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 don’t know what to do? This information describes the warning signs and steps you can take to help.

Warning Signs of Domestic Violence

You may suspect domestic violence is happening to someone you know, such as a neighbour, friend or family member, but don't know what to do or how to talk about it. You may worry about making the situation worse or be concerned about what to do. By understanding the domestic violence warning signs and risk factors, you can help.

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 aggressive and angry 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
  • They seem sad, lonely, withdrawn and afraid

Safety Planning for People who Experience Domestic Violence

Are you experiencing abuse by your partner, but aren’t sure how to protect yourself or how to leave?

This information describes the actions you can take to protect your safety and the safety of your children and describes how you can develop a plan to leave. If you are not ready to leave, you can still contact a women’s shelter for help with safety planning. You don’t need to stay there to access their services.

Developing a Safety Plan

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

Below are some suggestions that might be helpful to you. Take one action at a time. Start with the one that is easiest and safest for you.

Protecting yourself while living with an abuser:

  • Tell someone you trust about the abuse.
  • Think about your partner’s past use and level of force. This will help you predict what type of danger you and your children are facing and when it might be safest to leave if that is what you choose to do.
  • Tell your children that abuse is never right, even when someone they love is being abusive. Tell them the abuse isn’t your fault or their fault; they did not cause it, and neither did you. Teach them it is important to keep safe when there is abuse.
  • Plan where to go in an emergency. Teach your children how to get help. Tell them not to get between you and your partner if there is violence. Plan a code word to signal they should get help or leave.
  • Don’t run to a place where the children are, as your partner may hurt them as well.
  • Create a plan to get out of your home safely and practice it with your children.
  • Ask your neighbours, friends and family to call the police if they hear sounds of abuse and to look after your children in an emergency.
  • If an argument is developing, move to a space where you can get outside easily.
  • Don’t go to a room where there is access to potential weapons (e.g. kitchen, workshop, bathroom).
  • If you are being hurt, protect your face with your arms around each side of your head, with your fingers locked together. Don’t wear scarves or long jewelry. Don’t wear your hair in a ponytail that your partner can grab.
  • Park your car by backing it into the driveway and keep it fuelled.
  • Hide your keys, cell phone and some money near your escape route.
  • Have a list of phone numbers to call for help. Call the police if it is an emergency.
  • Your local shelter or police may be able to equip you with a panic button/cell phone.
  • Make sure all weapons and ammunition are hidden or removed from your home.

Getting Ready to Leave

When you are planning to leave, here are some suggestions:

  • Contact the police or a local women’s shelter. Let the staff know that you intend to leave an abusive situation and ask for support in safety planning. If you contact the police, ask for an officer who specializes in domestic abuse situations (information shared with the police may result in charges being laid against the abuser).
  • The Law Society Referral Service [https://www.lso.ca/public-resources/finding-a-lawyer-or-paralegal/law-society-referral-service?lang=en-ca] can provide you with the name of a lawyer who practices family law and will provide a free initial consultation of up to 30 minutes. If you are unable to use the online service because you are in a crisis, you may call 416-947-5255 or toll free 1-855-947-5255.
  • If you are injured, go to a doctor or an emergency room and report what happened to you. Ask them to document your visit.
  • Gather important documents:
    • identification, bank cards, financial papers related to family assets, last Canada Income Tax Return, keys, medication, pictures of the abuser and your children, passports, health cards, personal address/telephone book, cell phone, and legal documents (e.g. immigration papers, house deed/lease, restraining orders/peace bonds).

  • If you can’t keep these things stored in your home for fear your partner will find them, consider making copies and leave them with someone you trust. Your local women’s shelter will also keep them for you.
  • Consult a lawyer. Keep any evidence of physical abuse (such as photos). Keep a journal of all violent incidents, noting dates, events, threats and any witnesses.
  • Put together pictures, jewelry and objects of sentimental value, as well as toys and comfort items for your children.
  • Arrange with someone to care for your pets temporarily, until you get settled. A shelter may help with this.
  • Remember to clear your phone of the last number you called to avoid your partner utilizing redial.

