Woman abuse involves the intent by a woman’s intimate partner (dating, common-law, legally married or estranged) to intimidate her, either by threat or by use of physical force on her person or property. The purpose of the assault is to control her behaviour by the inducement of fear, either by forcing her to do what he wants or by preventing her from doing as she wishes. Underlying all abuse is a power imbalance between the victim and the perpetrator.
— Joint Committee on Domestic Violence (1999)

Woman abuse is the intentional use of violent and/or coercive tactics to establish and maintain power and control over the thoughts, beliefs, and behaviour of a woman; a misuse of power that manipulates the bonds of intimacy, trust and dependency to keep her vulnerable and keep the perpetrator of the abuse in control.   

Occurring  across socio-economic, educational, and cultural contexts, woman abuse involves a pattern, a series of acts that result in her physical, sexual, emotional or psychological distress or harm. It may not always involve physical violence but when it does, the violence is not a result of the abuser's lack of control. Similarly, substance use and stressors can certainly exacerbate abuse, but they do not cause it. In fact, many men who choose to use violence use it in targeted and hidden ways against their intimate female partners only. Abuse is always the fault of the abuser.

Under the Criminal Code of Canada, abuse is a crime.

Statistics Canada reported Thunder Bay as having the highest rate of intimate partner violence per capita of any municipality in the country in 2011. It is important to note that trends can only account for reported incidents.  Still, Thunder Bay's rate of female victims of police-reported intimate partner violence per 100,000 population was nearly double the average among municipalities of the same size in 2011.  As survivors and advocates well know, violence against women, in any context, is widespread and underreported for a variety of important reasons.

Everyone has the right to be free from abuse.  

forms of abuse

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is the intentional infliction of pain or injury by:

  • slapping, shoving, punching, strangling, kicking, burning, stabbing and/or shooting
  • “caring” in an abusive way including giving too much medication, keeping confined, neglecting or withholding care
  • using a weapon or other objects to threaten, hurt or kill
  • sleep deprivation – waking a woman with relentless verbal abuse
  • poisoning


Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse is any form of forced sexual activity, including unwanted sexual touching, sexual relations without voluntary consent and the forcing or coercing of degrading, humiliating or painful sexual acts, including:

  • rape
  • forcing a woman to watch or take part in pornography
  • forcing a woman to watch partner engage in sexual acts with others
  • being compared to other lovers
  • ridiculing sexual performance or sexual organs
  • using weapons or other objects to penetrate
  • touching or acting in any way that a woman does not want
  • forcing or pressuring a woman into sexual acts
  • forcing a woman into prostitution
  • preventing a woman from receiving information or education about sexuality
  • forcing a woman to become pregnant, have an abortion or have an operation to prevent pregnancy
  • infecting a woman with HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)


Psychological/Emotional Abuse

Psychological or emotional abuse is the use of systematic tactics and behaviour intended to control, humiliate, intimidate, instill fear, or diminish a person’s sense of self-worth, including:

  • verbal aggression
  • forcing a woman to do degrading things ( e.g. eating cigarette butts or licking the floor)
  • forcibly confining a woman against her will
  • stalking or harassing
  • deliberately threatening behaviours (e.g. speeding through traffic or playing with weapons)
  • threatening to harm or kill children, other family members, pets or prized possessions
  • threatening to remove, hide or prevent access to children, or threatening to report the woman to the Children’s Aid Society
  • threatening to have the woman put in an institution
  • threatening to tell friends or family the woman is a lesbian
  • threatening to commit suicide
  • controlling a woman’s time, actions, dress, hairstyle, etc.
  • preventing a woman from seeing a dentist or doctor
  • not respecting a woman’s privacy
  • denying affection or personal care
  • taking away a woman’s mobility device, teletype writer (TTY), medication, hearing aids, or guide dog
  • belittling a woman through name-calling or descriptions such as “stupid,” “crazy” or “irrational”
  • accusing a woman of cheating or being promiscuous
  • leaving a woman without transportation or any means of communication, especially in isolated or rural communities
  • attacking a woman’s self-esteem in other ways


Social Abuse

  • putting her down or ignoring her in public
  • not letting the woman see her friends or family, making a scene, being charming with others and aggressive with her
  • embarrassing the woman in front of her children, using children as a weapon, not taking responsibility for children
  • placing limits on a woman about the people with whom she can talk on the phone or visit
  • cutting a woman off from friends and family
  • forcing a woman to be part of illegal/criminal acts (e.g. welfare fraud, drug operations, etc.)



Stalking includes repetitive harassing or threatening behaviour done in a way that creates physical or emotional fear or apprehension in the person being stalked. A stalker may be trying to get his partner back or may wish to harm her as punishment for her departure. Regardless of the form, the victim fears for her safety or even her life.

