Recognize family violence

Family violence is an abuse of power in a family or other trusting relationship where people rely on each other. When someone experiences family violence, their well-being, security and survival are threatened.

There are many terms or names for family violence with similar meanings. Family violence is a broad term that includes: domestic violence, intimate partner violence, sexual violence, child abuse, neglect and sexual exploitation, child sexual abuse, elder abuse and neglect, and witnessing the abuse of others in the family

Domestic violence

Domestic violence refers to violent or abusive behaviours in an intimate, dependent or trusting relationship. Depending on the place and context, that could refer to family violence or intimate partner violence.

Intimate partner violence

Intimate partner violence means harmful actions – physically, sexually or psychologically – by a current or past partner or spouse.

Know who it affects

Family violence and domestic violence can happen to people of all ages, abilities, cultural and spiritual backgrounds, gender identities and sexual orientations. It can also affect pets and other animals.

Victims of family violence may live together full-time or part-time, or they may live apart. Victims can include:

  • married, common-law and dating partners
  • separated or divorced partners
  • parents who live separately
  • pregnant women
  • birth, adopted, step- and foster children
  • grandparents and other extended family
  • individuals with guardians, trustees or care givers
  • pets

Know the types

There are many types of family violence:

  • spousal or partner abuse
  • child abuse and neglect
  • child sexual exploitation
  • parent or guardian abuse
  • sibling abuse
  • elder abuse and neglect
  • experiencing others being abused
  • pet cruelty

Know the behaviours

Abusive and violent behaviours can happen in private or in front of others. Some examples include:

Physical abuse

  • hitting, punching, kicking, biting, scratching or pulling hair
  • throwing or hitting you with things
  • using or threatening to use a weapon

Verbal abuse

  • name-calling and put-downs
  • yelling
  • swearing

Emotional or psychological abuse

  • making fun of you, your family and friends or your beliefs
  • threatening to hurt or kill you, your children, pets, family members or friends
  • threatening suicide or to take the children if you leave
  • threatening to have you deported
  • refusing you to support you or share physical affection because you are pregnant

Financial abuse

  • limiting your access to cash, bank accounts, credit cards or other family finances
  • preventing you from working
  • spending your pay cheque without your consent
  • running up debts in your name or selling your possessions without permission
  • destroying your personal property


  • failing to make sure a child or another dependent is safe and has emotional support and basic daily needs met

Control, forced isolation or confinement

  • controlling what you do, where you go, or who you talk to and see
  • limiting, delaying or denying your access to health supports or medical care
  • controlling your access to food, supplies and prenatal supports when you are pregnant
  • forcing you to work beyond your ability
  • keeping you a prisoner in your home
  • abandoning you somewhere

Sexual abuse

  • saying things or making gestures or sounds that make you feel degraded, uncomfortable or unsafe
  • forcing you to be touched, kissed or have sex without your consent
  • making you dress in a sexual way
  • making you feel like you owe the other person sex
  • trying to give you a sexually transmitted disease
  • refusing to use condoms or birth control

Spiritual abuse

  • making fun of your beliefs
  • preventing you from taking part in spiritual practices


  • following you around and watching where you live or work
  • sending you unwanted texts or emails
  • making unwanted visits or calls to you
  • contacting your family, friends or co-workers and asking what you are doing and where you are
  • threatening behaviours, like leaving notes on your vehicle or the door to your home or workplace

Know the warning signs

People affected by family violence may cope differently. Some of the common warning signs include:

Adults may:

  • withdraw from family and friends
  • stop going out or doing activities they used to enjoy
  • show a change in personality including mood swings
  • show signs of depression or anxiety
  • hint about abuse
  • talk about their partner's substance use or abuse and concerns about their children seeing it
  • have unexplained bruises or other injuries
  • not want to make even simple decisions without their partner
  • have limited access to money
  • begin to use or abuse drugs or alcohol as a way to cope

Children may:

  • often be left alone, hungry, dirty or not dressed for the weather
  • try to take on adult responsibilities like caring for siblings, doing household tasks or looking after a parent
  • act aggressively towards others
  • withdraw from others, lack energy or act passively
  • be extremely watchful or fearful of parents' reactions
  • have problems at school or with their grades
  • have unexplained bruises or other injuries
  • dress provocatively or inappropriately
  • know more about sex than is normal for their age
  • start smoking or using drugs or alcohol to cope
  • run away from home repeatedly

Youth may:

  • have mood swings
  • change their style of clothing, makeup or hair
  • start hanging out with different people
  • skip or drop out of school, or have falling or failing grades
  • overreact to things that seem small or unimportant
  • seem to lose confidence in themselves
  • withdraw from friends or family
  • stop going out or doing activities they used to enjoy
  • have unexplained bruises or other injuries
  • start smoking or using drugs or alcohol to cope
  • run away from home repeatedly

Older adults may:

  • seem frightened, withdrawn or depressed
  • seem groggy all the time, possibly due to over-medicating
  • show signs of depression or anxiety
  • lose weight or seem too thin
  • wear dirty clothing or clothing not suitable for the season
  • not have their glasses, dentures, hearing or other assistive devices
  • have unexplained bruises, sores or other injuries
  • be isolated from others
  • have items missing from their homes
  • have someone cashing their pension cheques or withdrawing money from their bank accounts
  • have their medication taken from them

If someone you know is experiencing family violence, find out how to help them.

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