Domestic abuse does not always involve physical violence. Abuse can include other forms of mistreatment and cruelty such as constant threatening, psychological/emotional, financial/material, spiritual and verbal abuse. It can also include sexual assault. Domestic abuse results from an imbalance of power and control in a relationship.

What is Abuse?

Domestic Violence transcends all boundaries and stereotypes. It is found at all income and education levels, in all social classes, in all religions and in all races and cultures.

Abuse is an attempt to control the behaviour of another person. It is a misuse of power which uses the bonds of intimacy, trust and dependency to make the victim vulnerable. The abuser is purposefully using verbal, non-verbal or physical means to gain control over the other person. In most cases the abuser is not abusive or violent to others outside the family or home.

  • Abusers are able to control their behavior—they do it all the time.
  • Abusers pick and choose whom to abuse. They don’t insult, threaten, or assault everyone in their life who gives them grief. Usually, they save their abuse for the people closest to them, the ones they claim to love.
  • Abusers carefully choose when and where to abuse. They control themselves until no one else is around to see their abusive behavior. They may act like everything is fine in public, but lash out instantly as soon as you’re alone.
  • Abusers are able to stop their abusive behavior when it benefits them. Most abusers are not out of control. In fact, they’re able to immediately stop their abusive behavior when it’s to their advantage to do so (for example, when the police show up or their boss calls).
  • Violent abusers usually direct their blows where they won’t show. Rather than acting out in a mindless rage, many physically violent abusers carefully aim their kicks and punches where the bruises and marks won’t show.

The United Nations (Commission on the Status of Women, 1993) defines violence against women as:
“…any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty whether occurring in public or private life.”

One out of every four Canadian women will suffer some type of abuse during her lifetime and every year, one in 10 Canadian women is physically battered by her partner. Domestic violence and abuse occurs in all socio-economic groups and cultural/religious backgrounds and it affects women of all ages.

Power and Control Model

Physical and sexual assaults, or threats to commit them, are the most apparent forms of domestic violence and are usually the actions that make others aware of the problem. However, regular use of other abusive behaviors by the abuser, when reinforced by one or more acts of physical violence, make up a larger scope of abuse. Although physical assaults may occur only occasionally, they instill fear of future violent attacks and allow the abuser to control the victim's life and circumstances.

The Power and Control model is a particulary helpful tool in understanding the overall pattern of abusive and violent behaviours, which are used by a batterer to establish and maintain control over his partner. Very often, one or more violent incidents are accompanied by an arrayof these other types of abuse. They are easily identified, yet firmly establish a pattern of intimidation and control in the relationship.

Coercion and Threats

  • Making and/or carrying out threats to do something to hurt her.
  • Threatening to leave her, commit suicide, or report her to welfare.
  • Making her drop charges.
  • Making her do illegal things.


  • Making her afraid by using looks, actions, and gestures.
  • Smashing things.
  • Destroying her property.
  • Abusing pets.
  • Displaying weapons.

Emotional Abuse

  • Putting her down.
  • Making her feel bad about herself.
  • Calling her names.
  • Making her think she’s crazy.
  • Playing mind games.
  • Humiliating her.
  • Making her feel guilty.


  • Controlling what she does, who she sees and talks to, what she reads, and where she goes.
  • Limiting her outside involvement.
  • Using jealousy to justify actions.

Minimizing, Denying, and Blaming

  • Making light of the abuse and not taking her concerns about it seriously.
  • Saying the abuse didn’t happen.
  • Shifting responsibility for abusive behavior.
  • Saying she caused it.

Using Children

  • Making her feel guilty about the children
  • Using the children to relay messages.
  • Using visitation to harass her.
  • Threatening to take the children away.

Economic Abuse

  • Preventing her from getting or keeping a job.
  • Making her ask for money.
  • Giving her an allowance.
  • Taking her money.
  • Not letting her know about or have access to family income.

Male Privilege

  • Treating her like a servant;
  • making all the big decisions,
  • acting like the “master of the castle,”
  • being the one to define men’s and women’s roles.

Take a few minutes to answer the following questions about your situation. It could be time very well spent.

How do I leave?

When you are planning to leave, here are some suggestions:

  • Contact the police or a local women’s shelter. Let the staff know that you intend to leave an abusive situation and ask for support in safety planning. Ask for an officer who specializes in woman abuse cases (information shared with the police may result in charges being laid against the abuser.
  • If you are injured, go to a doctor or an emergency room and report what happened to you. Ask them to document your visit.
  • Gather important documents: identification, bank cards, financial papers related to family assets, last Canada Income Tax Return, keys, medication, pictures of the abuser and your children, passports, health cards, personal address/telephone book, cell phone, and legal documents (e.g. immigration papers, house deed/lease, restraining orders/peace bonds).
  • If you can’t keep these things stored in your home for fear your partner will find them, consider making copies and leave them with someone you trust. Your local women’s shelter will also keep them for you.
  • Consult a lawyer. Keep any evidence of physical abuse (such as photos). Keep a journal of all violent incidents, noting dates, events, threats and any witnesses.
  • Put together pictures, jewelry and objects of sentimental value, as well as toys and comforts for your children.
  • Arrange with someone to care for your pets temporarily, until you get settled. A shelter may help with this.
  • Remember to clear your phone of the last number you called to avoid his utilizing redial.

