FAQ

What will staff at the Assaulted Women’s Helpline say when I call with concerns that my neighbour may be abused?
Here are some of the ways you can help when you recognize the warning signs of abuse

  • Talk to her about what you see and assure her that you are concerned. Tell her you believe her and that it is not her fault.
  • Encourage her not to confront her partner if she is planning to leave. Her safety must be protected.
  • Offer to provide childcare while she seeks help.
  • Offer your home as a safe haven to her, her children and pets. If she accepts your offer, do not let her partner in.
  • Encourage her to pack a small bag with important items and keep it stored at your home in case she needs it.
  • Know that you or she can call for help at the Assaulted Women’s Helpline, your local shelter or, in an emergency, the police.
  • Give her written materials about ways she can protect herself. The enclosed brochure “How You Can Identify and Help Women at Risk of Abuse” may be helpful.
  • If you want to get further advice about a situation, contact a local women’s shelter or the Assaulted Women’s Helpline. They can help.

Remember, you don’t have to be an expert and your role is not to be a counselor. There are professionals in your community who provide expert services and advice. What you can do is be supportive, and let her know there are services she can contact and people who can help. If you know someone who is being abused by her partner, there are many things you can do that will make a real difference. For advice, call the Assaulted Women’s Helpline at 1-866-863-0511 (1-866-863-7868 TTY).

What are some concrete things I should do to help a woman I know who is abused?
Here are some of the ways you can help when you recognize the warning signs of abuse

  • Talk to her about what you see and assure her that you are concerned. Tell her you believe her and that it is not her fault.
  • Encourage her not to confront her partner if she is planning to leave. Her safety must be protected.
  • Offer to provide childcare while she seeks help.
  • Offer your home as a safe haven to her, her children and pets. If she accepts your offer, do not let her partner in.
  • Encourage her to pack a small bag with important items and keep it stored at your home in case she needs it.
  • Know that you or she can call for help at the Assaulted Women’s Helpline, your local shelter or, in an emergency, the police.
  • Give her written materials about ways she can protect herself. The enclosed brochure “How You Can Identify and Help Women at Risk of Abuse” may be helpful.
  • If you want to get further advice about a situation, contact a local women’s shelter or the Assaulted Women’s Helpline. They can help.

Remember, you don’t have to be an expert and your role is not to be a counselor. There are professionals in your community who provide expert services and advice. What you can do is be supportive, and let her know there are services she can contact and people who can help. If you know someone who is being abused by her partner, there are many things you can do that will make a real difference. For advice, call the Assaulted Women’s Helpline at 1-866-863-0511 (1-866-863-7868 TTY).
What if she denies the abuse?
Sometimes women aren’t yet ready, comfortable or feel unsafe sharing information about abuse. If she denies abuse:

  • Assure her she can talk to you any time.
  • Don’t become angry or frustrated with her decisions. It is important to understand that she may be afraid or not ready to take next actions.
  • Try to understand why she might be having difficulty getting help. She may feel ashamed.
  • Offer to go with her if she needs additional information or support.
  • If she has children, let her know gently that you are concerned about her and her children’s safety and emotional well being. She may be more willing to recognize her situation if she recognizes her children may also be in danger.

How do I have a conversation with a man who is abusive?
Sometimes people around an abusive man overlook his behaviour and only focus on supporting the abused woman. At other times, people may sympathize with the abusive man, which may inadvertently escalate his abuse. Talking to an abusive man is an important part of preventing woman abuse, but it needs to be done carefully.

Speaking to abusive men may seem difficult and uncomfortable. However, if you know an abusive man and are concerned about the safety of his partner or children, there are ways to create opportunities to talk to him and offer support to his family while being aware of potential risks. (See the “How to Talk to Men Who Are Abusive” brochure for more information.) But remember, abusive behaviour won’t go away on its own. It’s important to encourage him to seek help for his behaviour.

Before speaking to an abusive man, it is important to consider your personal safety and how this discussion may affect his partner’s and children’s safety. If you are unsure about the risks, you might consider speaking with a woman’s advocate who can help you make the best plan for speaking to the abusive man.

IMPORTANT: Never put yourself in the middle of a violent situation. If you witness a violent incident, call 911 or your local police services.

