A student pins a flag to the large white Respect letters at UOW. Photo: Paul Jones

Helping students recognise ‘red flags’ in relationships

Helping students recognise ‘red flags’ in relationships

UOW's annual Respect Week promotes safer communities for all

Do you know how to spot a red flag in a relationship? It can be a single moment or a pattern of behaviour, a warning sign that there is a danger ahead and this relationship is not safe or healthy. The red flag can be loud and obnoxious, or quieter and more subtle.

The theme of ‘Red Flags’ was front and centre when the University of Wollongong held its annual Respect Week from Monday (26 February) to Friday (1 March).

Led by UOW’s Safe and Respectful Communities (SARC) team, the powerful initiative explores how we can eliminate sexual and gender-based violence and shape the next generation of respectful communities.

This year, students and staff were examined the theme of Red Flags and also focus on coercive control, a term used to describe any behaviour that hurts, scares or isolates another person with the aim of controlling them.

As part of the event, new and returning students and staff were encouraged to write down, on red flags made of paper, their own red flags or deal breakers in relationships.

Those flags were then be attached to the RESPECT letters that are currently located on UOW’s Duck Pond Lawn. The event took place on Wednesday (28 February), from 12pm to 3pm.

Angela Cowan stands in front of the Respect letters, with students in the background. She holds a red flag. Photo: Paul Jones Angela Cowan, Project Coordinator of Safe and Respectful Communities, in front of the Respect letters on campus. 

UOW Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Patricia M. Davidson said Respect Week highlighted the importance of fostering a safe and respectful university community.

“Respect, consent, courtesy and consideration are the foundation of how we should treat each other every single day. Disrespect, assault, harassment, bullying, and violence, in its many and varied forms, have no place in our world. But too many people continued to be harmed every year by sexual assault and relationship violence,” Professor Davidson said.

“Respect Week encourages us to think about how we treat each other, but also provides valuable lessons for our students, many of whom are entering the world independently for the first time.

“We are proud of the work we are doing at UOW to bring an end to coercive control and to encourage staff and students to identify their red flags in relationships. Ultimately, this is the moment to envision how we want our future generations to treat each other. UOW is, and always will be, a safe space for all.”

Professor Trish Mundy, Chief Integrity Officer at UOW, said the Red Flag event drew attention to the insidious nature of abuse in toxic relationships and the devastating impact of coercive control.

“During Respect Week, we are opening up valuable conversations about abuse in relationships, how to recognise it, and how and where to seek help or support.

“Coercive control can be difficult to spot because it often escalates over time, so we want to draw attention to the behaviours that are associated with that and show students and staff that they are never alone.

“The Red Flag theme can be quite confronting but it’s so important to discuss what a healthy relationship can and should look like. Abuse thrives in silence and shining a light on these behaviours is critical.”

A close-up of red and green flags on the Respect letters. Photo: Paul Jones

The SARC team also ran a stall focusing on unhealthy behaviours in relationships, such as manipulation, betrayal, belittling, isolation, and possessiveness. They are also holding a free two-hour workshop around recognising red flags.

SARC staff will be on hand all week to talk to students and provide support to anyone who is experiencing abuse or is triggered by the conversations.

These activities are aimed at creating awareness of Coercive Control in line with the introduction of new laws that will be implemented on 1 July 2024.

In 2023, SARC partnered with Shoalcoast Community Legal Centre and ran a workshop for community and staff about the changes to legislation around Coercive Control.