1. What is domestic violence?

Domestic violence is a pattern of behaviour in any intimate relationship where one partner seeks to gain power and control over the other.

Abuse can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, psychological, and spiritual.  The abuser takes action or makes threats or intimidates the other person.  These behaviours often frighten, manipulate, hurt, humiliate, blame, injure, wound, or terrorize the victim.

The United Nations defines violence against women as an act that results in an “…arbitrary deprivation of liberty…”

Many women do not recognize that they are in an abusive relationship and, in fact, will often work hard at minimizing and denying their partner’s behaviour, for a variety of reasons.  It is important to remember that if you often feel humiliated, blamed, frightened, and know that you are not able to enjoy what others would consider basic liberties, such as a visiting a relative or purchasing something for yourself that you need, or seeking medical care when ill, it would be wise for you to speak to a trained counsellor who can assist you in your difficult situation.   Call 1-800-465-3348 and speak to a domestic violence expert now.  We do not subscribe to caller ID and you do not have to provide your name.

2. How can I know for certain that this is abuse and not “normal” relationship problems?

Disagreements occur in relationships.  Sometimes those disagreements are loud and things are said that cause hurt feelings.  Even signs of anger during those disagreements are “normal”.

When there is abuse, one person, usually the male, uses power and control to get what they want out of the relationship.  There may or may not be physical abuse, but the threat of some kind of harm is present.  The person with the power uses many tactics to maintain their control including emotional and psychological abuse, threats of violence or abandonment, isolating the individual from family and friends, limiting the victim’s use of the phone, breaking assistive devices, and denying health care.  Individuals who use power and control tactics in a relationship can be very persuasive, often trying to convince family, friends, and professionals that they are only trying to help, or worse, that it is the victim’s own fault.  Abusive individuals rarely take any responsibility for their inappropriate or criminal behaviour.

Perhaps if you ask yourself the following questions, your honest answers will provide you with the information you need:

a)         Do you feel safe at all times when he is around you?

b)         Do you feel you are free to do what you need to do without fear of reprisals from him?

c)         When he becomes angry, do you become nervous?

d)         When something goes wrong, are you nervous or afraid of what might happen when he finds out about it?

e)         Have you ever tried to hide an injury or bruise that he caused?

f)          Have you ever made up excuses for his bad behaviour?

g)         Are you instantly nervous if you know you will be late getting home, or could not have a meal ready when he was expecting it, or have a friend stop over that he does not like, or receive a phone call unexpectedly from family or friends?

h)         Has he ever tried to choke you?  (You could be in danger – please call now.)

i)          Has he ever threatened to kill you or himself?  (You could be in danger – please call now.)

j)          Has he ever accused you of cheating, with no evidence to support it?

These are some of the things you need to consider but the main component is that of safety, for your home should be your refuge, and everyone has the right to feel safe in their own home.

3.  Can men who batter change?

You cannot change him.  You cannot change him.  YOU cannot change him.  YOU CANNOT CHANGE HIM.

The criminal justice system is the first step in holding men who batter accountable, followed by a men’s nonviolence course.  The Duluth Model states, “Many men in our men’s nonviolence program state that without the system intervention and the classes that gave them the opportunity to examine and change their beliefs, they would never have changed.”  Men are sent to these programs by the criminal justice system.  Some programs are voluntary, and require a man who truly wants to change his behaviour and is committed to remaining fully engaged throughout the program in order for it to be successful.

Batterers are driven by power and control.   The laying of criminal charges, resulting in jail time, is the most efficient method of removing their power and control.  When this is followed up with a men’s nonviolent group, it provides men with the tools required to recognize their warning signs and how to adapt to a non-violent lifestyle.

Sometimes an abuser will stop the physical violence but continue to employ other forms of abuse.  Some abusers are able to exert complete control over a victim’s actions without using violence at all, particularly if there has been violence in the relationship previously.   It is not easy for an abuser to stop abusive behaviour.  Once an abuser has had power in a relationship, it is extremely difficult to change to a healthy relationship with equal power and compromises.

The short answer to this question then is “Yes”, but it requires more than simply a desire on his part to change.  He must take action, and there is nothing you can do to make any difference in this regard.  The criminal justice system, combined with men’s nonviolent group intervention, provides the most hope.

Men’s violence will end only when society becomes fair and equitable.

