I Want To Help

Insights from Survivors

The Learning Network and the Canadian Domestic Homicide Prevention Initiative with Vulnerable Populations have worked with survivors to share their advice to family and friends of those who are experiencing intimate partner violence (IPV). Download the "Stay with Them" resource.

How You Can Identify and Help People at Risk of Domestic Violence

Are you concerned about someone you think is experiencing domestic violence, but uncertain about what to do? Experts have identified warning signs that someone is acting abusively. Other warning signs relate to how a survivor might be feeling or acting. If you recognize some of these warning signs, it may be time to take action. 

Warning Signs of intimate partner abuse

If you recognize some of these warning signs, it may be time to take action.

Warning signs someone is acting abusively:

  • They put their partner down often
  • They do all the talking for their partner and dominate the conversation.
  • They check up on their partner all the time, even at work
  • They claim that they themselves are the victim, despite treating their partner disrespectfully
  • They isolate their partner from other people and try to keep their partner away from friends and family
  • They act like their partner is their property
  • They lie to make themselves look good or exaggerate their good qualities
  • They act like they are superior and of more value than others in the home

Warning signs that someone is experiencing abuse:

  • They are apologetic and makes excuses for their partner’s behaviour or they become defensive when others bring up their partner’s behaviour
  • They are nervous talking when their partner is around
  • They seem to be sick more often and miss work
  • They try to cover up bruises or physical injuries
  • They make excuses at the last minute about why they can’t meet you or other friends or family members
  • They seem sad, lonely, withdrawn and afraid

Signs of high risk

Again, experts have identified conditions and situations that indicate a situation is becoming more dangerous. If someone you know is experiencing abuse and you recognize some of these signs of high risk, we encourage you to reach out for support.

The danger may be greater if:

  • Their partner has access to their children
  • Their partner has access to weapons
  • Their partner has a history of abuse with them or others
  • Their partner has threatened to harm or kill them if they leave and says things like “If I can’t have you, no one will”
  • Their partner threatens to harm their children or their pets or destroy their property
  • Their partner has threatened to kill themself
  • Their partner has choked them
  • Their partner has hit them in the head or done something else that could have led to serious injury or death
  • Their partner is going through major life changes (e.g. job, separation, depression)
  • Their partner is convinced that they are seeing someone else
  • Their partner watches the victim/survivor’s actions, listens to their telephone conversations, reads their emails, or follows them
  • Their partner has trouble keeping a job
  • Their partner takes drugs or drinks every day
  • Their partner has no respect for the law

 

Some signs of high risk relate to a victim/survivor's vulnerability. The risk for a survivor to be seriously harmed or even killed is greater if:

  • They have just separated or are planning to leave
  • They fear for their life and for their children’s safety
  • They cannot see their risk
  • They are in a custody battle, or they have children from a previous relationship
  • They are involved in another relationship
  • They have no access to a phone
  • They face other obstacles (e.g. do not speak English, are not yet a legal resident of Canada, live in a remote area)
  • They have no friends or family

 

Research indicates that women who are under 25 years of age, women with a disability, Indigenous women, women living common-law and trans people are at higher risk of domestic violence.

Supporting survivors of intimate partner violence

You don’t have to be a professional to offer valuable support to a survivor of intimate partner violence. It’s not your responsibility to rescue them or to make them leave. The most important thing that you can do for a survivor is to help them be less isolated. Small acts over time can have a big impact.

Tips for talking to a survivor of intimate partner violence

Here are some ways you can help a victim/survivor when you recognize the warning signs of domestic violence:

  • Talk to the person you are concerned about. Tell them what you see and tell them that you care about them.
  • Never speculate or tell a survivor what you think happened. Stick to what you know for sure.
  • If they disclose domestic violence, tell them you believe them and that it is not their fault.
  • Encourage them not to confront their partner if they are planning to leave. Explain that a  safety plan is vital.
  • Offer to provide childcare and/or pet care while they seek help.
  • Encourage them to pack a small bag with important items and keep it stored at your home in case they need it.
  • Think about whether you can offer your home as a safe haven to the survivor, their children and/or pets. If they accept your offer, do not let their partner or ex-partner in. Develop a safety plan for yourself and anyone else in the family as well as the survivor.
  • Share information about supportive resources. You can start with the [where can I go for help section].

