Department of Justice

Victim Services / Family Violence Prevention Unit

Information About Abuse

What is abuse?

Abuse can happen in different kinds of family or close relationships. The book "Options, Choices, Changes" focuses on abuse of women by their husbands or the men they live with, because this is the kind of abuse women experience most often.

However, women in other types of relationships are also abused. Young women often report abuse by men they are dating. Lesbians may experience abuse in intimate relationships with other women. Disabled and elderly women are frequently abused by family members and caregivers.

People call abuse of women different things:
  • wife battering;
  • wife assault;
  • domestic violence;
  • family violence;
  • wife abuse/spousal abuse;
  • woman abuse;
  • physical or mental cruelty;
  • violence against women; and
  • assault.

Regardless of what it is called, abuse of women is an abuse of power, and it is wrong. It is not simply about not being able to handle anger or having problems with addictions. It is about a man's efforts to exert control in a relationship. Abuse can take many forms. It can be physical, sexual, verbal, financial, social, emotional, or psychological.

Some forms of abuse are crimes

Acts that are offences under the Criminal Code include:

  • sexual assault;
  • child abuse;
  • threats to harm;
  • threats to kill;
  • taking your pay cheque; and
  • stalking or criminal harassment (creating fear by repeatedly following, communicating, or attempting to communicate with another person or any member of her family).

Types of abuse

Physical: including choking; kicking; punching; slapping; grabbing; poking you; pushing; shoving; spitting at you; pulling your hair; physically restraining you; stopping you from leaving; holding or hugging you when you say 'no'; any unwanted physical contact; abusing your children; and treating you roughly.

Sexual: threatening to harm your reputation; putting you down or comparing you sexually to others; getting back at you for refusing to have sex, sleeping around; or treating you as a sex object; forcing you to look at pornography; hounding you for sex or forcing certain positions; forcing you to have sex (rape).

Verbal: verbally threatening you (telling you to stop crying... or else); calling you names (stupid, slut, crazy, bitch ...); yelling, shouting; abusing your children; being sarcastic or critical; always blaming you for things that go wrong; insulting you/your family; laughing in your face; verbal abuse of your children.

Financial/economic: controlling you by not paying the bills; refusing to give you money for groceries, clothing, things you need; spending all the money on things he wants (alcohol, trips, cars, sports); forbidding you to work outside the home; taking your money or your pay cheque; not letting you take part in financial decisions.

Emotional/psychological: making you afraid; playing 'mind games'; not telling you what he is doing; lying; ignoring you; being silent; walking away from you in discussion (unless both of you have agreed to taking a 'time-out' period when arguments become heated); refusing to deal with issues; putting you down; finding fault in your behaviour; brainwashing; refusing to do things with you or for you (such as withholding sex); always getting his own way; criticizing how you look or act.

Social: putting you down; ignoring you; making a scene in public; embarrassing you in front of your children; not letting you see your friends or being rude to your friends; being nice to others but changing his personality when with you; not taking responsibility for the children; turning your children against you; choosing friends or family over you; comparing you unfavourably with other women; not allowing you to express your emotions (denying your feelings); taking your passport or threatening to have you deported.

Abuse of women is violence. It is not acceptable.

Both physical and sexual abuse are criminal offences.

Who abuses women?

Men who abuse women can be of different ages, races, religions, and economic backgrounds. They can have different kinds of jobs and education. They can be a husband or ex-husband; a live-in partner, a lover, a boyfriend, or an ex-boyfriend; a son; a relative, or a caregiver.

Abuse can happen in any type of family, intimate, or close relationship. The one thing abusive men have in common is that they believe it is all right to hurt people, even if they love them. They believe that violence is okay. But it's not — Ever!

Why does abuse happen?

There is no easy answer to the question of why men abuse women.

Until recently, women were not given equal legal status. There were many things they were not allowed to do. In families they were often treated like property, belonging first to a father or other male relative and later to a husband. The man was the legal head of the household and ruled the family. It was okay for a man to use force to control his wife or solve family problems.

Experts argue that men still tend to learn to be aggressive and to express frustration in more violent ways than women. In a traditional First Nations culture, a man's role was to be the provider and protector in the family. Women were considered sacred, because of their ability to create and bring life into the world. It has traditionally not been acceptable for First Nations men to use force against women.

