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What if my abusive partner is charged with a crime?

Question
What if my abusive partner is charged with a crime?

Glossary

Clear language definitions to common legal terms. 

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Reviewed: 
May, 2016
Answer

If you or someone else calls the police about your partner's abuse, the police decide what happens. You do not decide.

If the police think that there are "reasonable grounds" to believe that someone committed a crime, they must charge that person with a crime. So, they may charge your partner, charge you, or charge both of you, with a crime.

There is always a chance that you will 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 your partner is charged, the police should help you find services for victims of crime so you can get some support after the police leave. The police will probably take your partner to the police station.

Your partner might be released by the police or the court. They will usually have to follow certain conditions. These conditions are the rules your partner must follow after being released by the police or the court.

It might take a long time before the criminal court process is completed. Someone from the Victim/Witness Assistance Program at the criminal court should stay in touch with you to keep you updated.

If you're afraid of your partner, you should think about making a safety plan to keep you and your children safe.

Next steps

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You can ask the police or the Victim/Witness Assistance Program staff at the criminal court what your partner was charged with.

Your partner can be charged with one or more crimes. Here are some common crimes that happen in partner abuse cases:

Assault

Assault is when one person applies force to another person, or attempts or threatens to apply force to them without their consent. Assault is a crime even if you're not hurt, and sometimes even if you were not actually touched. An assault can happen when your partner:

  • threatens you with violence
  • slaps you
  • shoves you
  • kicks you
  • punches you
  • stabs you

Depending on what happened, your partner might be charged with "assault", "assault with a weapon", "assault causing bodily harm", or "aggravated assault".

Sexual assault

Sexual assault is a sexual act or touch that you don't consent to. It is a crime even if you're not physically hurt. Sexual assault can include:

  • an unwanted kiss
  • an unwanted sexual touch
  • forced penetration (rape)
  • threats to force you to do any of these things

Being married does not give your partner the right to sexually assault you.

Depending on what happened, your partner might be charged with "sexual assault", "sexual assault with a weapon, threats to a third party or causing bodily harm", or "aggravated sexual assault".

Other charges

If your partner forced you to stay somewhere by threatening you or physically stopping you from leaving, they might be charged with "forcible confinement".

If your partner threatened you, they might be charged with "uttering threats".

"Criminal harassment" is also a common charge in partner abuse cases. Criminal harassment includes things like stalking, harassing phone calls, or unwanted visits to your home or workplace.

Stalking is when you have a reasonable fear for your safety because your partner does one or more of the following:

  • watches and follows you
  • damages your property
  • tries to contact you when you don't want them to
  • sends you lots of messages that you don't want by mail, voicemail, email, or through other people
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The police and the court can release someone charged with a crime in different ways. Each type of release has its own name.

For example, the police might release your partner on an "undertaking with conditions". This agreement is usually made at a police station. It means your partner:

  • promised in writing to appear in court on a future date
  • got conditions they have to follow.

If the police have concerns about releasing your partner, they must take your partner to court for a bail hearing. The judge or justice of the peace decides whether to release your partner, or to keep them in custody until the trial. If they are released, they usually have to follow bail conditions. Bail conditions are also called terms of release. These are the rules your partner must follow after being released.

The conditions set by the police or the court are very important. There are many different kinds of conditions. Common conditions in partner abuse cases include that the partner charged with a crime:

  • must show up to court on the date ordered
  • cannot contact the other partner
  • cannot go within a certain distance of the other partner's home or workplace
  • cannot have a gun or any kind of weapon
  • has limited or no access to their children

The police and the courts take conditions seriously. If your partner does not follow them, they can be arrested, charged with a new crime, and face a bail hearing. After the new hearing, they might be released on stricter conditions.

Conditions can be changed by the criminal court at any time during the court process. They end when the criminal case is over.

Your partner might try to force or scare you into asking the Crown Attorney or the court to change or remove the conditions. If your partner threatens you or your children, you should tell the police. Your partner might be charged for making this type of threat. You can also get support from the Victim/Witness Assistance Program at criminal court.

If you also have a family court case, you need to tell your family law lawyer or the family court about any conditions. It is important that your family court orders and criminal court orders don't say different things.

For example, your family court order may say your partner can go to your home to pick up the children for access. But if your partner later gets a criminal court order that says that they cannot come within 100 meters of your home as part of their bail conditions, then the orders conflict because they both say different things. Then your partner cannot go to your home because of the bail conditions even though the family court order said they could. This means either your partner’s access arrangements need to be changed in family court, or their bail conditions need to be changed in criminal court.

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Before the case goes to trial, your partner might plead guilty so that a trial is no longer needed. Or, your partner’s lawyer and the Crown Attorney might agree on what is going to happen in the case. This is sometimes called a "plea bargain".

Most courts also have a special program called early intervention. It is offered as a way to resolve a partner abuse case without going to trial. It helps first-time offenders resolve their case quickly, by either pleading guilty or entering into a peace bond. To qualify, they must be a first-time offender and cannot have caused significant injuries or used a weapon during the assault.

Ask the Victim/Witness Assistance Program if your partner has got into the early intervention program. If they are in the program, they may have new conditions that they need to follow.

