What help is available for gender-based violence?

Gender-based violence (GBV) refers to any form of violence an individual faces based on their gender, gender expression, gender identity, or perceived gender. It can be physical or emotional, and most forms of GBV are against the law in Canada.

GBV stems from unequal power dynamics among various social and economic groups. It’s a violation of human rights. Specific populations, such as Indigenous, Black, newcomers, 2SLGBTQI+ and individuals living with disabilities, are at a higher risk of experiencing GBV due to various forms of oppression that include:

  • Racism
  • Colonialism
  • Sexism
  • Homophobia
  • Transphobia
  • Ableism

In Canada, gender-based violence disproportionately impacts women, girls, and gender-diverse individuals in all communities and faith groups. Still, it impacts immigrant and refugee communities in distinct ways. Men commit the vast majority of violence against women.

What factors put you at higher risk of GBV?

Gender-based violence is not unique to any ethnicity or culture. However, many factors can put immigrant and refugee women and non-status people at greater risk. This includes the following barriers: 

  • Language -you may feel less confident communicating your needs to access support services.
  • Cultural or Religious Beliefs - some cultures discourage divorce or separation, making it difficult or impossible to leave an abusive situation or seek help.
  • Fear of Authorities - concerns about your immigration status may cause you fears of deportation if the abuser sponsors you. Abusive partners or families may withhold immigration documents and threaten to separate you from your children. There is also a common fear of the police or the legal system if you’ve been traumatized by war and oppressive governments.
  • Lack of Knowledge of Rights and the Law - having a limited understanding of your rights and the legal system in Canada can prevent you from seeking help.
  • Social Isolation and Lacking Community Support - Immigrant women may experience social isolation and lack the necessary community support, making it harder for them to seek help and leave abusive situations.

The Canadian Women’s Foundation website has fact sheets and guides to learn more about gender-based violence and resources to support someone being abused. 

GBV Examples

Gender-based violence can take various forms, including:

  • Intimate Partner Violence - physical, sexual, financial, or psychological abuse by a current or former intimate partner that can occur in private, public, or online spaces.
  • Sexual Violence - rape, attempted rape, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, and other forms of non-consensual sexual activity.
  • Harassment - actions or words intended to degrade, control, humiliate, intimidate, or coerce an individual based on their gender.
  • Human Trafficking - the recruitment, transportation, or harbouring of individuals for sexual exploitation.

Other forms of GBV can manifest as domestic abuse, female genital mutilation, early or forced marriage, emotional abuse, and economic violence, where someone has complete control over a person's money and other financial resources.

What help is available? 

If you are experiencing gender-based violence or know of someone who is, talk to someone you trust, like a friend or family member. Make sure your friend or family member has your best interest in mind and won’t take sides with the perpetrator. You can also speak to your doctor, a community expert, a lawyer or police. 

Emergency Help

If you or the person you’re concerned about is in immediate danger, Call 9-1-1

You can also speak with emergency 24-hour-a-day telephone support lines. These helplines are free and confidential. They offer emotional support as well as guidance on finding community services available that have abuse experience:

Community Support Services

Many community organizations offer referrals to help with your situation.

211 Ontario find many services in your community and request to speak to someone in your language 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Victim Support Line offers help in many languages spoken across Ontario Toll-free: 1-888-579-2888, Greater Toronto Area: 416-314-2447

The Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres is a network of 20 community-based rape crisis centres across the province that offer counselling and referrals to people who have experienced sexual abuse.

Luke’s Place works with abused women across Ontario by providing legal advice, support, and referrals. They offer a Virtual Legal Clinic that connects women with lawyers for free legal advice on family law issues. Call 905-728-0978 or 1-866-516-3116.

The Ontario Network of Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Treatment Centres has centres in 35 hospitals across Ontario that provide emergency care to women, children, and men who have been sexually assaulted or have experienced partner abuse. Services include:

  • emergency medical and nursing care
  • helping in a crisis
  • collecting physical evidence for courts
  • medical follow-up
  • counselling

The Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic helps women and people who identify as non-binary who have experienced physical, sexual, or psychological abuse. The clinic is for people in the Greater Toronto Area and accepts collect calls at 416-323-9149 or 416-323-1361 (TTY). 

The clinic's services include:

  • representing women in family and immigration court for free
  • counselling
  • interpreter services in more than 90 languages
  • legal advice
  • supporting positive change in criminal law

Shelters and a Safe Place to Stay

Shelters for abused women have counsellors who can provide emotional support and work with you to make a safety plan. They can help you find housing, childcare, and apply for financial aid from the government. 

Find a local shelter by visiting Shelter Safe, 2-1-1 Ontario, or calling 2-1-1 to speak to someone in your language.

If you want to learn more about helping or supporting a victim of gender violence, download the Signal for Help Responder Guide from the Canadian Women’s Foundation. The guide will help you recognize the signs of gender-based violence ─ and potentially save someone’s life.

For More Information

  • Violence Against Women Booklet (PDF)- This booklet includes facts and myths about GBV, tips on how to seek help and what are your rights. Created by OCASI. 
  • Violence Against Women - A website dedicated to immigrant and refugee women to help you identify GBV warning signs, different types of violence, and where to seek help. From Neighbours, Friends and Family, OCASI. 
Last updated: December 15, 2023 4006596