The person you are concerned about may deny the abuse. This is very common. Don’t judge them for not being able to talk about their experiences yet. They may be afraid or not ready to take the next steps. Many survivors feel ashamed. Be patient and look for opportunities to have another conversation.

  • Assure them that they can talk to you any time.
  • Don’t become angry or frustrated with their decisions.
  • Try to understand why they might be having difficulty getting help.
  • Offer to go with the survivor if they need additional information or support.
  • If they have children, let the person you are concerned about know that you are worried about their safety and their children’s safety and emotional well-being. They may be more willing to recognize their situation if they recognize that their children may also be in danger.

Overcoming your hesitation to help

It’s normal to have hesitations about offering help when you know or suspect that someone is experiencing abuse. We have all grown up with the idea that intimate partner violence is a private matter. But we know isn’t true. We all have a role to play in ending intimate partner violence. Here are some things to consider.

Balancing concerns and considerations

Points of Concern

Points to Consider

You feel it’s none of your business

It could be a matter of life or death. Violence is everyone’s business

You don’t know what to say

Saying you care and are concerned is a good start

You might make things worse

Doing nothing could make things worse

It’s not serious enough to involve the police

Police are trained to respond and utilize other resources

You are afraid this violence will turn to you or your family

Speak to the person using abusive behaviour alone. Let the police know if you receive threats

You are afraid the potential perpetrator will become angry with you

Maybe, but it gives you the chance to become angry with you offer your help

You feel that both partners are your friends

One friend is being abused and lives in fear

You believe that if the person using abusive wanted help or wished to change their behaviour, they would ask for help

They may be too ashamed to ask for help

You think it is a private matter

It isn’t when someone is being hurt

Safety Planning

Safety planning is a top priority, whether a survivor chooses to remain in the home or leave. Making a safety plan involves identifying actions to increase the safety of the survivor and the safety of their children.

  • move to a space where you can get outside easily.
  • local shelter. It’s not necessary to live at the shelter to get help with a safety plan. You can find a local shelter move to a space where you can get outside easily.

Here are some suggestions that you can share with the person you are concerned about. Take one action at a time. Start with the one that is easiest and safest.

Increasing safety while living with an abuser

  • Suggest that the survivor think about their partner’s past use and level of force. This will help to predict what type of danger the survivor and their children are facing and when it might be safest to leave if that is what they choose to do.
  • Suggest that the survivor tell their children that abuse is never right, even when someone they love is being abusive. Tell them the abuse isn’t their fault and that they did not cause it. Teach them it is important to keep safe when there is abuse.
  • Suggest that the survivor plan where to go in an emergency and that they teach their children how to get help. Tell the children not to get between their parents if there is violence. Plan a code word to signal they should get help or leave.
  • Suggest that the survivor not run to a place where the children are, as the partner may hurt them as well.
  • Suggest that the survivor create a plan to get out of their home safely and practice it with the children.
  • Suggest that the survivor ask neighbours, friends and family to call the police if they hear sounds of abuse and to look after children in an emergency.
  • Suggest that the survivor move to a space where they can get outside easily if an argument is developing.
  • Suggest that the survivor avoid rooms where there is access to potential weapons (e.g. kitchen, workshop, bathroom).
  • Suggest that the survivor protect their face with their arms around each side of their head, with their fingers locked together if they are being hurt. Advise them not to wear scarves or long jewelry. or hair in a ponytail that the partner can grab.
  • Suggest that the survivor park their car by backing it into the driveway and keep it fuelled.
  • Suggest that the survivor hide keys, cell phone and some money near their escape route.
  • Suggest that the survivor have a list of phone numbers to call for help and that they call the police in an emergency.
  • Suggest that the survivor make sure all weapons and ammunition are hidden or removed from their home.
  • Let the survivor know that the local shelter or police may be able to equip them with a panic button/cell phone.