When you recognize the warning signs of abuse, consider the following tips before you decide to approach him:

  • Choose the right time and place to have a full discussion.
  • Approach him when he is calm.
  • Be direct and clear about what you have seen.
  • Tell him that his behaviour is his responsibility. Avoid making judgmental comments about him as a person. Don’t validate his attempt to blame others for his behaviour.
  • Inform him that his behaviour needs to stop.
  • Don’t try to force him to change or to seek help.
  • Tell him that you are concerned for the safety of his partner and children.
  • Never argue with him about his abusive actions. Recognize that confrontational, argumentative approaches may make the situation worse and put her at higher risk.
  • Call the police if the woman’s safety is in jeopardy.

What if when I speak to an abusive man, he admits to being abusive? What do I do then?
Ask him how he may have reached the point of using violence and abuse. Tell him you believe he can change if he really wants to, and you will support him in his efforts. When talking with anyone about abuse, remember to talk about the important connection between his thoughts and attitudes about women and men, and how these things can lead to abusive behaviours toward women. If there is ongoing abuse, suggest possible support services (e.g. partner assault response counselling program) he may be able to access for help.

It is important to avoid justifying or excusing his abusive behaviour. Never condone or support abuse in any way. Encourage him to take responsibility for his abuse and to stop using controlling behaviours. Also, try to help him think through the benefits and drawbacks of healthy and abusive relationships. Remember, you don’t have to be an expert and your role is not to be a counselor. There are professionals in your community who provide expert services and advice. What you can do is be supportive, and let him know there are services he can contact and people who can help. For a list of partner assault programs, call the Assaulted Women’s Helpline at 1-866-863-0511 (1-866-863-7868 TTY).

What if he denies the abuse and refuses to talk about it?
Minimizing, denying and blaming are well known tactics of abusive men. They are used to deflect responsibility for behaviour that hurts others. Men who are abusive will often minimize and deny that they have done anything wrong, state that it isn't that bad or blame the victim for their actions. When talking to a man who is abusive, you will likely meet with resistance to what you are saying. Being prepared to address his behaviour includes recognizing he will likely deny his abuse as a way of refusing to accept responsibility for his actions.

This doesn’t mean that you haven’t made a difference. At the very least, he is now aware that other people consider his behaviour to be abusive and unacceptable. Now that you have spoken with him, he may choose to talk to you about the abuse in the future. Teaching people about equality and healthy relationships is not a single act or event. Instead, it is an ongoing effort to share information and ideas with others.

Let him know that he is not alone. Let him know that you are there to support him. Also, try to help him recognize which behaviours are abusive and controlling. Controlling behaviours include any attempts at preventing a partner from doing what she wants to do (e.g., stopping her from getting a job or seeing someone she cares about). Emphasize the benefits of seeking help and finding healthy alternatives for resolving conflicts. Be prepared to help him access support services.

Here are some suggestions you can consider if he is denying his actions:
 
 

  • Keep your conversation focused on your concerns for his family’s safety and well-being and reiterate abuse is never an answer.
  • Keep the lines of communication open and look for opportunities to help him find support.

How do we know if a child is being exposed to woman abuse?
Children may not verbalize their experience about being exposed to woman abuse, but there are warning signs. While children can be very resilient, and there are some children who display few short-term or long-term negative consequences from being exposed, the risk of future harm and child maltreatment increases for children who are exposed to woman abuse.

These warning signs may indicate a child has been exposed to woman abuse:

  • physical complaints (headaches, stomach aches)
  • tiredness
  • constant worry about possible danger and/or safety of loved ones
  • sadness and/or withdrawal from others and activities
  • low self-esteem and lack of confidence, especially for trying new things (including academic tasks)
  • difficulty paying attention in class, concentrating on work and learning new information
  • outbursts of anger directed toward other adults, peers or self
  • bullying and/or aggression directed toward peers and siblings
  • stereotyped beliefs about males as aggressors and females as victims

Older children may display these signs:

  • suicidal thoughts and actions
  • high risk behaviour including criminal activities, alcohol and substance abuse
  • school truancy or leaving home
  • dating violence

What are the potential impacts on the child of being exposed to woman abuse?
Watching, hearing or learning later of a mother being abused by her partner threatens young people’s sense of stability and security.

The potential impacts on children and adolescents include:
 

  • increased emotional and behavioural difficulties.
  • traumatic stress reactions (e.g., flashbacks, nightmares, intensified startled reactions, constant worry about possible danger).
  • increased risk of physical injury or childhood abuse (e.g., physical, emotional).

