What is IPV?

Intimate partner violence (IPV) is sometimes called spousal violence or domestic violence. All of these terms refer to the ways that someone can cause harm to a current or ex-partner or spouse. They are included in the umbrella term of "gender-based violence."

IPV is any form of physical, sexual, emotional, or psychological abuse, including financial control, stalking, and harassment in person or online. It can occur between intimate partners of any gender or sexual orientation, who may or may not be married, common law, living together, or dating. It can also continue to happen after a relationship has ended. IPV impacts people of all genders, ages, socioeconomic, racial, educational, ethnic, religious, and cultural backgrounds.

Below we have provided some explainers with more information about IPV.

What is Intimate Partner Violence?

Intimate Partner Violence (domestic violence) is any action or behaviour that causes harm and is perpetrated within an intimate relationship (e.g., marriage, dating, common law). These behaviours can also happen after the relationship has ended. Anyone, regardless of the race, sexual orientation, socioeconomic, status, age, gender, or faith can experience IPV. The abuse can take any form. This abuse can take many forms.

Coercive Control  

A pattern of abusive behaviours that are used to control or intimidate the victim/survivor. This pattern of controlling and intimidating behaviours deprives the victim/survivor of their basic rights to liberty, autonomy, and dignity. Examples include:

  • Tracking their whereabouts
  • Destroying property or harming pets
  • Isolating them from their friends and/or family
  • Controlling their access to money or employment
  • Using family courts, lawyers, or the child welfare system to intimidate them or maintain in contact with them once the relationship has ended
  • Gaslighting (e.g., lying about what happened, blaming them for things that were not their fault, trivializing or dismissing their feelings)

Physical Abuse

Any behaviours that can cause physical harm or threaten physical harm. Examples include:

  • Pushing or shoving
  • Hitting, slapping or kicking
  • Pinching or punching
  • Throwing objects at someone
  • Strangulation or choking
  • Burning
  • Using a weapon to threaten or cause harm
  • Stabbing or cutting

Sexual abuse

  • Forcing or pressuring the victim/survivor to engage in any unwanted sexual activities. Examples include:
  • Any unwanted sexual activities, touching or kissing
  • Forcing them to watch pornography
  • Making unwanted sexual comments or remarks
  • Pressuring them to engage in sexual activities with others
  • Posting their intimate photos or videos online without their consent
  • Misusing a position of power or trust (e.g., doctor, therapist, counsellor, caregiver) to gain consent for sexual activities
  • Sexual contact with anyone who is unable to give consent (e.g., underage, asleep, intoxicated from drugs or alcohol)

Psychological or emotional abuse

This includes any non-physical behaviour that can cause harm. Over time, these behaviours often erode a victim/ survivor’s self-esteem and/or make them question their sense of reality or judgement. Examples include:

  • Name-calling
  • Yelling or screaming
  • Embarrassing them in private or in front of others
  • Blaming them for the abuse they are experiencing
  • Threatening physical harm
  • Threatening to harm someone they love, including their friends, family, or pets
  • Threatening self-harm if they leave the relationship
  • Accusing them of cheating or being overly jealous of their friendships with others
  • Gaslighting (e.g., lying about what happened, blaming them for things that were not their fault, trivializing or dismissing their feelings)

Stalking or criminal harassment

This includes repetitive behaviours that are used to control, intimidate, or scare victims/survivors. In cases where a relationship has ended, an abusive partner might stalk or harass their ex-partner as a way to regain control and continue their abuse. Examples include:

  • Using technology to track their whereabouts
  • Showing up to their work or home uninvited
  • Sending unwanted letters, gifts, or packages
  • Sending repetitive text messages or phone calls
  • Spreading rumours about them
  • Damaging property

Economic or financial abuse

This form of abuse prevents the victim/survivor’s access to financial resources or controlling their financial decisions. Examples include:

  • Preventing them from working or making them work reduced hours
  • Spending their money without their permission
  • Preventing them from having a bank account or access to shared bank accounts
  • Monitoring their expenses or credit card statements
  • Maxing out their credit cards without their explicit permission
  • Not paying agreed upon child support or using money set aside for children on other expenses without mutual agreement between the co-parents
  • Refusing to provide money for basic needs, such as medicine, food, rent, or clothing

Legal abuse or harassment

Abuse can also include misusing the criminal justice, family courts, or child welfare services to harass, maintain control over, or stay in contact with the victim/survivor. Examples include:

  • Threatening to make or making false allegations about them to child welfare, the police, or family courts
  • Providing misinformation about the justice system or child welfare agencies to prevent them from accessing needed supports
  • Threatening to use family courts or child welfare to “take away” their children
  • Engaging them in lengthy custody battles