Getting ready to leave

Here are some suggestions if a survivor is planning to leave;

  • Suggest that the survivor contact the police or a local women’s shelter to let the staff know that they intend to leave an abusive situation and to ask for support in safety planning. If they contact the police, advise them to ask for an officer who specializes in intimate partner abuse situations (information shared with the police may result in charges being laid against the abuser).
  • Suggest that the survivor go to a doctor or an emergency room and report what happened if they are injured and ask them to document the visit.
  • Suggest that the survivor gather important documents such as identification, bank cards, financial papers related to family assets, their most recent Canada Income Tax Return, keys, medication, pictures of the abuser and their children, passports, health cards, personal address/telephone book, cell phone, and legal documents (e.g. immigration papers, house deed/lease, restraining orders/peace bonds).
  • Suggest that the survivor make copies of these documents and leave them with someone they trust if they can’t keep these things stored at home for fear their partner will find them. The local women’s shelter will also keep them.
  • Suggest that the survivor consult a lawyer and that they keep any evidence of physical abuse (such as photos). A journal of all violent incidents, with dates, events, threats and any witnesses is important.
  • Suggest that the survivor put together pictures, jewelry and objects of sentimental value, as well as toys and comfort items for their children.
  • Suggest that the survivor arrange with someone to care for their pets temporarily, until they get settled. A shelter may help with this.
  • Suggest that the survivor clear their phone of the last number they called to avoid their partner utilizing redial.
  • Let the survivor know that the Law Society Referral Service can provide the name of a lawyer who practices family law and will provide a free initial consultation of up to 30 minutes. If they are unable to use the online service because they are in a crisis, they may call 416-947-5255 or toll free 1-855-947-5255.

Leaving an abusive partner

Here are some suggestions to help a survivor stay safe as they are leaving:

  • Suggest that the survivor request a police escort. Police will often provide an escort without laying any charges unless the abusive partner or ex-partner breaks the law in the presence of police while you are leaving.
  • Suggest that the survivor ask a friend, neighbour, or family member to accompany them when they leave if they do not want to involve police. Ask them to be ready to call the police should violence erupt.
  • Suggest that the survivor contact a women’s shelter. It may be a safer temporary spot than going to a place the partner knows. Find local shelters on the Sheltersafe website
  • Suggest that the survivor ask the local women’s shelter to help find a safe temporary place if they are a man or do not identify as a woman.
  • Suggest that the survivor not tell their partner they are leaving.
  • Suggest that the survivor leave quickly.
  • Suggest that the survivor have a back-up plan if their partner finds out where they are going.

After separating

Here are some suggestions to help a survivor stay safe as they are leaving:

  • Suggest that the survivor consider applying for a restraining order or peace bond that may help to keep the partner away from you and your children.
  • Suggest that the survivor apply for a restraining order by going to the court in the municipality where they or the other party lives. If the application involves parenting arrangements, they can start their case in the municipality where the children live.
  • Suggest that the survivor get online information and guidance to apply for a restraining order.
  • Let the survivor know they can go to the criminal service counter of the local provincial courthouse to apply for a Peace Bond.
  • Suggest that the survivor get online information and guidance to apply for a peace bond.
  • Suggest that the survivor always keep a restraining order or peace bond with them if they have one.
  • Suggest that the survivor provide police with a copy of any legal orders they have.
  • Suggest that the survivor consult a lawyer or legal aid clinic about actions to protect themself or their children.
  • Suggest that the survivor let their family lawyer know if there are any Criminal Court proceedings.
  • Suggest that the survivor consider changing any accounts (i.e., utilities, cell phone, bank, etc.) that they share with your ex-partner.
  • Suggest that the survivor obtain an unlisted telephone number, get caller ID and block their number when calling out.
  • Suggest that the survivor make sure their children’s school or day care centre is aware that they have left their partner and that they have copies of all relevant documents.
  • Suggest that the survivor carry a photo of the abuser and their children.
  • Suggest that the survivor ask neighbours to look after their children in an emergency.
  • Suggest that the survivor take extra precautions at work, at home and in the community and consider telling their supervisor at work about their situation.
  • Suggest that the survivor think about places and patterns that their ex-partner will know about and try to change them. For example, consider using a different grocery store or place of worship. Take a different route to work and if they can, change their work hours.
  • Suggest that the survivor ask a neighbour, friend or family member to accompany them if they feel unsafe walking alone.
  • Suggest that the survivor not return to the home they shared with the abuser unless accompanied by the police. Advise them to never confront the abuser.
  • Suggest that the survivor visit the closest police station and ask to speak to an officer who specializes in domestic abuse cases if they haven't already involved the police and want to now.
  • Suggest that the survivor remember that a shelter can help with ongoing safety planning, even if they do not stay there. Find a local shelter on the Sheltersafe

Where can I find out about help for someone experiencing intimate partner violence?

Everyone in the community has a role to play in helping to prevent domestic violence. You can reach out to organizations in your community that support people experiencing domestic violence and those who are perpetrating domestic violence. Many of these services will also give you information about resources close to you in your own community. If you are in immediate danger, call 911.

