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What is domestic violence?

Domestic violence is a pattern of behaviour by one person to gain control over their romantic partner or ex-partner. Both men and women also suffer domestic violence. It can also occur in same-sex relationships.

It’s not necessarily physical violence, either. It can take other forms including sexual, emotional, psychological, and even financial abuse.

Like sexual assault, domestic violence is a widespread and often unreported crime. It typically occurs behind closed doors and victims are shamed or intimidated into keeping quiet.

Some common examples of domestic abuse could be:

  • Actual or threatened physical/sexual assault;
  • Preventing you from seeing family and friends;
  • Making you skip school, work, and other activities;
  • Controlling your phone, e-mail, and other means of communication;
  • Forcible confinement or limiting means of transportation;
  • Jealousy, possessiveness, stalking, and accusations of infidelity;
  • Withholding sex;
  • Stealing your identity, property, or inheritance;
  • Forcing you to work at a family business for no pay;
  • Hiding or withholding money, controlling finances, or paying you an “allowance;”
  • Preventing access to healthcare;
  • In same-sex relationships, threatening to “out” you to family or colleagues; and
  • Blaming you for their abusive behaviour.

Some of these acts are criminal offences, and many are outlawed according to other federal or provincial laws. But even acts that aren’t specifically outlawed can still fit a legal definition of domestic abuse.

Six provinces and each territory have specific domestic violence laws on the books. Every province has Crown prosecutor and police policies in place to handle domestic violence complaints, with an understanding that victims are often scared, reluctant, or unsure how to report it.

Domestic abuse often occurs in a recurring pattern, particularly with physical violence. The abuser:

  • threatens physical violence;
  • assaults you;
  • apologizes, promises never to do it again, possibly offers gifts;
  • begins the cycle again.

The abuse can become more severe as time goes on. Victims can experience physical and psychological harm, often becoming anxious and depressed, often turning to drugs or alcohol. Then the abuser can control access to medical treatments or other care as a way of increasing your dependence on them.

These tactics of isolating, undermining, and making you feel dependent are how abusers keep their victims from turning to others for help.

Male victims are often less likely to report domestic violence or abuse, often out of embarrassment or a perception that there is less support available than for female victims. A 2005 study by Statistics Canada found similar percentages of men and women said they had suffered abuse, although women are victims in more than 80 per cent of cases reported to police.

If you are reluctant to approach police, you can turn to a friend, family member, health care professional, or the many discreet counselling services available to victims.

Read more:

Family Violence Laws

Statistics Domestic Violence Ontario