Stalking includes:

  • harassing her at work
  • repeated phone calls, sometimes with hang-ups
  • following, tracking (possibly even with a global positioning device)
  • finding her through public records, online searching, or paid investigators
  • watching with hidden cameras
  • suddenly showing up where she is, at home, school, work, in the grocery store, at a movie, or in a restaurant
  • sending emails, communicating in chat rooms, or with instant messaging
  • sending unwanted packages, flowers, cards, gifts, or letters
  • monitoring her phone calls or computer use
  • contacting her friends, family, co-workers, or neighbours to find out about her
  • going through her garbage
  • threatening to hurt her or her family, friends or pets
  • damaging her home, car or property
  • using the children as an excuse to repeatedly contact the woman or to show up where she and the children are (at the children’s school or day care, at their extracurricular activities)
  • engaging in legal bullying during family court proceedings

Legal Bullying

Legal bullying is a very common kind of separation violence since this is one of the few remaining ways he can attempt to control and harass her. Legal bullying includes dragging out support and custody proceedings, refusing to pay support or alimony, withholding assets, and fighting for custody solely to maintain control over the woman. The abuser may:

  • appear charming and conciliatory to the judge or other legal personnel and deny the abuse, raising questions about the credibility of the woman’s story
  • have her counter-charged by the police, complaining that she assaulted him too
  • not allow children to call home on access visits
  • act as his own lawyer as a bullying strategy in which he cross-examines the woman to intimidate her. This can make her a less effective witness in her own case
  • make endless motions over minor or inappropriate issues. This requires the woman to make repeated court appearances to respond, leading to increased legal costs, time away from work, child care challenges, and sometimes long distance travel to get to court. The abuser may continue with motions until she is worn down or financially unable to continue.
  • use intimidation and threats if the woman doesn’t agree to financial arrangements that disadvantage her
  • pressure her to accept mediation and joint custody arrangements even if she feels threatened and unsafe
  • coerce the woman to trade away some legal rights (e.g. the right to property or financial support) in exchange for others (e.g. custody of the children)
  • pressure her to change bail conditions or to try to have the charges dropped if he has been criminally charged
  • contact the woman out of court with the guise of negotiating the case. This can be dangerous both psychologically and physically
  • use delay tactics such as refusing to sell the matrimonial home or respond to legal offers, delaying providing financial information, etc.
  • repeatedly change lawyers, thus slowing the process down
  • withhold information (such as financial disclosure) and then insist on unreasonable disclosure from her
  • threaten to obtain sole custody of the children if she insists on leaving
  • make malicious reports to the court and other officials (child protection authorities, police, housing personnel, Ontario Works, etc.) about the woman
  • threaten harm or death if the woman pursues legal proceedings
  • use stalking behaviours (property damage, excessive phone calls, phone threats and verbal abuse, phoning and hanging up, etc.), particularly if the woman takes a stand against what he wants
  • threaten to call CAS and have the children removed
  • attempt to interfere in the professional relationship a woman has with her lawyer in an effort to reduce her confidence in her own lawyer.


Immigrant Abuse

Sponsored immigrant and refugee women as well as women who are in Canada with no legal status are especially vulnerable to abusive relationships. For immigrant women who don’t speak English, their spouses may be their only link to the outside world. Dangers and difficulties for immigrant women include:

  • dependency upon her partner for immigration status; facing the threat of deportation from the abuser
  • she may be unaware that she has status or citizenship
  • dependency upon her partner for economic support. The fear of having no income and no legal way to support herself and her children
  • fear of and lack of familiarity with the Canadian legal system
  • lack of knowledge about her legal rights
  • difficulty accessing legal help due to economic, legal, or language barriers
  • communication and cultural roadblocks
  • threats from the abuser that he will get custody of the children and/or will remove them from Canada
  • threats of penalties (such as losing custody of her children) in her own country
  • denial of access to her passport or essential immigration papers
  • threats that she will be ostracized from her ethnic community and family
  • fear about the police based on experiences in her country of origin or in Canada so she won’t turn to them for support.


Economic Abuse

Economic abuse includes any act or behaviour that maintains control of financial resources or maintains a woman’s financial dependence. It can include the following:

  • withholding money for basic necessities (e.g. food, clothing, diapers, medication, transportation, etc.) or for emergencies
  • forcing her to pay a disproportionate share of household expenses
  • preventing a woman from getting to work, controlling where she works, not allowing a woman to work, forcing her to work
  • spending or mismanaging family income, including a woman’s earned income and/or savings, and leaving her and the children with little or no money
  • controlling a woman’s spending, including where purchases are made, what is purchased, etc. and forcing her to account for and justify all spending
  • using credit cards without her permission and destroying her credit rating
  • obtaining credit or incurring bills in her name without her knowledge or consent
  • forcing her to turn over benefit payments or entitlements
  • denying access to education/training opportunities (e.g. upgrading, ESL) that may lead to increased earnings or employment
  • threatening to make false allegations about fraud to Ontario Works.


Spiritual Abuse

The use of a belief system to control, degrade or punish a woman. Spiritual abuse may include:

  • using religion to control a woman’s behaviour
  • punishing or ridiculing a woman for her religious beliefs
  • preventing a woman from practicing her religious beliefs
  • forcing a woman to practice certain beliefs and engage in rituals
  • putting down or attacking her spiritual beliefs
  • preventing a woman from going to church, synagogue, temple or other religious institution of her choice
  • forcing a woman to join and/or stay in a cult.


Homophobic Control/Heterosexist Control

The abuser exploits societal homophobia and the woman’s possible internalised anxieties about her sexual orientation to further control her by:

  • threatening to “out” her to family, friends, employer, police, church or community;
  • questioning or belittling her sexual orientation;
  • threatening to take custody because of her sexual orientation;
  • making homophobic comments to the children;
  • threatening her new partner;
  • reporting her to child protection authorities for being unfit because of her sexual orientation.

Source: Luke's Place