     

Leaving an Abusive Partner

Here are some suggestions for your personal safety when you leave:

  • 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.
  • If you do not want to involve police, ask a friend, neighbour, or family member to accompany you when you leave. Ask them to be ready to call the police should violence erupt while you are trying yo leave.
  • Contact your local women’s shelter. It may be a safer temporary spot than going to a place your partner knows.
  • If you are a man or do not identify as a woman, ask your local women’s shelter to help you find a safe temporary place where you can go.
  • Do not tell your partner you are leaving.
  • Leave quickly.
  • Have a back-up plan if your partner finds out where you are going.

After Leaving

Here are some actions you can take after you or your partner has left the relationship:

  • Consider applying for a restraining order or peace bond that may help you keep your partner away from you and your children.
  • To apply for a restraining order, go to the court in the municipaluty where you or the other party lives. If your application involves parenting arrangements, you can start your case in the municipality where your children live.
  • Get online information and guidance to apply for a restraining order: https://www.ontario.ca/page/getting-restraining-order.
  • To apply for a Peace Bond, go to the criminal service counter of your local provincial courthouse.
  • Get online information and guidance to apply for a peace bond: https://www.ontario.ca/page/getting-peace-bond.
  • If you have a restraining order or peace bond, keep it with you at all times.
  • Provide police with a copy of any legal orders you have.
  • Consult a lawyer or legal aid clinic about actions to protect yourself or your children. Let your lawyer know if there are any Criminal Court proceedings.
  • Consider changing any accounts (i.e., utilities, cell phone, bank, etc.) that you share with your ex-partner.
  • Obtain an unlisted telephone number, get caller ID and block your number when calling out.
  • Make sure your children’s school or day care centre is aware of the situation and has copies of all relevant documents.
  • Carry a photo of the abuser and your children with you.
  • Ask your neighbours to look after your children in an emergency.
  • Take extra precautions at work, at home and in the community. Consider telling your supervisor at work about your situation.
  • Think about places and patterns that your 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 you can, change your work hours.
  • If you feel unsafe walking alone, ask a neighbour, friend or family member to accompany you.
  • Do not return to the home you shared with the abuser unless accompanied by the police. Never confront the abuser.
  • If you haven't already involved the police and want to now, visit the closest police station and ask to speak to an officer who specializes in domestic abuse cases.
  • Remember that a shelter can help you with ongoing safety planning, even if you do not stay there.

If You Need Help

The Assaulted Women’s Helpline at 1-866-863-0511 offers a 24-hour telephone and TTY 1-866-863-7868 crisis line for women experiencing domestic violence in Ontario. The service is anonymous and confidential and is provided in up to 154 languages.

Helpline staff can support you in helping the person experiencing domestic violence or the person using abusive behaviour. They will discuss the warning signs of domestic violence 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

Men, women, trans and non-binary people can call the Ontario Network of Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Treatment Centres 24/7 navigation line: 1-NAV-SADV (1-855-628-7238) for help navigating services.

In an emergency, call your local police service or 911.

Most Ontarians feel a personal responsibility for reducing domestic violence. Recognizing it is the first step. Take the warning signs seriously.

 

 

Signs of High Risk

The danger may be greater for a victim/survivor 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, their pets or their property
  • Their partner has threatened to kill him/herself
  • 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’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 of the signs of high risk relate to a victim/survivor's vulnerability. The risk of being 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 or 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.

Warning signs that someone is experiencing abuse:

  • They are apologetic and makes excuses for their partner’s behaviour or they become aggressive and angry 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
  • They seem sad, lonely, withdrawn and afraid

Ways to Support Someone Experiencing Domestic Violence


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

    • Talk to them about what you see and tell them that you are concerned. 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.
    • Offer your home as a safe haven to them, their children and/or pets. If they accept your offer, do not let their partner or ex-partner in.
    • Encourage them to pack a small bag with important items and keep it stored at your home in case they need it.
    • Know that you or the person you’re concerned about can call the numbers in the If You Need Help section.
    • If the person you are concerned about denies the domestic violence:


    • Assure them that they can talk to you any time.
    • Don’t become angry or frustrated with their decisions. It is important to understand that they may be afraid or not ready to take the next steps.
    • Try to understand why they might be having difficulty getting help. They may feel ashamed.
    • Offer to go with the person you are concerned about 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 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