In recent times, many First Nations people were raised in residential schools where they experienced many forms of abuse. Often, they came home to parents who were abusing alcohol because they had lost their children. As a result, many were exposed to violence in their growing years. With a lack of healthy role models, combined with First Nations women's increasing roles as provider, protector, nurturer, child bearer, etc., many First Nations men have lost sight of what they represented long ago, and therefore have lost sight of who they are.

Women of all cultures are still not equal to men in many ways, especially economically. This makes women more vulnerable when violence occurs, and it makes them less able to leave an abusive relationship. Healthy relationships are based on equality and trust.

Abuse of women is about power and control, the betrayal of trust, and lack of respect. It's about using force or threats to make you afraid. It's about using fear to control you.

A man may abuse a woman because he has learned this behaviour in his childhood; has not learned appropriate ways of dealing with anger; is influenced by the way women and men are shown in the media; wants to maintain a tough macho image; believes violence is a way to show male power; has low self-esteem and wants his partner to be dependent on him; is influenced by TV sports, etc; thinks that there are few, if any, consequences for his violent acts.

No matter why he does it, it is not your fault. Every man who has become an abuser must take responsibility for his behaviour. No one has the right to hit or hurt you. No matter what you do, you do not deserve abuse. You do not ask for it.

Is there a pattern to abuse?

For many women, abuse and violence start early in the relationship. For others it may start later quite often during pregnancy. There are also many types of abuse, which may be used in different situations. Whatever the type of abuse or the pattern, violent and abusive actions and behaviour are his way of maintaining power and control over you. There is no predictable pattern of violence.

Sometimes there is a cycle of violence that many women recognize.

It may look like this...

First, the tension and anger build up. Sometimes there's an argument. She may try to keep the peace. But the abuser explodes and becomes violent or makes threats to get violent. He hits her, threatens her (or something she loves), verbally abuses her, or abuses her in some other way.

Then, there's a cool-down, make-up, or calm stage. The abuser may say he's sorry or he may deny it ever happened. The abuser may promise it will never happen again and may reinforce this by doing something nice (gifts, dinner, flowers). There is a time of peace, which is usually temporary. It may be a control tactic to keep her in the relationship.

Sooner or later, the tension builds up again, his need to control increases, and the abuse starts over. You cannot predict what will start or end the cycle, no one thing triggers the violence. Over time the phases are likely to get shorter, closer together, and his violence will increase in intensity.

Are you being abused?

Does your partner (or other significant person)...

  • Get jealous when you're around other people
  • Make fun of you in front of your friends and family
  • Destroy, or threaten to destroy, your possessions
  • Praise you one minute and put you down the next
  • Call you names or threaten you?
  • Ignore you or not take you seriously?
  • Make you choose between your friends/family and him?
  • Blame you when things go wrong?
  • Push you around or hit you?
  • Threaten to take the children?
  • Say abuse is wrong but hit the walls and yells at you?

Do you...

  • Have to ask permission to spend money or go out?
  • Feel isolated from friends, family, and activities?
  • Have to make things right just for him?
  • Have to do what he wants ... or else?
  • Feel it's your fault when anything goes wrong?

Do you feel...

  • Afraid to make decisions for fear of his reaction or anger?
  • That you have to check in if you go anywhere?
  • That he is trying to run your life?
  • Afraid to tell him if you have a good time?
  • That maybe all the terrible things he says about you are coming true or Happening?
  • That you have to put your dreams and goals on hold?
  • Afraid to express your own opinions or say 'no' to something?
  • Trapped, unable to go out without his permission?
  • Your joy in your life diminishing?
  • Afraid to break up with or leave him?

If you answer 'yes' to any of these questions, you may be in an abusive relationship. You are not alone.

What does abuse do to women?

A woman who is abused often lives with constant fear, worry, guilt, and self-blame. She may begin to feel worth-less and helpless or ashamed. She may feel like a failure. The effects of physical abuse can be black eyes, broken bones, bruises, burns, concussions, cuts, scratches even death. A woman beaten while pregnant can lose the baby.

The effects of emotional or psychological abuse cannot be seen, but can be just as harmful and last much longer than physical injuries. A woman experiencing abuse of any kind may feel that no one could ever love her. She may feel stupid or ugly and all alone. This is what the abuser wants. It makes it easier for him to have control over her. After a while, she may begin to lose her self-respect. She may begin to use alcohol or drugs to dull the pain.

