Domestic violence

Domestic violence, also referred to as “intimate partner” abuse, is a crime in Canada. Primarily committed by men against women, domestic violence can be committed by women against men and also occurs in same-sex relationships.

Domestic violence transcends all boundaries and stereotypes. It is found at all income and education levels, in all social classes, in all religions and in all races and cultures.

Domestic abuse does not always involve physical violence. Abuse can include other forms of mistreatment and cruelty such as constant threatening, psychological/emotional, financial/material, spiritual and verbal abuse. It can also include sexual assault, in which case the victim has the same options as any other person who has been sexually assaulted. Domestic abuse results from an imbalance of power and control in a relationship.

(For more information on tactics used by an abuser to maintain power and control over their partner, see power and control wheel.)

Differences between abuse of women and abuse of men

While the Statistics Canada 1999 General Social Survey indicates that relatively equal proportions of women and men report spousal violence, it also indicates that women are abused more severely than men.

Whereas men are more likely to be kicked, bitten, hit, slapped or have something thrown at them, women are more likely to be sexually assaulted, choked, beaten, pushed, grabbed, shoved or threatened with a knife or gun.

Women are

  • more than twice as likely as male victims to be physically injured by their partners;
  • six times more likely to receive medication attention;
  • five time more likely to be hospitalized due to injuries; and
  • three times more likely to have to take time off paid or unpaid work to deal with the consequences of the violence.

Not only is domestic abuse against women typically more violent, but it is also more frequent. Women are twice as likely to report chronic and ongoing assaults (10 or more occurrences) than are men.1

Possible health effects

Most health-care providers are aware of the physical injuries that can occur during a domestic violence situation. However, studies show that men and women react very differently to domestic abuse.

Men are far less likely to report any emotional repercussions to being victimized by a spouse. When they do report it, they tend to describe feelings of anger, confusion, and shock.

While women report these feelings as well, they are more inclined than men to report ongoing feelings of fear for both themselves and their children, as well as depression, guilt and anxiety.2

Other common effects of abuse include, but are not limited to:

  • Hypertension
  • Headaches
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Eating disorders
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Gastrointestinal pain
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder

Children witnessing abuse

In Canada, it is estimated that each year 800,000 children are exposed to a woman being abused.3 When children witness abuse they receive the message that violence is an acceptable way to resolve conflict and therefore a normal part of a relationship.

The impact of witnessing abuse depends on the age and developmental stage of the child, the frequency and severity of the abuse along with the support systems in place for the child.

Children often become victims of physical violence as well. Children are harmed in 10 percent of spousal assaults against women and 4 percent of spousal assaults against men.4

Typical long-term effects on children witnessing a woman being abused

Adapted from A handbook for health and social service providers and educators on children exposed to woman abuse/family violence, Ottawa: Health Canada, 19995

Infants Preschool 5–12 years 12–18 years
Disruption in eating and sleeping routines Poor concentration Low self-esteem Being abused or becoming abusive
Fearful of loud noises Fear Post-traumatic stress disorder Suicidal behaviour
Delays in development Separation anxiety Self-harm Disrespect for females
Excessive crying Frequent illness Bullying Bullying
Physical neglect Hitting, biting Depression Poor peer relationships
  Clinging Perfectionism Running away
  Anger and aggression Problems in school Feeling over-responsible
  Cruelty to animals Inappropriate sexual behaviour Pleasing behaviour
  Regressive behaviour Alcohol/drug use Anxiety and tension
  Destruction of property    


  • In 2004, 7% of women and 6% of men reported having been assaulted by an intimate partner in the previous five years.6
  • Almost 30,000 women and dependent children were admitted to Ontario shelters between April 1, 2003 and March 31, 2004.7
  • 53% of Ontario women escaping abusive situations were admitted with their children; 65% of these children were under the age of 10.8
  • 51% of women and 34% of men who reported to the police that they had been assaulted by their spouse said their children had witnessed the violence; of those, 62% of woman and 49% of men feared for their lives.9
  • 16% of women who were victimized by their spouse were sexually assaulted.10
  • Almost 45% of women and 19% of men assaulted by a partner suffered physical injuries.11
  • 22% of men and women accused of spousal homicide or attempted spousal homicide had a history of police-reported spousal violence.12
  • Only 37% of women and 17% of men who were victims of spousal abuse reported it to the police.13


1 Johnson, H., Measuring Violence Against Women—Statistical Trends 2006, Ottawa: Statistics Canada, 2006,

2 AuCoin, K. and D. Beauchamp, Impacts and Consequences of Victimization, GSS 2004, Ottawa: Statistics Canada, 2007

3 Peel Committee Against Woman Abuse, Breaking the Cycle of Violence—Children Exposed to Woman Abuse, April 2006

4 Dauvergne, M. and H. Johnson, Children Witnessing Family Violence, Ottawa: Statistics Canada, 2001

5 A Handbook for Health and Social Service Providers and Educators on Children Exposed to Woman Abuse/Family Violence, Ottawa: Health Canada,1999

6 Measuring Violence Against Women

7 de Léséleuc, S. and A. Taylor-Butts, Transition Homes in Canada: National, Provincial and Territorial Fact Sheets 2003/04, Ottawa: Statistics Canada, 2005

8 Ibid.

9 Measuring Violence Against Women

10 Ibid.

11 Ibid.

12 Ogrodnik, L. (ed.), Family Violence in Canada: A Statistical Profile, Ottawa: Statistics Canada, 2007

13 Measuring Violence Against Women