence on the perpetrator…

Deena Rosalky  35:21

That's right,

Nicky Weeks  35:22

While cutting off ties with other people who they might have previously depended on.

Deena Rosalky  35:27

That's right. That's right. So if, if that's if your teen is in a situation like that, it's really difficult to extract yourself from a situation like that. And it can be scary and frustrating for the parents who might be aware of what's going on. But the child won't share what's occurring, there's often a lot of shame around this sort of a situation. And they may not even actually be aware that it's occurring, it may feel like a normal relationship to the to the teen.

So it's really important for parents and caregivers to stay open to the child, because at some point, they will reach a point where they need support. And it can be a very frustrating journey up to that point where it takes a lot of commitment and patience to stay open, and be there when the child is ready to extract themselves from the relationship.

Nicky Weeks  36:26

And I guess it would be difficult in many ways, I guess the parent-child relationship is one initially of control and then letting go of that control. So I guess adolescents are in a unique spot, because they've seen for some, if their parents are still looking at everything they do online or checking where they are on their mobile phone in, in a way their parents are modelling surveillance, which is not… the parents do it out of love and concern for their children. But it'd be tricky for teens to figure out that that's not okay for their partner to do even though their parents are doing it.

Deena Rosalky  37:06

That's right. And I think the key difference in those two scenarios you're referring to is agency. I think with parents, there's a… as the child grows, the parents allow them more agency and choice and control over their decisions as they mature in a healthy parental relationship. Whereas that, because in reverse, in an intimate relationship with coercive control, there is a reduction in that person's agency and a reduction in their choice and control of their own actions. So I think that's probably something that a teen can be looking for if they are concerned that their intimate relationship has some of these features.

Nicky Weeks  37:52

That's really helpful. Tim had a question to ask just before, sorry.

Tim Brown  37:55

I just wanted to ask, would online stalking or physical stalking fall within coercive control or be related but

Deena Rosalky  38:02

It certainly can be in fact, a feature of coercive control is surveillance and monitoring where that person where their partner is at all times they the abusive partner might insist that they have their find their phone on,  their location tracking on all the time. So I'm trying to think of how, the social media apps that that show the location of the child is a way that their partner can be tracking them, using the snap map and Facebook check ins and things like that. That's certainly a way that the partner can keep track of where their their partner isn't part of that controlling aspect.

Tim Brown  38:42

So I'd like to ask another question. My understanding is that stalking is a behaviour that is a serious indicator of escalation to intimate partner homicide. And I was just,

Deena Rosalky  38:55

That is correct.

Tim Brown  38:57

you know, is it would you say that it's within a constellation of behaviours, that would then need to be sort of observed by parents trying to keep people safe or, like in isolation? I guess it wouldn't occur in isolation. And I was wondering how we can sort of either not mentioned that, or mention that because, yeah, I don't want to freak people out. But yeah, it's something that they observe. It's actually a big red flag. So

Deena Rosalky  39:23

it absolutely is. I think it's definitely part of stalking is definitely part of coercive control. But But stalking can occur outside of coercive control as well. So if your, if your child is in a relationship where you are aware that that their partner is stalking them, or tracking them, randomly turning up where they are, with no other sort of logical reason to be there. Yes, that is definitely a red flag.

Nicky Weeks  39:54

Yeah, as I see it, the stalking aspect of it is a serious red flag. that that should be attended to. I think something else that's important to recognise is that it doesn't always look controlling or nasty or anything like that, like the Yeah, the stalking could be “Oh I love you so much. I think about you all the time and just wonder where you are…”

Deena Rosalky  40:17

“I want to be with you…”

Nicky Weeks  40:18

“I want to be with you” all that sort of lovey dovey sort of stuff. Same with cutting off connections, you know? Yeah, like, oh, so excited about spending time with you, but you want to go and see your friends, or I'm so disappointed, you know, like, it's Yeah, sort of that loving kind of stuff.

Deena Rosalky  40:35

Or “that friend doesn't like me. Pick me instead of them.” Yeah, when that friend is probably just detecting that there's something really off with her friend's boyfriend.

Trust your gut

I would also advise teens and their parents to trust their gut, if they feel that there's something not right. I think often parents, or siblings perhaps have an instinct that something is not right with something that's going on in their loved ones lives. And I would advise that people really examine what is giving them that sense of uncertainty and trust when they feel that something isn't right.

Saftey planning

If a child is in danger and is experiencing a number of these factors that are discussed, or you're seeing something escalates, like, for example, that their partner is perhaps displaying stalking behaviour, then it may be important to develop a safety plan. The risk of harm for people in relationships, where coercive control is occurring sharply increases immediately after that partner leaves the relationship. So it is important to have a plan in place where the child and their support network, know what to do in certain circumstances. And if there is opportunity for the perpetrator to have access to the teenager. So you would want to be thinking about how to restrict places where they would commonly see that person. Think about filing a police report. Think about aspects like changing contact details, closing social media accounts, things like that. And there are lots of resources online to assist you if you feel that it's important to develop a safety plan for your teenager.

Nicky Weeks  42:19

Awesome. Yeah, that's really helpful advice. And I guess a safety plan wouldn't necessarily have to wait until they were at the point where they were ready to leave either. I guess it could be something that you discuss earlier than that in a sensitive way, just exploring situations that could occur and what they could do.

Deena Rosalky  42:38

That's exactly right. And particularly if you have recognised features of that relation of that relationship, unhealthy features of the relationship, that the child or the teenager is not prepared to talk about, or may not recognise themselves.

Nicky Weeks  42:53

Yeah, absolutely. And I guess I mean, it'd be so so hard as the parent watching this. Yeah, I guess you need to be careful as well not to push the child away, either, because then you're you're decreasing their ability to depend on you and increasing the dependence on the perpetrator.

Deena Rosalky  43:12

Nicky, that's exactly right. And that's a real risk, because that is classic coercive control controlling behaviour where the perpetrator tries to disrupt those relationships. And it is very frustrating and upsetting for family members to recognise what is happening. And I refer back to what I said earlier about making sure you stay present stay open, stay available for your child to come to you when they're ready.

Tim Brown  43:40

That's something that Bancroft said in Why does he do that inside the minds of anger and controlling men is in supporting someone who's going through coercive control or domestic violence situation or something like that, is to be the opposite of how the perpetrator is treating them

Deena Rosalky  43:58

for the victim or for the support network?

Tim Brown  44:01

So for the support network to behave towards the victim.

Nicky Weeks  44:04

Yeah, and you can see how that temptation could be in a parent child relationship, the parents worried about child safety so they could clamp down on you “No, no, you can't see this person anymore”, that sort of thing, in a way that's demonstrating the controlling kind of behaviour that the perpetrator is.

Deena Rosalky  44:25

That's right. And I think there's also a risk of that the child or the teenager convincing, working to convince the parents, I'm fine, everything's okay. And that the parent it is, as you mentioned before, it's a difficult time where you're trying to get a good sense of how much freedom and agency to give your teenager to let go a little bit of that control. And when your child comes to you and says, I'm fine mum, and particularly when their partner is working from the other end to try to disrupt those relationships.

That's where I think the gut instinct comes in to resist being reassured by those by those platitudes. And I don't say that to take away from the agency of the child, I, it's important to give your children that the space that they need to stay growing. But if your gut is telling you that something isn't right, think about what they're saying to you at those times,

Nicky Weeks  45:22

yeah. And that's where I see the safety plan as being a really good suggestion. Because even if they're not willing to accept that this isn't a good relationship, even if they're perfectly happy in the relationship at the moment, you could still talk through, you know, what would you do if you felt unsafe and you're out with this person or something? Something like that, so that they've thought some things through I guess, yeah, they know, they know in advance that if they came to you, you wouldn't be angry or judgmental.

Deena Rosalky  45:50

That's so important. And sometimes it takes seeing what is happening to you reflected in somebody else's perspective, to put together what you have felt were disconnected events into a picture that allows you to recognise what is occurring in that relationship, and the abuse you're experiencing?

Nicky Weeks  46:11

Yeah, yeah. Did you have more to say on that? Question?

Deena Rosalky  46:16

No. In fact, I don't have much more to say at all. Okay.

Nicky Weeks  46:23

Abuse with a power imbalance

So in classes that I've taken, I teach that healthy friendships are equal with mutual respect. However, there are plenty of relationships where there's an inbuilt power imbalance, like teacher-student, boss-staff, psychologist-client, parent-child, how do you recognise misuse of power? And how would you define a healthy relationship where there is a natural power imbalance?

Deena Rosalky  46:45

Some of the signs that you would see where there is a misuse of power would be where somebody, a teacher, or a psychologist type role would make decisions on behalf of the child and manipulate? 

Nicky Weeks  47:15

Yeah, I think in in a large way, you touched on this in talking about how it's gradually releasing the agency to the child versus taking it away. That's right.

Deena Rosalky  47:29

And also the kind of the inverse of that where there's sort of an an overbearing nature to the relationship where there, yeah, manipulating the child's decision making unstructured time schedule, and perhaps controlling exactly, creating opportunities to spend extra time with them, perhaps where they're restricted from access to their parents or their other carers, that rule breaking behaviour that I mentioned before.

