Frequently Asked Questions About Domestic Violence
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Domestic violence is sometimes called relationship or dating violence, spousal abuse, family violence, intimate partner violence or gender-based violence. These are terms used to describe violence or abuse that can happen between people who are related to each other or who have relationships with each other. It includes violence, abuse or intimidation by one person over another which causes fear, or physical and/or psychological harm. It may be a single act, or a series of acts forming a pattern of abuse.
Domestic violence happens in both heterosexual and same sex relationships and can affect transgender and intersex people as well. For more information, see the Nova Scotia Domestic Violence Action Plan, 2010.
The violence or harm can take many forms, including physical, verbal, sexual, emotional (psychological) and financial. People may experience more than one kind of violence or harm.
Family violence also includes any form of abuse, mistreatment, violence, or neglect experienced by either children or adults from anyone else in their family. Both child abuse and senior abuse can be considered types of family violence.
Any abuse is wrong, but some forms are against the law.
Physical abuse can range from smaller actions to very severe things that can threaten your life. Acts of physical abuse include things like:
- pushing, shoving, pinching, or grabbing
- hitting, punching, slapping, or kicking
- choking or strangling
- physical restraint, or blocking someone from leaving
- throwing you around, or throwing things at you
- burning, shooting, stabbing or cutting
- any unwanted physical touching
Physical abuse is assault. Assault is when someone purposely uses or tries to use force against another person, without that person’s consent.
Sexual abuse is any sexual activity or sexual touching to which you do not consent. Some kinds of sexual abuse are against the law in Canada.
Sexual abuse that is against the law can include:
- forcing you to have sex (even when it happens between two spouses or partners)
- unwanted sexual touching, sexual relations without voluntary consent, or the forcing or coercing of degrading, humiliating, or painful sexual acts
- forcing you to perform certain sex acts
- the improper exposure of a child to sexual contact, activity or behaviour
Some kinds of things may not be against the law but are sexually abusive:
- trying to ‘get even’ with you when you refuse to have sex
- making you view pornography
- treating you as a sex object
- accusing you of sleeping around or being unfaithful, or threatening to start rumours like this about you
For information about sexual assault, click here.
Verbal abuse can include insults, name-calling and put-downs. It can occur along with violence or on its own. Some kinds of verbal abuse include:
- name-calling and saying things to embarrass or shame you
- constant criticism
- yelling or shouting
- blaming you when things go wrong
- calling you ugly or stupid
Verbal abuse is wrong, but it is not always against the law. Threatening to harm you can be verbal abuse and can be against the law.
This type of abuse can be hard to describe. Generally, it means that someone is, over a period of time, attempting to wear away a victim’s self-esteem and/or their sense of safety. It usually happens when one person tries to use power and control over the other person in a relationship.
Psychological or emotional abuse can be similar to verbal abuse, and can include repeated acts of purposely rejecting, degrading, terrorizing, isolating, or exploiting someone, or denying or not responding to someone’s emotions. Emotional abuse can include threats or intimidation, constant criticism and put-downs, controlling your activities, humiliating you, or treating an adult like a child. It can also include behaviors like:
- damaging your belongings or hurting your pets
- threatening to leave if you don’t do what they want
- threatening to commit suicide if you don’t do what they want
- threats to have you or your family members deported
- false reports to police or child welfare agencies
- isolation or not allowing you to have relationships with others
- spreading rumours about you in your community or threatening to do that if you don’t do what they want
Some kinds of psychological abuse are crimes in Canada, such as stalking (criminal harassment), some kinds of property damage, uttering threats or making false reports.
Criminal harassment is a crime in Canada, and includes harassing behaviour and stalking. The behaviour may be considered criminal if it makes you fearful for your own safety. Criminal harassment usually occurs between family members, often between former spouses or partners when one has left the relationship.
Criminal harassment can include:
- calling you repeatedly after you have asked them to stop
- sending you constant messages through Facebook, texting, or e-mails
- following you or your friends or family members around, or keeping track of where you go
- sending you gifts that you do not want
- leaving you threatening messages, or threatening you, your kids, your family and friends, or your pets
For more information about criminal harassment, please see The Department of Justice's Stalking is a crime called Criminal Harassement or the Public Health Agency of Canada's Criminal Harassment: Stalking It's NOT Love.
Financial abuse is intentionally misusing someone’s money or belongings. Financial abuse can include taking your pay cheque, or keeping money from you so that you have no food, or cannot get necessary medical care. These behaviours are crimes in Canada. Other forms of financial abuse can include:
- forging your signature on cheques or legal papers
- controlling money very tightly
- spending all the money on himself or herself
- not allowing you to work outside of the home
- not letting you make any decisions around money (for example, controlling all of the bank accounts and how household money is spent)
- unethical or illegal use of the money, property, or other assets of an older adult, including placing inappropriate pressure on an older person in order to gain access to their money or assets
- the improper withholding of finances, fraud, misuse of power of attorney, or pressuring an older person to change the terms of their will or hand over pension cheques
Domestic violence affects everyone. It can happen to anyone, and can occur in any neighbourhood.
