You can’t tell if someone is abused by looking at them, bruises from abuse typically aren’t always visible…

Domestic violence, also called “domestic abuse,” “intimate partner violence” or “family terrorism,” is so much more than just physical abuse. It’s a pattern of behavior in any “relationship” that is used to gain or maintain power and control over another person. Abusers manipulate their victims by keeping their attention on their words, not their actions. What cannot be emphasized enough is that anybody can be abused, anytime, anywhere, no matter their background, identity, or socioeconomic status. However, women, girls, and gender-diverse people are at an even higher risk of gender-based violence.

What’s extremely concerning is the already alarmingly high rates of domestic violence have increased by 25 to 33 percent globally with Covid-19, as stated in June 2022, in The American Journal of Emergency Medicine. It is a largely hidden crime since most cases go unreported. Victims are afraid to report their experience for fear of further abuse or any number of repercussions at home or work. Working from home for an extended period may heighten stress and anxiety and may aggravate pre-existing patterns of abuse. In some of these cases, people have experienced job loss as well. Confinement may also create new tensions, resulting in domestic abuse.

Under the new Divorce Act, which was amended in March 2021, the court must consider any existing or upcoming civil protection, child protection, or criminal court actions when family violence is an issue. When deciding on the best interest of a child, the court will have to consider whether family violence is an issue. If family violence is a factor, some of the factors that the court will examine, if they will actually accept that violence is present in the case, include:

  • How often the family violence is?
  • How serious the family violence is?
  • Whether coercive and controlling behaviour is present?
  • Whether the violent person has taken steps to prevent violence and improve their parenting?

I spoke with a founder of a domestic violence shelter who stated that from January 1, 2023, to February 13, 2023, they had already helped 357 people at their one and only location. One of the biggest issues with domestic violence shelters is they do not have the capacity to help many victims who are attempting to flee the violence and protect their children.

Domestic violence includes any form of abuse within a relationship:

  • Emotional abuse is undermining a person’s sense of self-worth through constant criticism; belittling one’s abilities; name-calling or other verbal abuse; damaging a partner’s relationship with the children; or not letting a partner see friends and family.
  • Psychological abuse includes causing fear by intimidation; threatening physical harm to self, partner, or children; destruction of pets and property; “mind games”; or forcing isolation from friends, family, school and/or work.
  • Sexual abuse involves forcing a partner to take part in a sexual act when the partner does not consent. 
  • Stalking involves any pattern of behavior that serves no legitimate purpose and is intended to harass, annoy, or terrorize the victim. Stalking activities include repeated telephone calls, unwelcome letters or gifts by mail, surveillance at work, home, and other places that the victim is known to frequent. Be aware that Stalking usually escalates. This includes online stalking and cyber bullying, which can take place via text, email, social media, messaging, and gaming platforms.
  • Financial or economic abuse involves making or attempting to make a person financially dependent by maintaining total control over financial resources, withholding access to money, and/or forbidding attendance at school or employment. Another serious form of financial abuse that has become much worse over the past 20 years is legal abuse through the family court system. Family court is a finely tuned business, generating serious profits from families of divorce of approximately $10 Billion dollars annually in Canada and approximately $100 Billion dollars annually in the US.

Two of the most common words we hear today pertaining to abuse are gaslighting and coercive control. Coercive control is a tactic the abuser uses to shift the focus of concern from the partner’s abusive behaviour to the supposed emotional and psychological instability of the survivor. Coercion is a pattern of intimidation, degradation, isolation and control with the use or threat of physical or sexual violence. A recent story I think is an example of coercion and gaslighting is the Gabby Petito murder, where a 22-year-old woman, on a road trip across the U.S. with her fiancé, was diminished and minimized to stop complaining and cooperate with her abuser.  Even the police were not educated enough, or were so immune to abuse, they did not spot the red flags and protect Gabby from murder.

If the forms of abuse are more obvious, like verbal or physical, we may recognize and choose to exit the relationship before we are caught in the web of charm. If the abuse starts slowly and to a lesser degree, we may be coerced and manipulated into staying longer because they apologize and we tell ourselves they didn’t mean it, it won’t happen again. Then it does, more and more. Eventually, it does not stop.  Victims often remain in toxic relationships far too long. Women could feel trapped if they chose to be a full-time mother over their career. In extreme situations of domestic violence, the abuser takes their victim’s life, and sometimes the lives of their children.

What to do when you recognize the signs of Domestic Violence?                    

Abusive partners are often outwardly charming, hiding their intolerance and vindictiveness behind a thin veil of courtesy and affection. They diminish the red flags, especially at the beginning of a relationship. If someone appears to be too nice, extremely charming, and is pushing you into a relationship too fast, be careful! These are all red flags of a potential abuser. Demand space and time to get to know someone. If this person does not give you the time you want to move at a slower pace, consider meeting other people. Take it from someone who knows, it is better to be alone than in an unhealthy relationship.

Victims may be afraid to report the crimes perpetrated against them, however, it is the only way for us to how people accountable, raise awareness and create the change we desire in the world. It is critical we speak up for ourselves and others.

Four actions to take when you know you are an unhealthy relationship:

  1. Create a safety plan with a trusted family member or friend. Ensure friends and neighbors know how to support you in the event you need help. Build a network of safety people and options.
  2. Protect your communication and location. Abusers use technology to stalk their victims and cause chaos every day. Change passwords regularly. Add a VPN to your phone and computers.
  3. If you require support from a shelter, contact the shelter to ensure they can accommodate you and gather the other details you need from the contact person.
  4. In an emergency call 911. Make sure the police file a report and appropriate charges are laid.

                         “Trauma is not your fault, but healing, is absolutely your responsibility.”

Written by Karen Estabrooks


Taken from and reworded: