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How do I know I'm in an abusive situation?

Question
How do I know I'm in an abusive situation?

Glossary

Clear language definitions to common legal terms. 

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Reviewed: 
May, 2016
Answer

Partner abuse happens when your partner tries to control you, or make you afraid of them. Abuse can happen in any relationship. Partner abuse is also called domestic violence or family violence.

Kinds of abuse

Abuse can be physical, sexual, emotional, or financial.

For example, physical abuse happens when your partner:

  • hits, punches, slaps, chokes, burns, or pushes you
  • forces you to do things you don't want to do, such as using drugs or alcohol

For example, sexual abuse happens when your partner:

  • forces, threatens, or manipulates you into sexual acts you don't want to do
  • uses force, weapons, or objects in sexual acts without your consent
  • involves other people in sexual acts without your consent

For example, emotional or psychological abuse happens when your partner:

  • insults, bullies, humiliates, threatens, blames, shames, or puts you down
  • controls your activities
  • stops you from contacting your friends and family
  • controls your religious beliefs and activities
  • threatens to commit suicide
  • threatens to hurt or kill you, a loved one, or a pet
  • threatens to take your children away
  • uses your religious or cultural beliefs to manipulate or control you
  • stalks or follows you
  • invades your privacy by trying to monitor your emails or texts or listening to your phone conversations

For examples, financial abuse happens when your partner:

  • steals your money
  • controls your finances or refuses to share money
  • prevents you from working or going to school
  • causes you to lose your job by making you miss work, for example

Neglect is also abuse. Your partner neglects you if they do not provide what you need to survive, such as food, clothing, medical care, or shelter.

The pattern of abuse

Partner abuse usually happens in a pattern. This is sometimes called a "cycle of violence". There might be times where there is no abuse and you feel happy with your partner. At other times, you might feel tense and nervous around your partner. Usually, this tension leads to some kind of abusive event, like your partner hitting you or yelling at you.

After this happens, things might settle down. Your partner might promise never to be abusive again. They might try to make you forget what happened by being nice to you or buying you a gift. Even if things get better for awhile, the abuse will usually start again.

Even if you don't want to end the relationship, it's important to take steps to help keep you and your children safe.

1. Get help if you or someone you love is in danger

Think about someone you can call who can help right away. You may also want to contact the police by calling 911. A number of things may happen if you call the police.

For example, the police may charge your partner, charge you, or charge both of you, with a crime.

There is always a chance that you could be charged, even if you are the abused partner.

The police will talk to both you and your partner, and look for other evidence before deciding if they should charge either or both of you with a crime.

If you're physically hurt, you can ask the police to call an ambulance. The police can also take you to a hospital, doctor, or a Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Treatment Centre if there is one in your area. These centres are hospital departments that help victims of domestic and sexual assault. They have 24-hour services and follow-up care, crisis counselling, and referrals to shelters. They also offer legal and financial help.

You can go to a doctor or a Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Treatment Centre even if you do not call the police first.

Help for a child

If someone thinks a child is being abused or neglected, they must call the Children's Aid Society. The Children's Aid Society (CAS) has a legal duty to make sure that children are protected from harm. The government has given them this job.

Child abuse includes physical, sexual, and emotional harm. Emotional harm may include when a child watches someone in their home being abused. Neglect is also abuse. It includes situations where a child's basic needs for things like food, shelter, sleep, or clothing are not being met.

You don't have to find out if the harm actually happened. But if you have good reason to believe that a child has been harmed or might be harmed, you must tell the CAS. This is sometimes called the duty to report. Everyone has a legal duty to report these situations, including family, friends, and neighbours.

Most people who work with children can be charged with a crime if they don't report these situations to the CAS. This includes teachers, doctors, nurses, daycare workers, family counsellors, social workers, and religious leaders. They can be fined up to $1,000 if they fail to report their suspicions of harm.

The police also are required to contact the CAS if they think any child has been harmed or is at risk of being harmed.

Reviewed: 
September, 2016
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2. Get emotional support

You can talk to someone you trust about the abuse, such as a doctor, nurse, lawyer, social worker, or counsellor.

A friend or family member might be able to support you. But they might not know how to support you. And they may not understand how abuse affects victims differently. Friends or family might also feel they need to take sides. Or, they might not understand how important your privacy is. This might happen if they are friends with both you and your partner.

Professionals can help

There are professionals you can talk to about your situation. They can also help you leave an abusive relationship.

For emergency, 24-hour a day telephone support, you can call:

You can call a helpline anonymously. This means you do not have to give your name and contact information.

You can also call your local shelter for abused women. Most shelters have staff available 24 hours a day to answer your call. You can also arrange to go to the shelter to meet with someone.

To meet with someone, you can also contact:

Reviewed: 
October, 2016
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3. Make a safety plan

Your safety and your children's safety are the most important things to think about, whether you leave or not.

Think about safe places to go. In your home, think of rooms that have ways to escape and doors that lock. It's a good idea to have a phone in that room or take a phone with you in case you need to call someone for help.

Some places might not be safe. For example, the kitchen might not be safe because your partner could use a knife or heavy saucepan to hurt you.

If you can leave your home safely, think about places you can go. If you have a neighbour who you trust, you can ask if you can use their home as a safe place. They might even give you an extra key to their home.

Find out where the closest shelter for abused women is located so you can go there if you need to.

What your plan should include

You should also make a detailed safety plan. Your safety plan can include things like:

  • an emergency escape plan
  • a code word to use with your children so they know when to run to safety and call for help
  • things to pack in an emergency bag if you need to leave home quickly
  • a list of important documents to set aside or copy
  • asking neighbours or friends to call the police if they hear fighting or loud noises, or if they see anything suspicious
  • learning the telephone number of a local shelter

You can also get help to make your safety plan.

Reviewed: 
October, 2016
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4. Talk to a lawyer

You can talk to a lawyer who can give you some legal information and advice before or after you leave an abusive relationship.

If you can't afford to hire a lawyer for everything, some lawyers provide "unbundled" or "limited scope" services. This means you pay them to help you with certain things.

If you can't afford to hire a lawyer at all, you might be able to find legal help in other places. You can also find emotional, safety planning, and housing help when leaving an abusive relationship.

If you have experienced family violence and need immediate legal help, you might be able to get 2 hours of free advice from a lawyer. This service is offered through some women's shelters, community legal clinics, and Family Law Service Centres. Or you can call Legal Aid Ontario toll-free at 1-800-668-8258 to find out more.

If you have experienced sexual abuse and live in Toronto, Ottawa, or Thunder Bay, you might be able to get 4 hours of free advice from a lawyer. You have to complete a voucher request form. Or you can call the Independent Legal Advice for Sexual Assault Survivors Pilot Program at 1-855-226-3904 to find out more.

Reviewed: 
January, 2017
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Learn more about this topic
CLEO (Community Legal Education Ontario/Éducation juridique communautaire Ontario)
Public Health Agency of Canada
Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP)
Act to End Violence Against Women
Ontario Women's Justice Network (OWJN)

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