It can occur in any relationship; however, women are primarily the victims and men are primarily the perpetrators. Children and young people may experience harm by being exposed to violence in adult relationships, being direct victims of violence, or a combination of the two. (Domestic Violence Action Plan, 2010)
Domestic or intimate partner violence happens in rural areas and in cities, and in high and low income families. It can happen at any age, or to people of any sexual orientation, ability, race, culture, or ethnicity.
For women, intimate partner violence can begin or get worse during pregnancy. In Canada, Aboriginal women experience domestic violence often and more severely than non-Aboriginal women. (Domestic Violence Action Plan, 2010)
No. Abusers come from every part of society, and can come from any age, race, religion or economic background. People who abuse have a strong need to control the things and people around them, and often blame their partner or other factors, like stress, drugs, or alcohol, for their behaviour.
Abuse almost always happens in private, so it may be hard to know what is happening. There are some signs that might indicate abuse is going on, including:
- there has been violence in the past
- there is a history of domestic violence from childhood
- the suspected abuser is impulsive (for example, he or she has temper tantrums, is possessive over their partner or belongings), and overly dependent on their partner, or is emotionally immature
- rigid views of men and women and their roles in society
- problems with the children, including aggressive behaviour, problems in school, physical complaints, crying hopelessly, or not showing much emotion
- history of suicidal thoughts or attempts
- substance abuse
Talking about your problem is very important. You can tell a friend, family member, or a trusted community member. You can also talk to a doctor, a public health or emergency room nurse, social worker, private therapist or counsellor, or someone working at a transition house or shelter for assaulted women and their children.
If you are in immediate danger, leave the situation if possible, and call 911.
If you are a woman experiencing violence and abuse, contact a transition house near you for crisis support or emergency shelter. You can visit the Transition House Association of Nova Scotia website.
If you are a man experiencing violence and abuse, here is a directory of services for men in every province and territory. The Provincial Victim Services program works with men who have been victims of domestic violence.
If you are a man who has been abusive and would like help to stop the violence, please contact your nearest Men's Intervention Program. You can find a listing of programs available in Nova Scotia here.
If you are an older adult who is experiencing violence or abuse, please see the Senior Abuse section of this site here.
For more information on available services in Nova Scotia, call or visit NS 211.
Emergency Protection Orders are short term, temporary orders to help protect victims of domestic violence made under the Domestic Violence Intervention Act (DVIA) of Nova Scotia.
For more information about EPOs, including how to apply for one, click here.
NOTE: Please click here for information about Emergency Protection Orders for persons living in a First Nations community.
If you want to start a court application on an urgent or emergency basis, for parenting arrangements (custody & parenting time), exclusive occupation of the home, or another issue, you can ask family court staff about this process. You should also speak with a lawyer for advice on whether or not your application may be considered urgent or an emergency by the court.
The court location where you have to file your application will depend on where you, the other party, or the children, live. The process used and documents you need to file will depend on what issue(s) you are addressing.
For more information about urgent or emergency court applications, click here.
When you are involved in a family law court application, the other party (or parties) will see the documents you provide to the court.
If you wish to keep your contact information confidential, speak with court staff or your lawyer about how to do this.
No - family court files and criminal court files are not linked. Family court staff do not have access to criminal court files. They rely on you to share any relevant information.
Please be sure to notify court staff and your lawyer if:
- there have been any criminal law orders or charges between you and the other party
- if there has been an Emergency Protection Order (EPO) or no-contact order between you and the other party
- if there has been violence or threats between you and the other party, or any other safety issues, regardless of whether there have been charges laid
Court staff have no way of knowing this information unless you, or the other party, tell them. This information can affect how your family law case proceeds.
Violence is a crime in all relationships. Violence between same sex couples is not a fight of equals. Some studies have shown that violence in heterosexual and same sex relationships occurs at approximately the same rate (1 in 4).
There may be additional obstacles to leaving a same sex abusive relationship, due to factors like homophobia, lack of family or community supports, or the person may not have told others that they are gay.
For more information about violence in same sex relationships, you can visit:
Making the decision to leave is a very personal one, and everyone’s situation is different. Your safety and your children’s safety is the most important thing.
You may want to speak with a counsellor, lawyer, or another trusted person about your situation. You do not have to leave before you can get legal advice or help with your situation.
Make sure you think about ways to keep yourself as safe as possible when a violent incident occurs. Try to avoid going to places in your home during an incident where you could become trapped, or where there are weapons (for example, in the kitchen or a bathroom). Bigger rooms with more than one exit might be safer.
Whenever possible, leave the situation. Go to a safe place, and call for help. Have a bag packed and ready to go if you need to leave quickly. Memorize important phone numbers, including the crisis line for your local shelter.
You should consider having a detailed safety plan put in place. Remember that domestic violence happens in cycles, and only gets worse as time goes on.