If your partner had conditions they had to follow after being released by the police or the courts, these usually end when the case is over. You should try and keep track of your partner's case so that you know if their conditions are over and if there are different conditions that your partner needs to follow afterwards.

The Partner Assault Response program

As part of early intervention, the offender must be willing to take a 12-session Partner Assault Response (PAR) program. The PAR program holds them responsible for their actions. It also helps them learn to resolve conflict in non-violent ways. The PAR program is part of the Domestic Violence Court system.

This program is run by different community agencies in different parts of Ontario. Some PAR programs are aimed at special communities. For example, there are some PAR programs for Indigenous people, people in same-sex relationships, or people who speak a certain language.

The PAR program also supports victims. If your partner goes to the PAR program, Partner Outreach staff from the program lets you know. They ask you about your safety and tell you about possible services and supports. The staff tells you what is taught in the PAR program.

Usually your partner isn't allowed to live at home as a condition of their release. But in some cases, if you agree, your partner may be able to return home during the program. You must provide your consent, which you can take away at any time and for any reason.

There are other anger management or "PAR-like" programs available that are not funded by the government. These programs do not have to follow the same guidelines and may not offer victims the type of support PAR programs do. Anger management programs also have a different focus and purpose than PAR programs. They deal with all anger issues, not only domestic violence.

You can find your local PAR program provider through the Victim Services Directory.

Offenders can also enter a PAR program as part of their probation.

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If your partner does not plead guilty and the case goes to a trial, you will probably be called as a witness. You have to go to court to explain what happened.

You must go to court if you've been given a "subpoena". A subpoena is sometimes called a summons. It is a document that says you must go to court on a certain date to testify. If you don't go, the Crown Attorney can ask that you be arrested and brought to court. This does not happen very often, but if it does happen the police can arrest you and bring you to court.

In most parts of Ontario, special teams of Crown Attorneys, Victim/Witness Assistance Program (VWAP) workers, and police work together to prepare a domestic violence case for court.

Support for testifying

VWAP staff can help you prepare to be a witness. They can let you know what to expect on your court date, and may give you a tour of the court. They can also ask for a copy of your police statement for you to review before the trial. They can refer you to other services that may offer you support, such as help planning for your safety.

The program's staff can also help you communicate your needs to the Crown Attorney and the police. In some cases, they can set up a pre-trial interview with the Crown Attorney. But they can't discuss the evidence in the case with you.

You should talk about any safety concerns with your VWAP worker before the trial. The VWAP worker might be able to go with you to court when you have to testify. You might also want to bring a friend or a family member with you.

Testifying in a criminal trial can be very difficult, especially if you have to say bad things about your partner. You might feel frightened to do this. Or, you might not want to say bad things about your partner because you hope the two of you can get back together.

It is very important that you tell the truth when you testify, even if you are scared. If you don't, you might face criminal charges yourself.

Your partner might make threats to try to stop you from testifying in court. For example, your partner might threaten to take the children from you. Your partner can be charged for making this type of threat. If they threaten you, you can call the police.

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If your partner is found guilty, the sentence they get depends on how serious the crime was. It also depends on other things, such as whether they have a previous criminal record.

Before your partner is sentenced, you can tell the judge about the effect their violence has had on you and your family. You can do this by preparing a victim impact statement. This is a statement where you tell the court about how you feel about the crime and how it has affected you.

Both the police and VWAP staff can help you prepare this statement. They can also advise you about the best time to complete it. The Crown Attorney must give it to your partner's lawyer. You can be asked about it, although this is not very likely. But you should know that your statement could be used in any family court case that happens after the criminal trial.

If your partner had conditions of release, these usually end when the case is over. You should try and keep track of your partner's case so you know if their conditions are over and if there are different conditions that your partner needs to follow as part of their sentence.

You can find out your partner's sentence by contacting the Victim/Witness Assistance Program staff, the Crown Attorney, or the court staff.

Some possible sentences include:

  • going to jail for a certain amount of time
  • serving a "conditional sentence", which is a jail sentence served in the community with strict conditions
  • paying "restitution", which is money your partner pays you for the costs of your property that they lost or damaged, or related to your personal injury

Probation

A judge can order that your partner obey specific conditions for a certain period of time as part of their sentence. This is called probation. Many sentences include probation.

Probation can be ordered after your partner gets out of jail. Or, it can be ordered right away if the sentence does not include jail time.

The conditions can require that your partner:

  • not contact you directly, or through someone else
  • only contact you if you give your consent in writing to their probation officer - you can take away this consent at any time
  • not come within a certain distance (for example, 100 metres) of your home, workplace, or any place that they know you are at
  • only contact you and the children as said in a family court order
  • support you or your children financially
  • report to a probation officer regularly
  • not use alcohol or drugs
  • go to, and actively take part in, treatment or counselling for substance abuse, partner abuse, or anger management
  • not have a gun or any kind of weapon

You can get a copy of your partner's probation order through the Victim/Witness Assistance Program staff, the Crown Attorney, or the court staff.

If you also have a family court case, you need to tell your family law lawyer or the family court about any conditions of probation. Your family court order may need to be changed because of the conditions of probation.

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