Sometimes people in power, use that sort of authority and allow kids to maybe make sexual jokes or show them sexual pictures that would kind of test the boundaries of where the child is prepared to go to see, you know, that's very consistent with grooming behaviour, where the child sort of will either baulk or go along with it that gives the person in the authoritative position information about the likelihood of being able to mitigate them further. And

Nicky Weeks  48:34

yeah, so gradually normalises, I guess a relationship that shouldn't be part of that relationship?

Deena Rosalky  48:41

That's right. Yeah, that's inappropriate for the child for the age of the child. Yeah, often it's giving them like I said, cigarettes or alcohol to sort of get in the good books, letting them drive the car, or, you know, building trust with the child. And in doing so creating those boundaries. Similarly to the coercive controlling situation between the child and their friends or their parents or other teachers. Those would be very concerning behaviour and abuse of power in a relationship like that.

Nicky Weeks  49:14

Yeah, awesome. That's helpful. So if people want to find out more about the royal commissions you've worked on, where can they go and what sort of resources can they expect to find?

Deena Rosalky  49:23

Both the royal commissions have active websites, even though the Child Abuse Royal Commission has completed their work. There is a legacy website that has the final report and the hearings reports and the extensive research agenda and research outputs available online. And the Disability Royal Commission which is current also publishes their policy papers and research as they are developed and they have excellent resources for policymakers, service providers, Law Reform People in the law reform space. If parents want more accessible resources, I would recommend a number of websites that have information that's more readily available and more readily accessible to community. And I'll pass those on to you.

Nicky Weeks  50:16

Yeah, that'd be great. I'll put to put up on that show notes. Yeah. Deena has provided so many valuable and actionable tips here. The transcript and all links and references for this episode will be available at Everyone has the right to live free from violence and the threat of violence. Regardless of what you do or don't do abuse is wrong, and entirely the fault of the perpetrator. If this episode was disturbing for you, please reach out for help. In Australia you can call one 1800 Respect 1800 737 732 or Lifeline on 13 11 14. Thank you so much for listening.

Intro  51:03

Personal Strength is in Gordon on Sydney's North Shore. We run workshops and weekly sessions including personal training and group classes for children from four years old teenagers and adults. We also have a range of ebooks and online courses available at

Brandon Szeto
Been training in martial arts for 15 years, I appreciate the quality of Sensei Tim's instruction and the depth of his skill. Incredibly honoured to be a part of the academy
Brandon Szeto
Leo Li
Had no idea what i was getting into upon engaging this class for my daughter, at her own request.. But it's been the best few years worth of memories of our lives. For my little girl and for me as well ! Thank you very much sensei Tim🙏.
Leo Li
Nadia Batchelor
My daughter does kick boxing sessions weekly at personal strength. She enjoys the supportive and safe environment whilst having fun keeping fit. Tim has created a great space for young people to be the best version of themselves.
Nadia Batchelor
UPDATE: it's been almost 5 years since I left this review. We're still going strong! I'm still training with Tim 💪 My now 10-year-old son is still doing Ninjas classes 👍 Great local gym with a very welcoming environment. I've been training with Tim for almost 2 years and I always enjoyed his personalised approach which helped me to achieve my goals. Tim is always very encouraging and makes each training session challenging, but rewarding. Apart from training adults, Tim is excellent working with kids and my 5.5yo son is always looking forward for his next Little Ninjas classes, which he started as a 3-year-old. Kids classes are always fun, with a mix of games and various exercises teaching self-awareness and safety. I would definitely recommend FunFit to everyone.
Karen Wakil
Fantastic mix of fitness, self-defence and life skills in a fun environment. Builds confidence, respect and strength - both physical and mental - in the children. Highly recommend!
Karen Wakil
Estelle Demontrond-Box
My boy really enjoys Tim's teenagers' fitness classes: Tim is very encouraging and motivating and has a good sense of humour! The class is very energetic and fun! Highly recommend!
Estelle Demontrond-Box
Edward Kim
Tim always keeps the workouts fresh and interesting and was always committed to safety. Workouts were always challenging but catered to the level you were at. Never a boring session and looked forward to them always. Great community feel and music too! Only reason I'm not going anymore is because I moved to the other side of Sydney.
Edward Kim
Ruth Hawkins
Both my 4 year old girl and 6 year boy absolutely love the classes. They've done lots of other activities over the years but there's something about being a little ninja that makes them light up and they enjoy every minute of the class.
Ruth Hawkins
Michael Darcy
Great classes. My daughter loves them. They're a good mix of fun, fitness, knowledge and skills. An awesome find.
Michael Darcy
Pablo Lillo
Very friendly people and staff, classes are fun and engaging!
Pablo Lillo