Here are some concerns you may have about whether you should help:

  • 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 you or your family will become involved in the violence > Speak to the person you are concerned about alone. Let the police know if you receive threats
  • You think they don’t really want to leave because they keep going back > They have likely experienced significant trauma which can make decision-making difficult and may not have had the support they needed
  • You are afraid they will become angry with you > Maybe, but they will know you care
  • You feel that both partners are your friends > One friend is being abused and lives in fear
  • You believe that if they wanted help, they would ask for it > They may be too afraid and ashamed to ask for help
  • You think it is a private matter > It isn’t when someone is being hurt
  • Always keep yourself safe. Don’t get in the middle of an assault. Call the police in an emergency. Everyone can work to prevent gender-based violence.

If You Need Help

The Assaulted Women’s Helpline at 1-866-863-0511 offers a 24-hour telephone and TTY 1-866-863-7868 crisis line for women experiencing domestic violence in Ontario. The service is anonymous and confidential and is provided in up to 154 languages.

Helpline staff can support you in helping the person experiencing domestic violence or the person using abusive behaviour. They will discuss the warning signs of domestic violence 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

Men, women, trans and non-binary people can call the Ontario Network of Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Treatment Centres 24/7 navigation line: 1-NAV-SADV (1-855-628-7238) for help navigating services.

In an emergency, call your local police service.

Most Ontarians feel a personal responsibility for reducing domestic violence. Recognizing it is the first step. Take the warning signs seriously.

Talking to People who Use Abusive Behaviour

Are you concerned about someone you think is being abusive to their partner or ex-partner, but don’t know what to do? This information describes the warning signs and how you can talk to someone who might be perpetrating domestic violence about their behaviour.

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.

Warning signs of domestic violence

You may suspect that a neighbour, friend or family member is experiencing domestic violence, but do not know what to do or how to talk about it. You may worry about making the situation worse. By understanding domestic violence warning signs and risk factors, you can help.

Sometimes people around someone who is abusive overlook the behaviour and only focus on supporting the person experiencing domestic violence. At other times, people may sympathize with the person using abusive behaviour. That may unintentionally escalate the abuse. Talking to those who use abusive behaviour is an important part of preventing domestic violence, but it needs to be done carefully. Abusive behaviour won’t go away on its own. There are services in the community to help domestic violence perpetrators or those who are worried about their behaviour.

How to talk to people who use abusive behaviour

Here is what you can do when you recognize warning signs that someone is using abusive behaviour:

  • Choose the right time and place to have a full discussion
  • Approach the person who you think might be using abusive behaviour when they are calm
  • Be direct and clear about what you have seen.
  • Tell the potential perpetrator that their behaviour is their responsibility. Avoid making judgmental comments. Don’t validate any attempts to blame others for their 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 a perpetrator about their abusive actions. Recognize that confrontational, argumentative approaches may make the situation worse and put someone who is experiencing domestic violence at higher risk.
  • 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 it isn’t that bad or 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.

Always keep yourself safe. Don’t get in the middle of an assault. Call the police in an emergency.

Overcoming Your Hesitation to Help

Here are some concerns you may have about whether you should help:

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

Support for people who want to change their 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.

In an emergency, call your local police service.

Most Ontarians feel a personal responsibility for reducing domestic violence. Recognizing it is the first step. Take the warning signs seriously.  For further information visit: www.neighboursfriendsandfamilies.ca

If You Need Help

The Assaulted Women’s Helpline at 1-866-863-0511 offers a 24-hour telephone and TTY 1-866-863-7868 crisis line for women experiencing domestic violence in Ontario. The service is anonymous and confidential and is provided in up to 154 languages.

Helpline staff can support you in helping the person experiencing domestic violence or the person using abusive behaviour. They will discuss the warning signs of domestic violence 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

Men, women, trans and non-binary people can call the Ontario Network of Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Treatment Centres 24/7 navigation line: 1-NAV-SADV (1-855-628-7238) for help navigating services.

In an emergency, call your local police service or 911.

Most Ontarians feel a personal responsibility for reducing domestic violence. Recognizing it is the first step. Take the warning signs seriously.