The perpetrator may use children and adolescents as a control tactic against adult victims. Examples include:
 

  • claiming the children’s bad behaviour is the reason for the assaults on their mother;
  • threatening violence against children and their pets in front of the victim;
  • holding them hostage or abducting them in an effort to punish their mother or to gain compliance;
  • talking negatively to them about their mother.

Children and adolescents may experience strong ambivalence toward their violent parent. Affection coexists with feelings of resentment and disappointment.
 

  • Young people may imitate and learn the attitudes and behaviours modeled when woman abuse occurs. They may: use violence and threats to get what they want, learn people do not get in trouble when they hurt others, believe men are in charge and get to control women’s lives, and believe that women don’t have the right to be treated with respect.
  • Exposure to violence may desensitize children and adolescents to aggressive behaviour. When this occurs, aggression becomes part of the “norm” and is less likely to signal concern to them.

If I am able to speak safely with a mother about her child(ren), what is the most important information to convey?
The most important thing to convey to a mother is your concern for her safety and the safety of her children. Use non-blaming language when you talk to her about the impact that woman abuse may be having on her child(ren).

It may be helpful to work together to develop some ideas for ways to lessen the negative impact on her children. These talking points can be included in the discussion with the mother:

  • Emphasize the importance of providing children with the opportunity to safely express their feelings. Explain to her that she could try to provide examples of different feelings (i.e. happy, sad, frustrated, scared, etc.), appropriate ways to express them, and ways to recognize them in others.
  • Use non-judgmental terms when referring to her child’s behaviour – do not use ‘good’, ‘bad’, ‘not nice’, etc.
  • Illustrate the importance of creating a safety plan for her and her children.
  • Suggest that children have a chance to be in control of something. The opportunity to make decisions increases their self-esteem and sense of control.
  • Encourage the mother not to demonize or criticize the offending parent. This may confuse children and create feelings of disloyalty.

Women are just as abusive as men, right?
While some men do experience violence within an intimate relationship, the vast majority of victims are women.

According the Statistics Canada’s 2006 Family Violence in Canada: A Statistical Profile:

  • In 2004, there were nearly 28,000 incidents of spousal violence reported to the police: 84% of victims were female; 16% of victims were male. Women were more likely than men to report being targets of 10 or more violent spousal episodes (pg 11).
  • Over a 10 year period, police reports showed males were much more likely than females to be the perpetrators of spousal violence incidents coming to the attention of police and more likely to repeatedly abuse their spouse (pg 13):
    • One time incidents - 86% male vs. 15% female
    • Repeated abuse incidents - 94% male vs. 6% female
    • Chronic abuse incidents - 97% male vs. 3% female
  • Women were twice as likely to be injured as a result of spousal violence (pg 21)

Overall, women are more likely to be victims of more severe forms of violence than are men. The Family Violence in Canada, A Statistical Profile, 2005, Statistics Canada showed that women and men experienced very different types of spousal violence and that the impact of the violence is more serious for women than men (page 13). For instance, the data showed that:

  • female victims of spousal violence were more than twice as likely to be injured as male victims.
  • women were three times more likely to fear for their life, and twice as likely to be the targets of more than 10 violent episodes.
  • women were three times more likely to take time off from their everyday activities because of the violence; and
  • women were sexually assaulted in intimate relationships, whereas men were not.
  • Women who experienced violence during a relationship stated that the violence increased in severity or frequency after separation, whereas men did not experience this.

These data support the notion that spousal violence against women is often an issue of power and control; when the woman leaves the relationship, the man’s control over his partner is threatened and as a result the violence escalates against the woman (pg 16).

The same report showed that for men the most serious violence they experienced was being pushed, shoved, or slapped (34%) and being kicked, bit, hit or hit with something (34%).

A copy of these reports is available online at:
(2005)
(2006)

The Domestic Violence Death Review Committee Annual Report to the Chief Coroner, 2005 reported that, of the 100 cases they examined between 2002 to 2005, females were victims in 93% of the cases and males were victims in 7% of these cases. Males perpetrated the violence in 94%of cases, verses 6% for females. They state that “domestic violence fatalities are not gender-neutral events.”