4. What causes men to be violent against women?

Gender inequality is visible in many areas in our society, including politics, religion, media, cultural norms, and the workplace.  Both men and women receive many messages, both 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 supported by the fact that men who assault their partners very rarely assault their friends, neighbours, bosses, or strangers.

Male privilege operates on an individual and societal level to maintain a situation of male dominance, where men have power over women and children.  This is a consequence of the inequalities between men and women, which are rooted in patriarchal traditions that encourage men to believe they are entitled to power and control over their partners.  Domestic violence is about gaining control, not a lack of control.  If an abuser is careful about when, where, and to whom they are abusive, then they are showing sufficient awareness and knowledge about their actions to indicate that they are not “out of control”.  Abusers use violence and tactics of coercion as a way of exercising control and getting what they want.

Violent men are most likely to perpetrate violence in response to their own sexual jealousy and possessiveness; their demands for domestic services; and in order to demonstrate male authority.  Some men believe that sex is another type of domestic service that they can demand.  These beliefs are reinforced by the media, music videos, pornography, etc. by showing women as sexual objects that are here for the sole purpose of pleasing men.

The short answer to this question then is that gender inequality and a societal acceptance of male privilege causes men to be violent against women.

5. Do abusers show any potential warning signs?

There is no way to spot an abuser in a crowd, but most abusers share some common characteristics, which may include, but are not limited to, the following:

–          He insists on moving too quickly into a relationship

–          He asks that you reduce or stop participating in leisure activities or spending time with family and friends – he might say it is so you can spend more time together

–          He is excessively jealous or suspicious, and may tell you this is a sign of his love for you

–          He does not take responsibility for his actions and blame others for everything that goes wrong

–          He criticizes your appearance

–          His words and actions are not in sync

–          He claims that he can fulfill all of your needs, and that therefore you do not need anyone else in your life – this is his attempt at isolating you

–          He has unrealistic expectations for you to be perfect

–          He degrades you or downplays your accomplishments

–          He uses any physical force during an argument, such as pinning you against a wall or blocking your exit from the room

–          He uses intimidation tactics such as shouting directly in your face during an argument

–          He exaggerates his good qualities

–          He wants to know where you are at all times

–          He has invaded your privacy, such as looking in your purse, checking your cell phone

Those are just a few of the red flags but it is important to know that some men are very careful not to exhibit any of these signs until after they have charmed their way into your life, and feel they have “hooked” you.

There is no link between violent men and race, sexuality, age, spirituality, class, ethnicity, level of education, etc.  Most abusers behave differently in public than they do in their private relationships.  In high-profile domestic homicide cases, neighbours often describe the man as “decent”, “kind”, and even “gentle”.

The short answer to this question is that most abusers show no warning signs and it is usually not until the woman is “hooked” into the relationship that the above signs begin to appear.

6.  What about male victims of domestic violence?  Why aren’t there any Shelters for Men?

Domestic violence happens in all forms of relationships, such as same-sex relationships, and heterosexual males have been victims of domestic violence perpetrated by their female partners.  The effect of violence on the victim is similar; however, the level of fear is not as great, for statistics show that the vast majority of homicides are female victims with male perpetrators.  In Canada, in approximately 98% of domestic homicide cases, the victims were women, and the perpetrators were men.  Domestic violence shelters were created to save lives; therefore, we serve women, and focus on the most common, and the most lethal, form of domestic violence – women abuse.

7. What are the effects of domestic violence on the woman?

“Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women in the United States”, wcadv.

Women have suffered the following permanent injuries:

a)  Brain damage

b)  Blindness

c)  Deafness

d)  Speech loss through damage to the larynx

e)  Disfigurement

f)  Mutilation

g)  Sterilization

h)  Paralysis

i)  Damage or loss of internal organs

j)  HIV and Sexually Transmitted Diseases

k)  Suicide

l)  Death – “Every day in 1998, five women died violently at the hands of men who claimed to love them.”  This is in the United States, taken from wcadv.org.

Less permanent injuries include the following:

a)  Depression

b)  Anxiety

c)  General chronic pain

d)  Headaches

e)  Gastrointestinal disorders

f)  Arthritis

g)  Stomach ulcers

h)  Miscarriages

i)  Emotional Withdrawal

j)  Impulsivity or aggressiveness

k)  Apprehension or heightened fear response

l)  Anger

m)  Hyper vigilance

n)  Anger

o)  Disturbance of sleeping patterns

p)  Disturbance of eating patterns

q)  Helplessness

r)  Substance abuse

s)  Suicidal Ideation

t)  Parenting challenges (some victims are emotionally or physically unavailable to their children due to injuries, emotional exhaustion, or depression.)

u)  Trust issues

v)  Lose more time from work

w)  Low self-esteem

x)  Self-critical

y)  Higher risk of homelessness

z)  Post-traumatic stress disorder

Neither of the above two lists are exhaustive or complete.  The victims seldom acknowledge the harm they have suffered or the danger they might be in as they have become accustomed to minimizing, denying, and hiding the abuse from family and friends, and this denial extends into their personal sense of self.

