Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What causes violence against women?

A: The roots of violence are founded in the belief that the needs, feelings, or beliefs of one person or group are more correct or more important than those of another person or group. This fundamental inequality creates a rationale for humiliation, intimidation, control, abuse – even murder.

In our society, gender inequality is visible in many areas, including politics, religion, media, cultural norms, and the workplace. Both men and women receive many messages – blatant and covert – that men are more important than women. In this context, it becomes easier for a man to believe that he has the right to be in charge and to control a woman, even if it takes violence. This is not only wrong, it’s against the law.

Q: Does alcohol abuse or mental illness cause abuse?

A: There is no evidence that alcohol or mental illness causes men to be violent against women. Men who assault their partners rarely assault their friends, neighbours, bosses, or strangers.  

Q: How many women are emotionally abused?

A: Over 50% of Canadian women have experienced violence at some point in their lives, the majority before they are 25. (1)

Q: Is emotional abuse a safety risk to women?

A: The presence of emotional abuse is the largest risk factor and greatest predictor of physical violence, especially where a woman is called names to put her down or make her feel bad (3). Emotionally abusive partners also commit murder or murder-suicide. Women are at most risk of being killed when they leave their partners (4). Women themselves can also be suicidal as a result of emotional abuse.

Q: How can emotional abuse be as hurtful or harmful as physical abuse?

A: Most women indicate that emotional abuse affects them as much, if not more than, physical violence. They report that emotional abuse is responsible for long-term problems with health, self-esteem, depression, and anxiety (5). In one study 72% of women reported that being ridiculed by their abusive partners had the greatest impact on them, followed by threats of abuse, jealousy, and restriction (or isolation). It was also found that the impact increased with the frequency of the emotional abuse (6). However, like women who are physically and sexually abused, emotionally abused women demonstrate incredible resilience and inner strength as they successfully balance the everyday demands of life such as children, school and work.

Q: Aren’t women just as emotionally abusive as men?

A:  Emotional abuse, just like any other form of abuse, is about power.  Women may exhibit some of the behaviours labeled as abuse, but it is critical to assess whether her actions give her power and make her partner fearful of her. Research has shown that being female is the single largest risk factor for being a victim of abuse in heterosexual relationships (7), something that is clearly reflective of women’s lower status in our society.

Q:  Why don’t women just leave?

A: Women generally do whatever they can to end the emotional abuse, whether directly or indirectly, such as trying to avoid, escape or resist their [abuser] in some way (8). Unfortunately, women who are emotionally abused often find that their experiences are minimized or misunderstood by those they turn to for help. In addition, beyond short-term emergency shelters and services, there are few long-term options available to abused women. The lack of accessible affordable housing, inadequate income support, legal aid, and day care prevent a woman from having the resources to live free from abuse. As a result of these and other barriers, an emotionally abused woman usually leaves her partner an average of five times before ending her relationship (9).

Q:  What effect does domestic violence have on children?

A:  Although adults may think “the kids don’t know,” research shows that children see or hear 40 to 80% of domestic violence assaults. (42)  Each year in Canada, an estimated 360,000 children witness or experience family violence. (43)  Children who witness this violence are at immediate risk of being physically injured.

Long-term exposure to these traumatic events can affect children’s brain development and ability to learn, and lead to a wide range of behavioural and emotional issues such as anxiety, aggression, bullying, phobias, and insomnia. (44) Children who witness violence in the home have twice the rate of psychiatric disorders as children from non-violent homes. (45)  These long-term effects can easily extend into adulthood. Research shows that children who witness violence are more likely to grow up to become victims or abusers. (46)  According to the RCMP, a child who witnesses spousal violence is experiencing a form of child abuse, since research shows that “witnessing family violence is as harmful as experiencing it directly.” (47) 

Q:  How do I respond to a woman who is being abused?

A: We know that abused women still rely most on friends, neighbours and family for support and help. You may also suspect or know that someone close to you is being abused.

Here are some ways you can help:

    • If she is in immediate danger, call 911.
    • Be supportive.
    • Listen to her, believe her, and don’t judge her.
    • Let her know she is not alone.
    • Give her time to make her own decisions.
    • Don’t tell her what to do, or that she should go back and try a little harder.
    • Don’t rescue her by trying to find quick solutions.
    • Let her talk about the caring parts of the relationship.
    • Share information on how abuse gets worse over time if no one does anything about it.
    • Help her focus on the good things about herself and about her children.
    • Don’t tell her she should stay for the sake of the children.
    • Respect her confidentiality – keep things private if she asks you to.
    • Help her find services. Find out about services she can use and tell her about them. Depending on her needs, make sure they:
      • offer language or cultural interpretation
      • are accessible to people with disabilities
      • can care for her children if she needs it
      • are gay-positive if that’s important to her
    • Never recommend joint family or couple counselling if there is emotional or physical abuse. It is dangerous for a woman. If they want counselling, separate counselling can be helpful.
    • Help her plan for an emergency
    • Safety is the first priority. If you believe she is in danger, tell her. Help her plan an emergency exit. Don’t put yourself in danger by confronting the abuser.
    • Encourage her to get ready to leave home in a hurry. Help her get together items she needs, such as:
      • credit cards
      • cash
      • bank books
      • passport
      • birth certificates
      • citizenship papers
      • house keys
      • medications
      • her children’s favourite toys
      • clothing

Q: What can I say to her?

A: Give clear messages, including:

  • Violence is never okay. There is never a good reason for it.
  • Her safety and her children’s safety are always most important.
  • She does not cause the abuse. Her partner is responsible for the abuse.
  • She cannot change her partner’s behaviour.
  • Apologies and promises will not end the violence.
  • She is not alone. She is not crazy.
  • Abuse is not loss of control. It is something people use to control others.
  • The violence affects the children.
  • It is a crime to assault a partner.

She may be too fearful or confused to take any step right away. Be encouraged that she is reaching out for help. Every time she does this, she is gaining the strength she will need when she is ready to make decisions.