When home isn’t safe

From Issue: 
January 2014

Home is supposed to be the safest place in the world. But for many, it is anything but safe.

Intimate partner violence is a terrible reality for thousands of Canadians. No one is immune, regardless of age, education, race, cultural background or family income. It affects both men and women, but women are more likely than men to be victims. The rate of spousal homicide against women, for example, was about three times higher than that for men in 2009, according to Statistics Canada.

Over 40,000 arrests every year are related to domestic violence, accounting for about 12 per cent of all violent crime in Canada. It is estimated, however, that less than a quarter of all domestic violence incidents are reported to police. This implies that there are tens of thousands of these incidents in Canada a year, putting men, women and children at risk in their own homes.

The Canadian Women’s Foundation outlines what some of the many forms of abuse can look like:

  • Physical abuse: Slapping, choking, or punching. Using hands or objects as weapons. Threatening partner with a knife or gun. Committing murder.

  • Sexual abuse: Using threats, intimidation, or physical force to force partner into unwanted sexual acts.

  • Emotional or verbal abuse:  Threatening to kill partner (or to kill the children, other family members or pets), threatening to commit suicide, making humiliating or degrading comments about partner’s body or behaviour, forcing partner to commit degrading acts, isolating partner from friends or family, confining partner to the house, destroying partner’s possessions, and other actions designed to demean partner or to restrict his or her freedom and independence.

  • Financial abuse: Stealing or controlling partner’s money or valuables. Forcing partner to work. Denying partner the right to work.

  • Spiritual abuse: Using partner’s religious or spiritual beliefs to manipulate, dominate, and control her.

  • Criminal harassment/stalking: Following partner or watching him or her in a persistent, malicious, and unwanted manner. Invading partner’s privacy in a way that threatens his or her personal safety.

The RCMP describes an abusive relationship as a confusing mix of love, fear, dependency, intimidation, guilt and hope. Intimate partner violence and abuse is rooted in a power imbalance between individuals and within families. There is potential for abuse when one person is controlled and/or considered less worthy than another one.

Fear keeps many victims from leaving their abusers – fear that the abuser will hurt themselves, their children or pets, or that the abuser will come after the victim once he or she leaves the relationship.

Sadly, these fears are not unfounded. Statistics Canada reports that in 2011, there were 89 intimate partner homicides – 76 female victims and 13 male victims.

There were 344 murder-suicides in Canada between 2001 and 2011, and spouses accounted for the largest proportion of family-related murder-suicides committed between these years. Women and those aged 15 to 24 were at highest risk of being victims of spousal murder-suicide, according to Statistics Canada.

The RCMP recommends having a safety plan to reduce or eliminate the risks an abuser poses to you and/or your children. Safety planning should include:

  • letting someone you trust know about the abuse even if you do not report it to the police;

  • creating a code word with friends or family that lets them know to call for help when leaving is not an option;

  • having one safe location to keep your identification, important documents (passport, Social Insurance Number), bank cards, credit cards, keys and cell phone that you can grab quickly in an emergency;

  • having a physical plan to get out of your house in an emergency and a place to go, including the nearest shelter if necessary, once you have left the abusive situation; and

  • practicing your safety plan with your children to keep them safe as well.

If you believe someone you know is being abused or is in danger, do not turn a blind eye. Call the police in an emergency; do not attempt to intervene at risk to yourself. Never talk about suspected abuse in front of the suspected abuser. Instead, talk with the suspected victim in private.

Listen to the affected person, whether the abused or abuser. They may be asking for help. Offer support and refrain from judgment. Ask how you can be of help, but do not try to take over the situation. Help the person explore his or her options. Tell him or her it is dangerous to do nothing about the abuse. Help is available. Contacts and resources include:

  • crisis line

  • abuse counseling

  • women’s groups

  • immigrant and ethno-cultural groups

  • Aboriginal groups

  • women’s shelters

  • women’s resource centres

  • community health centres

  • family doctor

  • police

  • RCMP victim services

  • legal aid

For more information on escaping abuse and the resources that are available to help ensure your personal safety, visit www.rcmp.gc.ca and www.canadianwomen.org.