The short answer is that domestic violence has a profound impact on the victim, which over time can cause serious injuries, including PTSD and death.

8.  What are the effects of domestic violence on children?

Domestic violence has a negative impact on the children in the home where the abuse is occurring, whether or not they have directly or indirectly witnessed the abuse.  Children may hear the fighting, or simply be sensitive to the tension that exists between the partners.  Either way, these children are hurt by domestic violence.  “Each year in Canada, an estimated 360,000 children witness or experience family violence.”  Canadianwomen.org.  Some of the effects on children include the following:

a)  Anxiety

b)  Aggression

c)  Bullying

d)  Phobias

e)  Insomnia

f)  Twice the rate of psychiatric disorders as children from non-violent homes

g)  Long-term exposure can affect brain development

h)  Long-term exposure can affect ability to learn

i)  Will learn the patterns and grow up to become abusers or victims themselves

j)  Become desensitized to violence

k)  “Witnessing family violence is as harmful as experiencing it directly”, RCMP (See question #7 and its effects for more information.)

l)  Miss school more often

m)  Heightened startle reflex

n)  Complain of stomach problems

o)  Have nightmares

p)  Lowered sense of self-worth

q)  May regress in potty-training

r)  Have more temper tantrums

s)  May abuse alcohol or drugs as they get older

t)  May engage in self-harm as they get older

u)  Eating disorders

v)  Depression

w)  Higher risk for unintended pregnancies

x)  Greater sense of shame

y)  Self-blame

z)  Post-traumatic stress disorder

Again, the short answer to this question is that domestic violence has a profound negative impact on children in the home, whether they have witnessed the violence directly or indirectly, and these harmful effects can extend into their teen years and beyond. 

9. Why doesn’t she leave?

This is a common question we are asked, with a rather complicated answer.  The question we need to be asking is “Why does he choose to abuse her?”  There are just so many reasons women choose to stay.  The first one is that it may be her safest option!  The most dangerous time for a woman is when her partner even suspects that she is planning to leave.  If you have ever really been afraid of someone, you might be able to understand how you would feel safer if you knew where that person was and what they were doing rather than not knowing.   This is one reason we believe that every woman who manages to escape is a hero, for herself, and for her children.

Some of the reasons that a woman chooses to stay are as follows:

a)  Fear of the unknown – better to keep the enemy close

b)  Shame

c)  Poverty

d)  Guilt – feels she is causing her children to lose their father

e)  Exhaustion

f)  Isolated – no one to help her move out

g)  Nowhere to go – fear of homelessness

h)  Hope – may love him and believes she can change him

i)  Secrecy and fear of losing credibility if she has minimized or denied the abuse

j)  He may have threatened to kill her, their child(ren), or their pet(s)

k)  Religious beliefs that he is the head of the household and her role is to support him

l)  He has threatened suicide if she leaves

m)  Fear of deportation

n)  Fear of rejection from family and friends

o)  She believes his apologies and promises to change

p)  He has made her believe that the abuse is her fault.  If she could only learn to change the behaviour that causes it, the abuse would stop.

q)  He has made her believe that she could not survive on her own.

r)  He may have taken her identification away (passports, driver’s licence, etc.)

s)  Societal expectations (he becomes an eligible bachelor while she becomes a divorcee or spinster or other negative stereotype)

t)  Lack of skills (who will fix the washing machine?)

u)  Travel becomes impaired (higher price for single person on vacations)

v)  May lose his health benefits (sick children in need of medications)

w)  May lose his pension and/or retirement savings

x)  Social status – if he is well-liked in the community, people may blame her for the abuse or doubt that it ever occurred

y)  Failure – Some women believe that the end of the relationship is a failure

z)  Societal Denial and Blame– Abusers often have a public face that is charismatic and we continue to blame women for bad men, whether it is his mother or his partner.