Crisis & Support Lines for those experiencing intimate partner violence

The Assaulted Women’s Helpline offers a 24-hour telephone line and a TTY crisis line for women experiencing domestic violence in Ontario. The service is anonymous and confidential and is provided in up to 154 languages.

Tel: 1-866-863-0511

TTY: 1-866-863-7868

 

The Ontario Network of Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Treatment Centres 24/7 navigation line helps men, women, trans and non-binary people help in finding and navigating services.

Tel: 1-855-628-7238

 

Trans Lifeline is a peer support phone service run by trans people for our trans and questioning peers. Call if you need someone trans to talk to, even if you’re not in crisis or if you’re not sure you’re trans. The line is 24/7, but when it’s busy it can take a little longer to get connected. Please try calling again.

Tel: 1-877-330-6366

 

Talk4Healing offers 24/7 help, support and resources for Indigenous women, by Indigenous women, all across Ontario. Services are offered in Ojibway, Oji-Cree and Cree
Tel or text: 1-855-554-HEAL

Nisa Helpline is a peer-to-peer counselling helpline available to Muslim women of all ages. It operates Monday to Friday from 10:00am to 10:00pm EST
Tel: 1-888-315-NISA (6472)

 

The Seniors Safety Line is the only 24-hour crisis and support line for seniors in Ontario who have experienced any type of abuse or neglect.  Callers receive emotional support, safety planning, information and referrals in over 200 languages. The Seniors Safety Line (SSL) is a "senior friendly" service with a live counsellor available to help navigate difficult systems, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. 

Tel: 1-866-299-1011

Fem’aide offers French-speaking women who have experienced gender-based violence, support, information and referral to appropriate front-line services within their communities, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Tel: 1-877-femaide (336-2433)
TTY: 1-866-860-7082

Tips for a safe, respectful and supportive conversation

  • Choose the right time and place to have a full discussion.
  • Never tell someone using abusive behaviour anything their partner has told you.
  • Approach the person who you think might be using abusive behaviour when they are calm.
  • Be direct and clear about what you have seen.
  • Educate the person using abusive behaviour about the different types of violence and help them to realize the consequences of their behaviour.
  • Help the person using abusive behaviour to understand that anger is an acceptable emotion but hurting someone is not okay.
  • Tell the person using abusive behaviour that their behaviour is their responsibility. Avoid making judgmental comments. Criticize the behaviour, not the person.
  • Acknowledge the strengths of the person using abusive behaviour. Humiliating them or putting them down will only reinforce the insecurity that is often at the root of abusive behavior.
  • Don’t validate any attempts to blame others for the abusive behaviour.
  • Inform the person that their behaviour needs to stop.
  • Tell the person using abusive behaviour that you are concerned for the safety of their partner and children.
  • Never argue with someone using abusive behaviour about their abusive actions. Recognize that confrontational, argumentative approaches may make the situation worse and put someone who is experiencing intimate partner violence at higher risk.
  • Encourage the person using abusive behaviour to seek help. Let them know that change is possible.
  • Call the police if the person’s partner, ex-partner and/or children’s safety is in jeopardy.

 If the person denies the abuse:

  • People who use abusive behaviour will often minimize the impact of their actions and deny that they have done anything wrong. They may state that the situation isn’t that bad or that they haven’t done anything wrong, or they may blame the victim. This type of behaviour deflects their own responsibility for their actions.
  • Keep your conversation focused on your concerns for their family’s safety and well-being and reiterate that abuse is never an answer.
  • Keep the lines of communication open and look for opportunities to help the person find support to change their behaviour.

Where can I find out about help for someone using abusive behaviour?

Partner Assault Response (PAR) programs, a component of Ontario’s Domestic Violence Court program, are specialized group educational/counselling services offered by community-based agencies to people who have assaulted their partners. Some offenders are ordered to attend the PAR program by the court. PAR programs aim to enhance victim safety and hold offenders accountable for their behaviour.

Talk to an information and referral counsellor or get more information by calling the 24/7 Victim Support Line at 1-888-579-2888, or 416-314-2447 in the Greater Toronto Area, or chat online Monday to Friday from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Eastern Time. The multilingual line provides services across Ontario, in most languages spoken in the province.

Read about Ontario’s Partner Assault Response Program here.