How do women use violence?
Violence against anyone is unacceptable and should not be condoned whether it is instigated by men or women. An exception is when violence is used to protect one’s self, one’s children or pets. Furthermore, being with a partner who is dominating and controlling creates trauma for the victim or victims. Abused women may become aggressive and angry in response to the trauma they endure and this is a warning sign (for more signs see “Warning Signs of Abuse")

Research literature and women’s advocates generally acknowledge that women’s use of violence can be motivated by numerous circumstances including (but not limited to):

  • Self-protection and/or protection of loved ones, such as children and pets (the most common reason for the use of violence)
  • A reaction to being abused, dominated and controlled where she is not the dominate aggressor,
  • The need to get away from the abuser, during separation or during an attack (this can also be a form of self-protection)
  • The desire to control and dominate her partner (research shows that this is in five percent of cases (1, 2, 3)

1. Belknap and Melton’s “In Brief: Are Heterosexual Men Also Victims of Intimate Partner Abuse?” Washington DC: Applied Research Forum, National Electronic Network on Violence Against Women, National Resource Center on Domestic Violence.
 
 
2. Miller and Meloy’s “Women’s Use of Force”, Violence Against Women, Volume 12, Number 1, January 2006, pp. 89-115.
3. Johnson and Leone’s “The Differential Effects of Intimate Terrorism and Situational Couple Violence: Findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey.” Journal of Family Issues, 26(3), 2005, pp. 322-349.
But women are equal now...aren’t they?
Even though laws and social policies have changed in an effort to mitigate inequality between women and men, gender stereotyping persists generation after generation because of the messages we give children about how we value women and men. These messages are relayed through song lyrics, advertisements, movies, television, video games, and through the influential words of other adults around them.

Young boys and men often have more opportunities, power and privilege in academics, athletics, employment, the criminal justice system, and their intimate relationships. Some believe they are superior to women on all levels (i.e. intellectually, socially, financially, and parentally) and therefore have the right, or that their role justifies the use of abusive, dominating behaviour to gain and maintain their positions of authority and prestige. Oppression is sustained by the privilege associated with a preferred gender, race, religion, class, sexual orientation, age and physical ability.

In order to end woman abuse, all women must become equal to men and be valued and respected equally in society.

Why do you only talk about women who are abused, what about men who are abused?
The term domestic violence implies that this problem affects men and women equally. Statistics Canada survey findings may also give this impression, if you don't look closely at the results. Abusive men often say they were abused. This is one of our warning signs "He tries to suggest he is the victim and acts depressed". When Statistics Canada does its random survey for the GSS they ask both men and women alike if they experienced a range of violent acts, from slapping to very serious forms of violence. The research doesn’t ask questions that determine if the acts of violence were as a response to violence directed at them by their partner or if the violence directed at men is unilateral.

Violence against men implies that women initiate the violence. An important distinction must be made when women use violence to protect themselves. Women who act in self protection or self defence are not initiating violence against men.

It is problematic that the police have been laying charges against women when they have acted in self protection or self defence. This had contributed to the creation of inaccurate statistics. This incorrect police charging practice is currently being rectified by MCSCS - they are changing the terminology to instruct officers to investigate and to determine who is the primary or dominant aggressor. This should reduce the number of women being charged when they hit back to try to stop their partner’s violence and domination.

As the 2005, Domestic Violence Death Review Committee Report to the Chief Coroner points out, “domestic violence fatalities are not gender neutral events.” Their review provided statistics that support this assertion, “The overall data from Ontario domestic violence homicides…suggest that approximately 80% of the cases involve males as perpetrators and women as victims, a four-to-one ratio. This percentage and ratio is comparable to other DVDRC findings in the US and the national homicide data according to Statistics Canada.

Here are some statistics that demonstrate that the violence is directed primarily at women:
According the Statistics Canada’s 2006 Family Violence in Canada: A Statistical Profile:
- In 2004, there were nearly 28,000 incidents of spousal violence reported to the police: 84% of victims were female; 16% of victims were male. Women were more likely than men to report being targets of 10 or more violent spousal episodes (pg 11).
- Over a 10 year period, police reports showed males were much more likely than females to be the perpetrators of spousal violence incidents coming to the attention of police and more likely to repeatedly abuse their spouse (pg 13):

  • One time incidents - 86% male vs 15% female
  • Repeated abuse incidents - 94% male vs 6% female
  • Chronic abuse incidents - 97% male vs 3% female
  • Women were twice as likely to be injured as a result of spousal violence (pg 21)