Domestic abuse is often a gradual process, with the frequency of assaults and seriousness of the violence slowly escalating over time.  Abusers often express remorse and promise to change.  It can take years for women to be able to admit that the violence will never stop and the relationship is unsalvageable.  On average, women leave five to seven times before they are able to leave for good.  In the meantime, the long-term experience of being abused can destroy women’s self-confidence, making it difficult to believe they are entitled to abuse-free lives or find the courage to leave.

The short answer to this question is that just by asking this question, we are perilously close to victim-blaming, and regardless of the reason(s) the woman chooses to stay, the focus must be on her safety.  As a society, we must begin to ask, “Why does he abuse?”  There is no right or wrong reason for staying in the abusive relationship.  The woman has a variety of reasons to choose to stay, and society in general is to blame.

 10. How can I know if I’m in immediate danger?

If you think you are, you probably are.  Call immediately to 1-800-465-3348 and a risk assessment can be completed anonymously over the crisis line to assist you with this question.  If it is determined you are in immediate danger, transportation can be arranged for your escape right away, and if you feel safe for now, transportation can be arranged at a time convenient for you.  Either way, a safety plan must be put into place right away.  There are some signs that the situation has escalated and you are in greater danger if the following is present in your situation:

a)  Stalking behaviour

b)  Threats of homicide

c)  Threats of suicide

d)  Possession or access to weapons

e)  Extreme jealousy or obsession with the victim

f)  Kidnapping or hostage taking

g)  Sexual assault or rape

h)  Prior abusive incidents that resulted in a serious injury

i)  History of violence with previous partners and/or children

j)  Psychopathology or substance abuse

k)  Previous choking attempts

It is critical to remember that domestic homicides or severe assaults cannot be predicted with any level of accuracy that could provide you with the safety you need.  Call now to complete a comprehensive risk assessment on your situation which you can then choose to share with other professionals, family, and friends as the situation may also be compromising their safety as well.

11. Can an abuser be a good parent?

The answer depends on your definition of a “good” parent.  We do not believe it is possible to be a good parent when abusing the other parent for children love both parents, and this places the children in a terribly conflicted state of mind.  Nevertheless, we see courts awarding joint custody in cases of women abuse far too often, despite what is known about parenting styles of most perpetrators, as itemized by the “Child Welfare Information Gateway”:

a)  Authoritarianism – Rigid and demanding with their children, having high and unrealistic expectations, believing children should obey without question or resistance.

b)  Discipline – Abusers are more likely to use harsher forms of physical discipline.

c)  Neglect – Infrequently involved in daily parenting activities.  Preoccupied with meeting his own needs.  The perpetrator’s physical and emotional unavailability can produce unrequited feelings of fondness in the children who eagerly await attention.

d)  Undermining the victim – Sends a message to the children that it is acceptable for them to treat the victim in the same manner.

e)  Self-centeredness – Some perpetrators use their children to meet their own emotional needs.

f)  Manipulation – To gain power in the home, perpetrators manipulate their children into aligning against the victim.  They may confuse the children regarding who is responsible for the violence.

g)  Direct and Indirect Threats – Perpetrators sometimes threaten to abduct, seek sole custody of, or physically harm the children if the victim is not compliant.

h)  Threat of Physical Harm – When an abuser is physically assaulting his partner, children may attempt to intervene, and could be seriously injured.

The short answer to this question is no.  It is not possible for children to be subjected to violence, manipulation, neglect, and threats and still be receiving adequate parenting.

12.      What happens if I decide to go into a Women’s Shelter?

You and your children will be safe.  We will arrange for your transportation, if you do not have access to a vehicle or a ride.  During your initial intake call, anything you should bring with you will be explained to you.  All food is supplied.  We have a donations room where you and your children can pick out clothing or footwear you might be missing, and if we do not have it, we will ensure that you get it.  There is no cost for you while you remain in the Shelter.   Your privacy is important, but we cannot guarantee that you will have a room to yourself.   We will ask that your medications be locked up in the counsellor’s office, where you will have free access to them but they are away from children.  We will also ask that you do not use any cell phones while in the Shelter as calls can be traced.   It is a communal living environment, and each client is asked to sign a chore board sheet.  We will respect your cultural needs and support you in any decisions you might decide to make.  We will assist you in setting some goals for your future.  We will congratulate you for making the courageous choice to live an abuse-free life.  If you have any questions or concerns about life in a Women’s Shelter, please do not hesitate to call and inquire at 1-800-465-3348.

Safety and peace of mind await you.