For some women, the hardest thing is the feeling of loss:

  • of self-respect;
  • of safety;
  • of family and friends;
  • of independence;
  • of future goals and dreams;
  • of laughter and joy;
  • of her own identity;
  • of respect for him;
  • of hope;
  • of loving happiness;
  • of companionship.

Children who witness abuse

If you have children, you may have decided to put up with the abuse for their sake. But children who witness abuse may be experiencing abuse themselves. Children often see and hear more than we think. They have probably seen or heard the violence, and likely it will have affected them.

Children who witness parental violence can be as severely affected as children who are direct victims of physical or sexual abuse.

They may:

  • be scared, confused, and unhappy;
  • have physical complaints such as headaches or stomach aches;
  • blame themselves;
  • have night-time difficulties such as insomnia, nightmares, or bed-wetting;
  • behave aggressively, or become withdrawn;
  • cling to their mother or try to take care of her;
  • feel responsible for the violence;
  • seek punishment by lying or stealing (believing punishment means love);
  • be abused too.

Children who witness abuse often learn that it's all right to hurt people they love.

They learn that it's normal for someone who loves them to hurt them. But it's not!

Children from violent homes may end up believing that:

  • it's okay for people (men in particular) to hit, boss, or control their partners;
  • it's okay for men to bully and control women;
  • this is the way that families behave;
  • violence is a way to win arguments and get your own way;
  • big people have power they often misuse;
  • all men are bullies who push women and children around;
  • punishment means love;
  • women are weak and can be pushed around;
  • men are strong and should be in control;
  • women can't take care of themselves or their children;
  • you can only express anger through aggression and abuse;
  • 'real men' don't feel or show weakness, fear, sadness, or confusion;
  • women are naturally inferior to men; and
  • people, particularly women have to put up with abuse in relationships.

If you own a house

Maybe you own a house, alone or with your partner. Or maybe he owns the house. If you are not married, whoever owns the house has full legal rights to it, but common-law partners may also have some rights. If you are married, you and your husband do have equal legal rights to the house. In any case, you should get legal advice immediately to protect your rights.

So why do women stay?

Abuse can damage a woman and her children, both physically and emotionally. Beliefs and stereotypes in society also put down women in abusive relationships. For example, it can make her a victim all over again if people keep asking her why she stays. It can make her feel more ashamed or helpless.

Women stay for a variety of reasons.

There are many barriers to leaving. These can be emotional, because of cultural or religious beliefs, or for financial or other practical reasons. Women from different cultural groups, immigrants, new Canadians, lesbians, or women who are disabled, often face additional challenges. Language barriers, racism, discrimination, fear of deportation, isolation, or disbelief are just a few of the many barriers to reporting and dealing with abuse.

You may be unfamiliar with the laws of the Yukon. Perhaps your faith or religious advisor tells you to stay with an abusive partner. You may have had bad experiences with the law, the medical profession, the court system, or government agencies. Some laws have changed, and you have the right to be protected.

Whatever your background, if you are being abused, it is wrong and is a crime. You have the right to stop that crime. If you are a friend or counselor to someone who is being abused, it helps to show some understanding of what the barriers are. But also offer practical help, advice, and encouragement when she is ready to do something about the situation.

Barriers to leaving

Financial: debts that already exist; debts that will be incurred as a result of leaving; no income, or income that is lower than partner's; having to leave the family home; lack of job skills; belief that partner will not pay maintenance or support; insufficient social assistance; shame at using social assistance.

Social: lack of support or isolation from family and friends; inadequate support from police, legal system, etc; lack of affordable childcare and housing; lack of information about legal rights; isolation from community.

Cultural/Religious: victim-blaming, denying, or minimizing the abuse; pressures on women to feel responsible for relationships; religious beliefs about women's roles, marriage; belief that a loving woman can change her partner; belief that a woman needs a man in order to be whole; social disapproval of separation and divorce; belief that the children need a father.

Emotional: feeling of not being able to cope alone; fear of threats by partner; fear that he will get back at you; fear of going to court or calling the police; feeling responsible for failing and for breaking up the family; fear of loneliness, of being unlovable; loving your partner and hoping that he will change; fear of being deported; believing partner when he blames you for his abuse; blame or fear of rejection by family or friends; fear of losing partner by leaving temporarily; fear of his threats to keep the children; fear of his threats to commit suicide or kill you and the children.