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Are you experiencing abuse? Here’s how to get help

What is violence against women?
Violence against women is a broad term that encompasses the many types of abuse that women face.

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate assistance. For a more comprehensive list of resources, click here.  

To be a woman in Canada means living with risk — to live knowing that, on average, a woman is killed every other day, that once a week a woman is murdered by her partner and that one in three women will experience some form of sexual violence over the course of their lives. 

READ MORE: Broken — A Global News series on Canada’s ongoing failure to end violence against women

As familiar as violence is for many women, it can still be hard to identify or understand when a relationship or interaction is abusive, says Amina Doreh, public education co-ordinator at the Sexual Assault Support Centre in Ottawa, especially “if you come from a cycle of abuse or a household where this was normalized.”

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And yet, no matter how difficult it is to push past that condition, Doreh doesn’t want shame to keep women from reaching out when they need help.

“You’re worthy of seeking help… you’re not a burden to people.”

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How to recognize if you’re in an abusive situation

The first major step to getting help, no matter the scenario, is identifying that you’ve been the victim of abuse or harassment.

Once you are aware, you can make a safety plan.

There’s often hesitancy to connect with a support network, as survivors are made to feel isolated by an abuser, Doreh says, so making that connection with someone is the best way to end violence at home.

Ultimately, she says, “Trust your instincts.”

Doreh and other experts who spend every day helping women leave violent situations share their best advice and resources for finding a way to leave safely.

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What do I do if I’m experiencing violence at home? What if there are kids involved?

Women are the primary victims of family violence, as 67 per cent of those harmed by abuse at home are women, according to 2016 data from Statistics Canada. They are also four times more likely to be killed by a partner than men.

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However, a true snapshot of familial violence across Canada is hard to provide, as it’s chronically under-reported — only one in five people report spousal abuse to the police, according to 2014 figures. And while women’s experiences may be unique, there are commonalities, too: they feel trapped, cut off from help and ashamed to tell family and friends what’s happening. They don’t always feel comfortable trusting police.

Pushpa Rama, a crisis counsellor at the Assaulted Women’s Helpline in Toronto, helps women create a safety plan to leave their abusers that’s tailored to their specific circumstances.

She says it’s important to gather information first by connecting with support hotlines, shelters and legal aid to create an action plan to safely leave in conjunction with trusted family and friends, Rama says.

READ MORE: Here’s how children can be affected by family violence

If you’re trying to leave with kids — as nearly half of women admitted to shelters for domestic violence reasons are — Rama says it’s really important to talk to them. Women will often try to hide abuse from their kids, Rama says, but they shouldn’t, as children are perceptive and will know something is wrong.

“Tell them it’s not their fault, and that it’s not (your) fault,” she says.

You should tell your kids who to contact if they need help and how to get to a safe place, even within their own house, Rama says. She suggests creating a code word with your children so they know right away if they need to call the police. 

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What if my partner has control of my finances or my technology?

Financial abuse is a common tactic used to discourage women from leaving their abusers. It includes things like controlling how money is spent, withholding funds, not allowing a partner to work and even outright stealing a partner’s money.

Creating forced dependence on the partner may make it seem like you are trapped, Rama says, but you can still make a plan for escape: put money aside secretly with your social insurance cards, passports and any other important documents and keep them hidden somewhere near your exit.

“Sometimes, we encourage (women) to put money in sanitary pads.”

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If you can’t secretly save money and you don’t have a network of family and friends to support you, there are hotlines and shelters that can provide you with legal help and other aid so you can rebuild your finances.

If you’re worried your partner is tracking you with in-home security cameras, internet or phone monitoring, a car GPS, password controls or even the thermometer, Rama says there are options. She recommends erasing your browsing history, deleting texts and even creating social media profiles that don’t use your real name so you can get help without alerting your abuser.

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Get help: 

  • Legal Aid Domestic Abuse Hotline
    Phone: 1-800-668-8258

Getting help as a woman of colour

For women of colour, dealing with racism entwined with sexism can make accessing certain resources more difficult, says Andrea Gunraj, vice-president of public engagement at the Canadian Women’s Foundation.

“(Women) speak to wanting the abuse to stop but not wanting their partners to face discrimination from authorities,” she says.

For many women of colour, Guraj says connection to community is important, especially for those who are new to Canada and rely on those connections to navigate life here. Leaving a partner, even one who is abusive, could mean losing that network.

“(These) communities are really small and close-knit. Everybody will know everybody,” Gunraj says. “If you leave, it’s like you can’t do it anonymously.”

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That risk of further isolation is compounded by the fact that mainstream services don’t always provide help in different languages or in a manner that is culturally appropriate, Gunraj says.

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Violence against transgender and non-binary people

Transgender people are almost twice as likely as cisgender women to experience domestic violence, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada. 

One-fifth of trans people in Ontario have reported being physically or sexually assaulted because of their identity, while another 34 per cent report having been harassed, according to 2010 data from Trans PULSE, a community research initiative. But national data still fails to fully capture the reality of violence against trans and non-binary people a gap that’s been highly criticized by community groups and academics.

Despite that vacuum, trans people continue to document the ways in which they are rejected by the shelter system, separated by gender and classified based on how staff perceive them. That problem is particularly concerning given more than one-quarter of trans youth report running away from home and more than half say they can’t afford housing — meaning shelter space is desperately needed. 

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What if someone is harassing me at work?

Workplace harassment in Canada includes any inappropriate behaviour that demeans, belittles or threatens a person in a workspace. That means everything from unwelcome sexual advances to humiliating someone in a workplace setting. If you’re not sure you’re being harassed, Doreh says the best way to determine is to ask how the behaviour is making you feel.

“Women are socialized to ‘take it’ or continue to work or move on despite some of the alarm bells or red flags that they are feeling internally.”

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Connect with someone you trust, who you believe can support you if you decide to bring the issue to your human resources department or any other department that’s tasked with dealing with harassment.

Knowing who in the workplace bears direct responsibility for making decisions on harassment matters is key, Doreh says, but it’s equally as important to find people you trust outside of work — whether they are friends, family, a therapist or a helpline — who can support you emotionally. That process often isn’t easy.

“It can feel very isolating,” Doreh says. “After you leave work, these things still affect you.”

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Resources by province

British Columbia

Alberta

Saskatchewan

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Manitoba

Ontario

Quebec

Nova Scotia 

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New Brunswick

  • Fredericton Sexual Assault Crisis Centre
    Phone: 1-506-454-0437
    Email: fsacc@nb.aibn.com
  • New Brunswick Victim’s Services
  • Crossroads for Women Inc., Moncton
    Phone: 506-857-8028
  • Domestic Violence Outreach, Saint John
    Phone: 506-632-5616 or 506-649-2580

Newfoundland

Prince Edward Island

Yukon

Northwest Territories

  • NWT Help Line
    Phone: 1-800-661-0844
  • Yellowknife Victim Services
    24-hour crisis line: 867-765-8811

Nunavut

  • Nunavut Kamatsiaqtut Helpline (open nightly, 7-12 p.m. ET)
    Toll-free: 867-979-3333
  • Cambridge Bay, St. Michael’s Crisis Shelter
    Phone: 867-983-5232
  • Qimavvik Shelter, Iqaluit
    Phone: 867-979-4500
  • Kugaaruk Family Violence Centre
    Phone: 867-769-6100
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Olivia.Bowden@globalnews.ca