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Understanding Abuse

Common Terms and Definitions

Domestic Abuse

is “the attempt, act or intent of someone within a relationship, where the relationship is characterized by intimacy, dependency or trust to engage in purposeful controlling or coercive pattern of which takes place over time in order for one individual to exert power, control or coercion over another.

Controlling Behavior

is a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance, and escape, and regulating their everyday behavior.

Coercive Behavior

is a continuing act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation, and intimidation, or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim

Sexual Assault

Any unwanted sexual act done by one person to another or sexual activity without one person’s consent or voluntary agreement (Criminal Code of Canada, Sexual Assault Definition).


Child Sexual Abuse

Any inappropriate exposure or subjection to sexual contact, activity, or behavior. Including prostitution-related activities. (The Child, Youth & Family Enhancement Act, 2003).



Giving permission or voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity.


Abuse is about using power and control over someone


Abuse is about patterns of behavior


Abuse is about creating fear in the victim/survivor


Abuse isn't ABOUT anger, its about USING anger to control another person

The Cycle of Abuse

The Cycle of Abuse shows the pattern we will see in an abusive relationship.


  • Moody or irritable

  • Isolation

  • Yelling

  • Withdrawing affection

  • Putting you down

  • Threats

  • Starts destroying things

  • Blaming you for everything


  • Physical

  • Hitting

  • Choking

  • Spitting

  • Throwing things

  • Humiliation

  • Imprisonment or blocking the doorways


  • “I’m sorry”

  • Promises

  • Counselling

  • Church

  • Presents

  • Flowers

  • Affection begins again

  • Crying

Types of Abuse

There are many types of abuse, more than the hitting and yelling that we associate with abusive behavior. The following are seven types of abuse we discuss in our presentations

Physical Abuse

  • Hitting, slapping, punching, kicking, strangulation, burning

  • Damaging personal property

  • Refusing medical care and/or controlling medication

  • Coercing partner into substance abuse

Sexual Abuse

  • Human trafficking

  • Pursuing sexual activity when the victim is not fully conscious or is afraid to say no

  • Hurting partner physically during sex

  • Coercing partner to have sex without protection, or sabotaging birth control

  • Not receiving or asking for consent

Emotional Abuse

  • Name calling, insulting, shaming, humiliating

  • Blaming the partner for everything

  • Extreme jealousy

  • Intimidation

  • Isolation and controlling

  • Stalking

Psychological Abuse

  • Making light of the abuse

  • Denying, and saying the abuse didn't happen

  • Making their partner feel they are crazy and the events never took place (gaslighting)

  • Making the partner think it's their fault

  • Saying women can't abuse men/men can't abuse

Financial Abuse

  • Preventing their partner from getting or keeping a job

  • Making their partner ask them for money

  • Keeping their partner's name off all of the bills

  • Using their partners money without their permission

  • Using their economic privilege or status to threaten their ability to get a job if they leave

Cultural Abuse

  • Preventing their partner from attending religious or cultural services

  • Using religion or culture to reinforce traditional roles

  • Using religion or culture norms to create fear and prevent their partner from leaving

  • Threatening to expose their beliefs or sexuality to others in their lives or online

Image Based Abuse

  • "Non consensual image distribution"

  • Sharing or threatening to share intimate photos or videos

  • Using images to threaten their careers

  • Using images to damage their partners relationship with their children or parents

  • Often called "Revenge Porn" although it doesn't always have to be for revenge, nor necessarily pornographic

Why do They Stay?

Because of the struggle with power and control, leaving an abusive relationship can often be the most step to take in surviving abuse.  There are many reasons a person may have for staying in an abusive relationship:


A person may be afraid of the consequences if they decide to leave their relationships, either fear of their partner's actions or concern over their own ability to be independent.

Normalized Abuse

If they grew up in an environment where abuse was common, they may not know what a healthy relationship is. As a result, they may see the abusive behavior as normal.


It can be difficult for some people to admit they have been or are being abused. They may feel they have done something wrong or that they deserve the abuse. 


A survivor may be intimidated into staying in a relationship with verbal or physical threats or threats to spread information, secrets, revenge porn, or for members of the LGBTQ+ community, their sexuality.

Low Self-Esteem

After experiencing verbal and emotional abuse, a survivor may start to believe those sentiments and believe they are at fault for the abuse and that they don't deserve any better.

Lack of Resources

Survivors may be financially dependent on their abusive partner or have been denied opportunities to work in the past. They may not have their own place, or may not be able to speak the local language.


If a survivor is dependent on others for physical support, they may feel their well-being is directly tied to their relationships. A lack of visible alternatives for support can influence their decision to stay.

Immigration Status

Those who are undocumented may fear that reporting abuse will affect their immigration status. If they have limited English proficiency, these concerns can be amplified.

Cultural Context

Traditional customs or beliefs may influence someone's decision to stay in an abusive situation, whether held by the survivor or by their family and community.


Survivors may feel guilty or responsible for disrupting their family unit. Keeping the family together may not only be something that a survivor may value, but may also be used as a tactic by their partner.


Experiencing abuse and feeling genuine care for a partner who is causing harm are not mutually exclusive. Survivors often still have strong, intimate feelings for their abusive partner.

Warning Signs of an Unhealthy Relationship

  • If he/she tries to go too fast too soon-quick involvement

  • Pressure for sex/intimacy, other personal information

  • If he/she shows intense unwarranted jealousy or possessiveness

  • Controls he/she/ and the relationship and decisions in the relationship

  • If he/she uses critical or derogatory language towards your family and friends

  • History of abusing partners or pattern of using derogatory remarks about past partners

  • If he/she tries to isolate you from friends, family or outside activities

  • If he/she checks up on your every move, interrogation

  • If he/she history/or currently mistreats children, or pets

  • Sudden changes in self-esteem, social confidence, or major personality characteristics

  • Externally limited access to finances or transportation

  • Covering bruising with non-seasonal clothing or accessories

  • Repetitive injuries, often accompanied by excuses about clumsiness or “accidents”

  • Fear or undue anxiety to please someone

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