A safety plan prepares you to take action if you face violence from your partner or spouse or other family member. You can have a safety plan if you are still living with your partner/spouse or family member, and also if you have left your partner, or they are no longer living in the home. Creating a safety plan involves developing a strategy for how to keep yourself as safe as possible from violence or harm.
You can include steps in your safety plan to address short-term strategy (for example, what to do during a violent incident) and also long-term strategy (for example, how you will keep yourself safe after the relationship ends). It is important that you find out what resources and services are available to you in your local area.
If you write down your safety plan, make sure you put it somewhere where your partner will not see it. You should try to memorize your safety plan – in a violent incident, you need to be able to react quickly, and it will be hard to try to remember all the details of your plan if you haven’t gone over it many times.
If you are leaving an abusive relationship, there are some things you should do that may assist you in the process of leaving. You can make a safety plan, and speak to trusted people who can support you during this time, like a friend, lawyer, doctor, or other community member.
- Do not tell your partner that you are thinking of leaving. This can be a very dangerous time.
- Contact your local transition house or shelter for abused women or Victim Services and ask for help in safety planning.
- Talk to a lawyer. Keep any evidence of physical abuse – photos, for example. Keep a journal of all violence or harassment, noting dates, times, threats and if there were any witnesses.
- Contact the police and ask for an officer who specializes in domestic violence. If there is evidence that an offence has happened, the police may decide to lay a charge.
- If you are injured, go to a doctor or an emergency room and tell them what happened. Ask them to document your visit.
- Gather important documents: identification, bank cards, financial papers related to family assets, your last Canada Income Tax Return, keys, medication, pictures of the abuser and your children, passports, health cards, personal address/telephone book, cell phone, and legal documents such as immigration papers, house deed/lease, restraining orders or peace bonds, or Emergency Protection Orders.
- If it is not safe to keep these things stored in your home you can make copies and leave them with someone you trust. Talk to your local transition house or shelter for abused women – they may be able to keep them safe for you.
- Talk to someone about applying for an Emergency Protection Order. Staff at a transition house, Victim Services or the police can help you with this.
- Put together family pictures, jewelry and things that are important to you, as well as toys and comforts for your children.
- Arrange with someone to care for your pets until you get settled.
- Remember to clear your cell phone call history so that your calls can’t be tracked by your abuser.
It is important for you to think about your safety, and the safety of your children. You should find out about shelters in your area where you can go, if you need to leave the home.
Studies show that the time around separation can be very dangerous. Keeping yourself and your family safe is very important.
You can speak to a lawyer or court staff in your area to find out about how to apply to the court for issues such as parenting arrangements, child support, or spousal support. You may qualify to have an Emergency Protection Order put in place.
There are transition houses for abused women and their children in Nova Scotia. Shelters are a safe place to go if you must leave your home, or get away from a violent partner. Shelters provide a place to stay, support and counseling, and will help you understand your rights and how to plan for the safety of you and your children. If you want help in escaping a violent relationship, call the shelter in the community closest to where you live. You can visit the Transition House Association of NS's website for information about shelters in your area.
The Provincial Victim Services Program can provide you with information about your case, the criminal justice system in general and copies of court orders you may need. Staff at Victim Services can also help you apply for Criminal Injuries Counselling.
If there is a court order that requires the offender to stay away from you and/or your children, it is important that you keep a copy of this document with you at all times. You should give a copy of the document to other people or organizations if the document says that the offender must stay away from your children or a particular place, for example, your workplace or your children’s school.
You have the right to call the police if the offender violates the order, peace bond or recognizance. This is called a 'breach' of the order. Other charges may be laid if the offender breaches the order.
If you have been the victim of domestic violence, you or your children may also be eligible for private counselling through the Criminal Injuries Counselling program.
For more information on any of the Provincial Victim Services programs, please visit the website, or contact your local Victim Services office at:
Dartmouth (serving Halifax, Dartmouth & Halifax County)
Kentville (serving Annapolis, Kings, Hants, Lunenburg, Queens, Shelburne, Yarmouth & Digby Counties)
Toll Free 1-800-565-1805
New Glasgow (serving Pictou, Guysborough, Antigonish, Colchester & Cumberland Counties)
Toll Free 1-800-565-7912
Sydney (serving Cape Breton, Richmond, Inverness & Victoria Counties)
Toll Free 1-800-565-0071
You can also get more information by viewing Justice Canada's information for victims of crime.
Neighbours, Friends and Families is a public education awareness program to help people spot signs of domestic violence and teach them to approach possible victims without making the situation worse. Neighbours, Friends and Families is an initiative of the province's Domestic Violence Action Plan and is a partnership between the province, Transition House Association of Nova Scotia and community volunteers. As part of this program, the province's first domestic violence toll-free line is available at 1-855-225-0220. Call to get information on how you can help someone that you think may be experiencing domestic violence.
You can also find information on how to help at: