Overview of Family Violence & Abuse

From Clicklaw Wikibooks

This section focuses on what abuse is, provides examples, and includes information about how abuse affects children who witness it.

What is abuse?

There are many forms of abuse, ranging from threats and emotional abuse to physical or sexual assault.

Typically, abusers use threats and violence to control another family member. Abusers aim to make their victim feel afraid, alone, humiliated and ashamed. Sometimes abusers blame the abuse on the victims themselves. In some cases, the abuse continues even after the abuser has left the family home.

Family violence and abuse is wrong. It is against the law to physically abuse, threaten or harass someone. Abuse is not a private family matter or less of a crime because a family member commits it.

Everyone has the right to be free from violence and abuse.

Some forms of abuse are crimes

Assault, sexual assault, and criminal harassment are crimes under the Criminal Code of Canada. If someone commits these crimes, they can go to prison.

A person experiencing any sort of abuse needs help and support. See the Help, services and more information section in this wikibook.

Emotional or verbal abuse

This is when the abuser:

  • embarrasses or insults you
  • calls you bad names
  • yells at you
  • constantly compares you to others
  • blames you for things that go wrong

In some instances the abuser will not let you see your family and friends or may use your children to emotionally abuse you.

  • send you hurtful messages,
  • “spy” on your activities, or
  • scare, intimidate or harass you by threatening to take or harm the children

Abusers may use psychological harassment to control you. They may follow you, read your e-mails, listen to your phone messages or control your important documents such as a passport.

Financial abuse

Financial abuse is when the abuser takes your money or doesn’t let you have any money. The abuser may demand or expect to control your bank accounts or credit cards.

Physical abuse

Physical abuse is when the abuser threatens or hurts you with a weapon or any object. Physical abuse includes choking, biting, slapping, pushing, spitting, punching, or kicking.It is the crime of assault when the abuser:

  • hits you,
  • physically hurts you
  • threatens to hit or harm you

Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse is when the abuser forces you to have sex when you don’t want to. Sexual abuse is also when someone forces you to perform sexual acts that hurt you, make you uncomfortable or put you at risk for unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases.

In Canada, a spouse or partner cannot force you to have sex. If a spouse or partner does this, it is the crime of sexual assault. It is sexual assault when the abuser:

  • forces you into sexual activity you don’t consent to, including unwanted kissing, fondling and sexual contact
  • rapes you or uses a weapon to force you into sexual activity

Cycle of abuse

Family violence happens in all cultures, in any community, at every age and in every income group. Abuse might start with emotional and verbal abuse. It can build up to assault.

Afterwards, the abuser may promise it will never happen again. The abuser may act sorry, caring and loving but the tension returns and the abuse continues — usually over and over again. This is called the cycle of abuse.

Counselling to help deal with the cycle of abuse is available for free throughout BC. For help or more information check out the Help, services and more information section in this booklet.

Children who witness abuse

Family violence and abuse has a negative effect on children. It can affect them whether they see and hear it directly, or whether they find out about it later.

Research shows that children living in an abusive home environment may act out at school or at home. The child may have trouble making friends, become sick more easily, and can grow up thinking abuse is normal.

Counselling and support is available for free to help children. Look for the “Children Who Witness Abuse” at the BC Ministry of Justice website under “Violence Against Women Counselling Outreach” programs.

Help for the abuser

Culture and family history play a large part in shaping our behaviour, including how we ask for help when abuse or family violence happens.

Someone who is an abuser or who is afraid they may become one, may not know where to get help. Often, a family member who is abused doesn’t want anyone to know what the abuser did.

Both abusers and their victims may be afraid that getting help will bring shame to the family. They do not want to get other people involved.

It is important for abusers as well as victims to get help so that the family can be safe. To get help, contact VictimLink BC at 1.800.563.0808 and ask to be referred to a victim services worker who speaks your language and is familiar with your culture. You can talk to the victim services worker in confidence.

This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by People's Law School, 2014.



Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada Licence Family Violence & Abuse © People's Law School is, except for the images, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada Licence.
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