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Identify Domestic Violence

Abuse and violence in a relationship can build over time, or it can happen in an instant.

There are many different types of domestic violence. Coercive controlling violence is defined as, “a pattern of behaviour used by one person to gain and maintain power and control over another.” It may be physical, but physical force is often not the first form of abuse that an abuser will use.

Abuse or violence may not be immediately apparent to others outside the abusive relationship.

Approximately every six days, a woman in Canada is killed by her intimate partner.

(Source: Canadian Women’s Foundation.)

People of all gender expressions experience domestic violence. However, there are important differences between male violence against women and female violence against men, namely the amount, severity and impact. Women experience higher rates of repeated victimization and are much more likely to be seriously hurt (Walby & Towers, 2017; Walby & Allen, 2004) or killed than male victims of domestic abuse (ONS, 2019). Further to that, women are more likely to experience higher levels of fear and are more likely to be subjected to coercive and controlling behaviours (Dobash & Dobash, 2004; Hester, 2013; Myhill, 2015; Myhill, 2017). (Source: Women’s Aid Foundation.)

The United Nations defines gender-based violence in the following way:

“The definition of discrimination includes gender-based violence, that is, violence that is directed against a woman because she is a woman or that affects women disproportionately. It includes acts that inflict physical, mental or sexual harm or suffering, threats of such acts, coercion and other deprivations of liberty.” (CEDAW 1992: para. 6).


There are many signs that may indicate someone is experiencing abuse.

Some examples include:

  • Unusually sad, lonely, fearful, exhausted
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Fearful of leaving work
  • Upsetting or frequent phone calls
  • Uses alcohol or drugs to cope
  • Isolating oneself/withdrawn/avoiding social interaction
  • Regularly late for work
  • Anxiety
  • Physical abuse; unexplained bruising
  • Sexual assault/rape


There are also many signs that may indicate someone is abusive.

Some examples include:

  • Disregard for the welfare of children
  • Physically harming family pets
  • Emotional, psychological and verbal abuse
  • Increased hostility toward other friends or family
  • Withdrawal of emotional or financial support
  • Confinement; attempts to control or cut off friendships or family ties


Stalking (criminal harassment) is when a person repeatedly watches, follows or harasses another, making them feel afraid or unsafe.

Some examples include:

  • Appears at home or place of work unannounced or uninvited
  • Sends unwanted text messages, letters, emails and voicemails
  • Leaves unwanted items, gifts or flowers
  • Constantly calls and hangs up
  • Uses social networking sites and technology to track the victim’s vehicle
  • Spreads rumors about the victim via the internet or word of mouth
  • Calls employers or professors
  • Waits at places in which the victim hangs out
  • Uses other people as resources to investigate the victim. For example, looking at the victim’s Facebook page through someone else’s page or befriending the victim’s friends in order to get more information
  • Damages the victim’s home, car or other property

What to do if you think someone is experiencing abuse

If you think someone is experiencing abuse, you can contact a member shelter for advice. They can help.

Find a Shelter

Types of Abuse

Physical Abuse is the intentional infliction of pain or injury by slapping, shoving, punching, kicking, strangling, burning, stabbing, or shooting; Using a weapon or other objects to threaten, hurt, or kill; or abducting a woman or keeping her imprisoned.

Psychological Abuse describes living with the constant fear of threats of violence against a woman, her children, or her friends and relatives. It includes being harassed at work by phone calls or visits, the destruction of prized possessions, and even suicide threats on the part of the abuser. The intent is to control the behaviour of the woman. Threats of violence are illegal under the terms of Canada’s Criminal Code.

Emotional Abuse is the repeated use of harmful behaviours by a perpetrator to control their victim. It can include a never-ending experience of criticism, name-calling, and put-downs alone or in front of friends and relatives. It might include unjust blaming, false accusations about loyalties, and controls on time, activities, and actions.

Sexual Abuse is any form of unwanted sexual activity without that person’s consent. It is being forced against your will to perform sexual acts with anyone, including your partner or husband. It can include forced sexual intercourse (rape), forced pornography or prostitution, sexual harassment, or any unwanted kissing, fondling, touching, oral sex, or threats to do any of these things against your will. As of 1983, sexual assault within a marriage in Canada is illegal. It is a crime for a man to force his wife or partner to engage in sexual activity.

Financial Abuse occurs when a single person controls all the financial resources (money, property, credit) within a relationship and uses this power as a means to exert control over their partner. Perpetrators using financial abuse might not “allow” their partner to get a job, open their own bank account, or contribute to household financial decisions. A woman experiencing financial abuse may appear to live comfortably, but have no control or access to the family’s money.

Identity Abuse is the use of personal characteristics (age, sex, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and other identity factors) to demean, manipulate, or control the survivor. This might include using negative feelings about the survivor’s identity as an excuse for abusing them; negatively stereotyping the partner; keeping the partner from connecting with their community; or threatening to ‘out’ their partner.

Cultural or Spiritual Abuse includes using a person’s religious or spiritual beliefs to manipulate, dominate, or control them. It may include preventing someone from participating in spiritual or cultural traditions or forcing them to participate in practices that are not their own or ridiculing their beliefs. An abuser might distort religious texts and cultural customs for their own benefit to justify their position of power.

Stalking is repeated and unwanted attention that causes a person to fear for their personal safety or for the safety of someone they know, a definition which qualifies as criminal harassment under the Criminal Code of Canada (s. 264). While stalking, by definition, makes someone feel unsafe, it can take the form of actions that do not include overt threats of physical violence. Examples include threats to divulge sensitive personal information and unwanted romantic advances that make the person feel unsafe, despite not including threats of physical harm. Stalking can encompass a range of behaviours, such as someone waiting outside a person’s home, school, or work; physical or electronic surveillance; damage to property; and various kinds of unwanted communication, as further outlined in the Criminal Code (ss. 372(2) and (3)).

Adapted from:
Centre for Research & Education on Violence Against Women & Children. Western University. Retrieved from http://www.vawlearningnetwork.ca/our-work/glossary/index.html
Community Initiatives Against Family Violence. Retrieved from https://ciafv.com/about-us/our-definition-of-fv/
Burczycka, M. (2016). Stalking in Canada, 2014. Statistics Canada. Retrieved from https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/85-002-x/2018001/article/54893/01-eng.htm