Is someone you know in an abusive relationship? The warning signs of domestic violence

By David Kim, Calgary Family Lawyer

Domestic violence, or family violence as it is now often called in Canada, is a serious matter which can have severe repercussions for everyone involved, including criminal proceedings in some instances. If you are experiencing family violence, please seek help immediately.

What is family violence?

The Government of Canada defines family violence as any form of abuse or neglect that a child or adult experiences from a family member or intimate/romantic partner. It can affect everyone in every type of relationship regardless of gender, age, race, religion, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic background.

Although anyone can experience family violence, police data shows that women are victims far more often than other groups, especially when it comes to abuse from an intimate partner – this type of family violence is specifically known as Intimate Partner Violence, or IPV, for short. In Canada, and according to police statistics, 44% of women report experiencing some form of psychological, physical, or sexual abuse from an intimate partner since the age of 15. In 2019, nearly 80% of the people aged 15 and over who reported IPV to the police were women and rates of IPV is more than 3.5 times higher for women than men. For Indigenous women, the percentage of women who report IPV since the age of 15 increases to over 60% compared to 44% of non-Indigenous women.

Types of family violence

There are many categories of family violence which can be confusing, but the common element is that there is always an abuse of power meant to hurt or control somebody who is vulnerable or is reliant on the abuser. The term family violence is a general term that captures all the specific types of family violence which includes:

  1. Physical abuse – the violence is mostly physical and causes bodily injuries or death by hitting, cutting, choking, burning, throwing objects, tying down, or locking someone up.
  2. Sexual abuse – the violence involves forced sexual activity without consent, including inappropriate touching and forcing someone to commit an unsafe or humiliating sexual act.
  3. Emotional or psycho-social abuse – the violence is less physical and more related to words or behavior that is threatening, bullying, insulting, frightening, coercive, controlling, or intimidating to the victim which includes things like constant yelling, forced isolation from other people, and hurting or withholding someone’s pets from them.
  4. Financial abuse – the violence is related to controlling someone through money or property, or by misusing someone’s money or property. This includes withholding money, taking, or spending someone else’s money without permission, preventing someone from working to earn money, or forcing/pressuring someone to sell things.
  5. Neglect – failing to meet the needs of a family member or partner which includes not providing necessary medication and hygiene products, not protecting someone from harm, or abandoning someone who needs care.

It is important to note that not all family violence falls clearly into definable categories and may be a combination of different types of abuse. Also, you may hear different terms depending on the relationship between the abuser and victim – for example, terms like IPV, child abuse, and elder abuse are specific forms of family violence but are family violence all the same.

Signs of family violence

Unfortunately, victims of family violence often do not report incidents to the police which means that the actual instances of violence are likely much higher.

Victims do not report abuse to the police for many reasons. The most common reasons are:

  1. Fear of stigma or social shame
  2. Fear of court or police intervention
  3. Believing the abuse is a private matter
  4. Lack of faith in the legal/justice system

Also, the signs of family violence may not always be obvious to the victim or bystanders, or they might not know what to look for. If you notice some of these signs in yourself or a loved one, you or your loved one may be a victim of family violence:

  1. More distant than usual
  2. More anxious or easily agitated
  3. Feeling down or depressed
  4. Change in sleep habits
  5. Developing a problem with drugs, alcohol, or other substances
  6. Low self-esteem
  7. Talking about or attempting suicide
  8. Talking about the abuser as being very possessive, protective, or jealous
  9. Cutting off contacts with friends or family
  10. Stops activities once enjoyed
  11. Asking permission from the abuser to go anywhere or meet anyone
  12. Constant calls, texts, or emails from the abuser
  13. Little-to-no money available
  14. No access to vehicle or transportation

Conversely, abusers are often good at hiding their abuse and making it subtle enough to continuously evade detection. If you notice these patterns of behavior in an intimate partner or family member, you or your loved ones may be a victim of family violence:

  1. The abuser minimizes or denies the violence and its impact
  2. The abuser makes excuses and blames their actions on external circumstances, such as alcohol, drugs, or a “bad day”
  3. The abuser is quick to apologize after a violent event and there are so called “good times” between periods of violence where they are charming and even pleasant
  4. The abuser often flips the script to suggest they are the victim or gaslights the victim to confuse the issues
  5. The abuser insists the victim perform sex acts or “favours” that are humiliating or degrading to the victim despite the victim’s objections

Recognizing and confronting family violence is extremely difficult and can be an uncertain and intimidating prospect for the victims. There are a number of options available to protect you and any loved ones including Emergency Protection Orders, Restraining Orders, and criminal charges. At Crossroads Law, our highly experienced and dedicated team are standing by to help you or your loved ones navigating this process. To learn how we can help, book a free 20-minute consultation with one of our family lawyers today.

The information contained in this blog is not legal advice and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject. The information provided in this blog is for informational purposes only.
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