What is domestic abuse?

Domestic abuse, also referred to as “domestic violence” or “intimate partner violence,” is any pattern of violent or abusive behaviour that happens in a relationship or after it ends. The relationship could be romantic or with a family member, and the abuser aims to control or have power over the abused.

Just because you are in a relationship with someone, it does not give you, or them, the right to abuse the other. Domestic abuse is very common and can happen to anyone! It’s against the law to harm or threaten to harm someone, and most acts of family violence are considered a crime in Canada. Other repeated forms of abuse may not be crimes, but they are still hurtful and can lead to criminal acts of violence if they get worse over time.

Different forms of domestic abuse can happen in:
  • dating
  • marriage and common law
  • eldercare (abuse typically happens in the home of the caregiver, and they are usually a family member)
  • family (happens to or from any member of the family unit)

Domestic abuse can be:

  • Physical - threat or attack with objects, pushing, shoving, slapping, kicking, striking, choking, hitting or beating (the abuse may or may not leave visible marks).
  • Sexual - forced sexual acts and activity.
  • Emotional and Psychological - words or actions used to control, intimate, frighten or destroy the self-esteem of the victim through feelings of shame, anxiety or hopelessness.
  • Financial - control of the victim’s money, resources or property. 
  • Neglect - in caregiving situations, the abuser is responsible for providing care for someone and doesn’t. 

*If you know of someone experiencing elder abuse, you can find help on the Lumacare elder abuse prevention resources page

In some cases, the abuse can be life life-threatening or can include indirect forms of violence like:

  • hurting or threatening to harm a pet 
  • hurting or threatening to hurt someone else in the household or close to the victim
  • threatening to commit suicide
  • destroying property or taking personal belongings or money
  • withholding physical needs like food or provoking sleep deprivation 
  • refusing to release necessities (medication, finances, clothes, etc.)
  • locking a victim out of the house
  • withholding help when the victim is sick or injured

Where can I get help?

Abusive partners often try to blame the victim for their actions, but the only person who is at fault is the person committing the violent acts. If you’re experiencing abuse, you might feel scared or ashamed. But remember, domestic abuse happens to people from all races, religions, income and education levels, and sexual orientations.

There are myths about what could happen to your immigration status if you report domestic abuse. You will not be deported or sent back home if you report a domestic violence incident.

Many places offer help discreetly and in private. Please seek help if you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse

According to Statistics Canada, women still suffer the most severe forms of intimate partner violence in Canada. 

Domestic violence affects these groups most:

  • women
  • young women and girls
  • Indigenous women and girls
  • Two-Spirit, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, Plus (2SLGBTQQIA+) people
  • women living in Northern, rural, and remote communities
  • women living with disabilities

See the What is gender-based violence? page for more self-reported data collected by the Government of Canada 

For More Information

  • Abuse is Wrong in Any Language - General information on Canadian law, women's rights and the kind of help you can get if they are being abused. It has information about issues of citizenship, sponsorship, deportation and threats of taking children out of the country. You can get it in many languages, from Justice Canada.
  • All Women. One Family Law - This website has information about family law in Ontario. The Family Law Education for Women (FLEW) website offers help in many languages.
  • Family Violence When a Woman is Sponsored by a Spouse or Partner - This resource explains what sponsored women experiencing domestic violence need to know about immigration law. From CLEO (Community Legal Education Ontario).
  • You and Your Baby... Abuse and Pregnancy - Abuse usually gets worse over time. It will not stop when your baby is born. This tipsheet has information about abuse during pregnancy. You can get it in many languages. From the Best Start Resource Centre.
  • Abuse in Same-Sex Relationships - Same-sex partner abuse is often ignored, minimized or misunderstood by families, friends, communities and service providers, but it is a reality. This brochure provides some information about abuse in same-sex relationships. From Rainbow Health Ontario.
  • Peace Bonds & Restraining Orders - This guide explains the criteria for getting a peace bond or a restraining order and the differences between them. From Public Legal Education and Information Service of New Brunswick (PLEIS-NB).
  • No Means No: Understanding Consent to Sexual Activity - This brochure provides information on what is meant by the age of consent to sexual activity and an overview of Canada's laws on sexual assault and other offences involving sexual exploitation. From Public Legal Education and Information Service of New Brunswick (PLEIS-NB).
  • Family Court Support Worker Program - Provides direct support to victims of domestic violence who are involved in the family court process. From the Ministry of the Attorney General.
Last updated: November 14, 2023 4001341