Overall, women are more likely to be victims of more severe forms of violence than are men. The Family Violence in Canada, A Statistical Profile, 2005, Statistics Canada showed that women and men experienced very different types of spousal violence and that the impact of the violence is more serious for women than men (page 13). For instance, the data showed that:

  • female victims of spousal violence were more than twice as likely to be injured as male victims
  • women were also three times more likely to fear for their life, and twice as likely to be the targets of more than 10 violent episodes
  • women were three times more likely to take time off from their everyday activities because of the violence
  • women were sexually assaulted in an intimate relationship, whereas men were not
  • women who experienced violence during a relationship stated that the violence increased in severity or frequency after separation, whereas the men did not experience this

The Expert Panel of Neighbours, Friends and Families offers this perspective on the gendered nature of violence against women:

Why use the term “woman abuse” rather than “domestic violence”, “family violence”, “intimate partner violence” or the many other terms that are often used interchangeably to describe the abusive situations that women experience? Abuse is a more inclusive term than ‘violence’. . Using the term “woman abuse” acknowledges that women’s experience of violence is rooted in the social economic and political inequality of women. Using the term ‘woman abuse’ captures a wide spectrum of behaviours, including physical and sexual violence, but does not dilute the existence of other seriously abusive acts including control, intimidation, threats, and isolation. Abuse survivors relate that the non-physical forms of abuse can often be just as devastating as physical abuse.

The term ‘woman abuse’ acknowledges that women experience abuse at the hands of intimate partners in far greater numbers than men in our society. Women also experience more severe physical injury and trauma, emotional, social and economic impact as a result of the violence than men often will. Statistics and the experiences of men also indicate that their lives are not plagued by such abuses at the same rates, or in the same numbers.

Sample response to a woman expressing concern that her family member/friend/neighbour may be experiencing abuse (Woman disclosed experiencing abuse herself)
Thank you for your email expressing concerns about your neighbour’s safety. Your own personal experiences of abuse may enable you to be more aware of the warning signs of abuse.

Woman abuse may be experienced in many ways: physical or sexual assault, emotional abuse, spiritual abuse and/or control of finances and access to family, friends and community. Woman abuse hurts, damages, humiliates, isolates, intimidates, traps and sometimes kills.

There are certainly clear signs of woman abuse and recognizing the warning signs and risk factors of woman abuse is the first step in helping an abused woman. If you are concerned about her immediate safety, call the police.

If you know what language your neighbour speaks, you may also wish to provide her with a safety planning brochure, but it will be important to ensure the abuser is not around at the time.

The Ontario Women’s Directorate is co-leading the Neighbours, Friends and Families public campaign, with the Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children, to raise awareness of the signs of woman abuse so that people can help women who are at-risk of being abused or men who are abusive. In these campaign materials you will find extensive information about the warning signs and ways you may help.
The resources are entitled:

  • Safety Planning For Women Who are Abused
  • How You Can Identify and Help Women at Risk of Abuse
  • How to Talk to Men Who are Abusive
  • Safety Planning Tips For Women Who are Abused
  • Warning Signs to Identify and Help Women At Risk of Abuse

The materials are available in 14 languages:

  • Arabic
  • Chinese Simplified and Traditional Characters
  • English
  • Farsi
  • French
  • Korean
  • Punjabi for both Pakistani and Indian communities
  • Russian
  • Somali
  • Spanish
  • Tamil
  • Vietnamese

These resources can be ordered for free at: 519-438-9869 ext. 222 or by email at nff@uwo.ca. To view the brochures immediately, or get further information about the Neighbours, Friends and Families campaign, go to: www.neighboursfriendsandfamilies.ca.

You may also wish to call the Assaulted Women’s Helpline at 1-866-863-0511. This is a 24-hour telephone and TTY 1-866-863-7868 crisis line for abused women in Ontario. The service is anonymous and confidential and is provided in up to 154 languages.

Helpline staff can also support you, a concerned neighbour, in helping the abused woman or abusive man. They will discuss the warning signs of abuse you have seen and give you practical advice on ways to help.

For more information about the services of the Assaulted Women’s Helpline visit: www.awhl.org.

I am glad to hear that your personal experiences of abuse are behind you. Please remember, if you are ever concerned about your own safety you may also talk to the Assaulted Women’s Helpline about your own situation.

Thank you for your concern and efforts to prevent and end woman abuse.