Leaving the Abuser

Here are some suggestions for your personal safety when you leave:

  • Request a police escort or ask a friend, neighbour or family member to accompany you when you leave.
  • Contact your local women’s shelter. It may be a safer temporary spot than going to a place your partner knows.
  • Do not tell your partner you are leaving. Leave quickly.
  • Have a back-up plan if your partner finds out where you are going.

After Leaving

Here are some actions you should take after you or your partner has left the relationship::

  • Visit the closest police station and ask to speak to an officer who specializes in woman abuse cases.
  • Consider applying for a restraining order or peace bond that may help keep your partner away from you and your children. Keep it with you at all times.
  • Provide police with a copy of any legal orders you have.
  • Consult a lawyer or legal aid clinic about actions to protect yourself or your children. Let your lawyer know if there are any Criminal Court proceedings.
  • Consider changing any service provider that you share with your ex-partner.
  • Obtain an unlisted telephone number, get caller ID and block your number when calling out.
  • Make sure your children’s school or day care centre is aware of the situation and has copies of all relevant documents. Carry a photo of the abuser and your children with you.
  • Consider applying for a restraining order or peace bond that may help keep your partner away from you and your children. Keep it with you at all times.
  • Ask your neighbours to look after your children in an emergency and to call the police if they see the abuser.
  • Take extra precautions at work, at home and in the community. Consider telling your supervisor at work about your situation.
  • Think about places and patterns that your ex-partner will know about and try to change them. For example, consider using a different grocery store or place of worship.
  • If you feel unsafe walking alone, ask a neighbour, friend or family member to accompany you.
  • Do not return to your home unless accompanied by the police. Never confront the abuser.

Technology Could Put You at Risk

Safety planning is a process that takes into account a victim/survivor’s current situation and encourages the development of strategies that help to reduce harm, minimize risks, and create a safe environment. Technology, including everyday items such as computers and cell phones, is a crucial area to consider in safety planning. Below is a summary of a number of technology precautions to consider as outlined by Safety Net: The National Safe and Strategic Technology Project at the National Network to End Domestic Violence ( Information is power. Call or consult with an advocate at a domestic violence hotline to make sure your safety plan is comprehensive.

  1. Trust your instincts. If the abuser knows too much regarding your whereabouts, it is possible that your phone, computer, emails, and other activities are being tracked.
  2. Use a safe computer. When you look for help, a new place to live, etc, it may be safest to use a computer at the public library, an internet café, or community center.
  3. Create a new email account with a new password from a safe computer. Use an anonymous name and password that the abuser will not be able to guess.
  4. Change passwords and PIN numbers. Some abusers access victims’ accounts fraudulently to track them, to impersonate them, and to cause harm. Thank about any password protected accounts you may have, including: online banking, medical records, voicemail, etc. If anyone abusive knows or could guess your passwords, change them quickly and frequently.
  5. Use a donated or new cell phone. A family cell phone plan produces billing records and phone logs that might reveal your plans. Local domestic violence programs have information about new cell phones and prepaid phone cards.
  6. Check your cell phone settings. If you are using a cell phone provided by the abuser, turn it off when not in use. Phones can be set to automatically answer without your knowing, in effect becoming a speaker. Most newer phones have GPS which makes them capable of tracking you.
  7. Minimize use of cordless phones and baby monitors. These act like speakers and can be monitored. A traditional corded phone is more secure.
  8. Ask about your records and data. Many court systems and government records are published online. Ask agencies how your records can be protected, restricted, or sealed.
  9. Get a private mailbox and do not give your real physical address. When asked by businesses, doctors and others for your address, have a private mailbox or PO box. Try to keep your residential address out of national databases. Many states, including Massachusetts, have the Address Confidentiality Program that can help you protect your actual address and is valid for legal documents.
  10. Search for your name and your phone number online. Major search engines such as Google, Yahoo, and have links to your contact information including satellite photos of your address. Search your name in quotation marks: “Full Name.” Do the same with your telephone number. Also, check phone directory pages because unlisted numbers may have been published if the number has been given to anyone.
  11. Consider taking down your social networking pages such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc. Information posted on these sites can compromise your safety through photos that reveal your location and through friends your abuser knows who link to your social site.
  12. Consider closing your chain store, auto repair, oil change, or other service discount cards. The information they track is put on searchable databases which a tech savvy abuser may be able to hack into. Often a clerk will allow you to use their card so you can still get the savings.