Cyber abuse or technology-facilitated abuse

This form of abuse includes the use of technology (e.g., social media, phone, internet) to harass, abuse, or control a partner or ex-partner. This can involve:

  • Using technology to stalk someone (e.g., spyware apps, hidden cameras, GPS)
  • Impersonating someone online to spread rumours or ruin their social connections with friends and family
  • Sending repetitive unwanted or harassing messages through text, social media, email, or other online platforms
  • Preventing someone from having access to technology (e.g., destroying their phone, not letting them use shared internet devices)
  • Sharing or threatening to share someone’s intimate or sexually explicit photos or videos online without their permission
  • Non-consensual deepnudes and deepfakes
  • Hacking to gain access to someone’s e-mail account

Spiritual, religious or cultural abuse

In the context of domestic violence, this type of abuse includes the misuse of cultural norms or religious scripture to justify abusive behaviours or assert control over the victim/survivor. Examples include:

  • Misuse or misciting of scripture or cultural norms to justify or minimize abuse
  • Misuse or misciting of scripture or cultural norms to restrict access to healthcare, including reproductive healthcare
  • Isolating them from their spiritual or cultural communities
  • Restricting their access to spiritual or cultural practices that they would like to follow
  • Forcing them to follow spiritual or religious practices that they do not wish to follow

Immigration-related abuse

Sometimes, abusers might use the victim/survivor’s immigration or refugee status to control them. Examples include:

  • Threats of deportation if they leave the relationship
  • Taking away important immigration or legal documents (such as passports or refugee status card)
  • Not allowing them to learn English (or the host country’s national language)
  • Not allowing them to gain the training or education required for gainful employment in the host country
  • Giving them false information about the Canadian legal and immigration systems or restricting their access to obtaining the correct information

What is Coercive Control?

Control is the ultimate goal of intimate partner violence. Control is the dynamic that defines abusive relationships, but it can be difficult to recognize, especially when it’s not physical. The term “coercive control” describes this dynamic in intimate partner relationships.

What is Coercive Control?

  • It’s a pattern of physical and non-physical behaviours of abuse with the purpose of micro-regulating the victim’s freedom and sense of self by instilling fear, humiliation, exploitation, or domination in their daily life
  • Includes emotional, verbal, and/or financial abuse
  • More difficult for bystanders or outsiders to recognize since it may not involve physical violence and consists of a mix of tactics
  • Not defined by episodes, but rather an ongoing dynamic that is always present
  • Potential early indicator that the relationship will lead to physical violence or femicide
  • Children can also be victims, not merely witnesses, in coercive control

Warning signs and abuse tactics

  • Isolation from friends and family
  • Surveillance of activity and whereabouts (including using GPS)
  • Stalking and cyber-stalking (including making fake accounts to access victim’s social media)
  • Threats, belittling, humiliation
  • Gaslighting
  • Restricted access to money, food, social media
  • Sexual coercion (“If you don’t give me sex, I won’t give you grocery money”)
  • Threat of suicide or harm to children/pets if the person leaves the relationship
  • The Power & Control Wheel was created to describe some of the most common abuse tactics

Legislative and judicial protections in Canada

  • Coercive control is not officially recognized in Criminal Code
  • Jurisdictions around the world are beginning to recognize coercive control in legislation (hyperlink to: https://www.theacecc.com/journal/categories/coercive-control-legislation)
  • Coercive control is recognized in Ontario’s Children’s Law Reform Act, which offers guidance to the courts on how to handle survivors and assess each case in the best interest of the child
  • Most risk assessment tools for police focus on physical violence, consequently under-recognizing the severity of coercive control in an abusive relationship
  • Records of communications with the abuser (texts, verbal communication, notes) can assist in obtaining a protection order for the victim

Intimate Partner Violence and the Trans Community

This information focuses on relationships where one or both partners is Trans.

What is intimate partner violence (IPV)?

  • IPV can be caused by a current or former intimate partner or spouse.
  • Can include physical abuse, stalking, sexual violence, financial/emotional/financial/spiritual abuse, coercive control, reproductive coercion, and cyberviolence.

IPV warning signs and abuse tactics unique to Trans survivors

  • Threaten to withhold gender-affirmative hormones
  • Question the validity of a partner’s gender identity
  • Control how a partner expresses their gender
  • Denial that abuse can occur with a Transgender partner
  • Threaten to reveal partner’s Trans identity to friends, family, children, community, or employer to coerce a certain act or outcome
  • Force partner to perform sexual acts that don’t align with their gender identity

Barriers to seeking help unique to Trans survivors

  • Certain shelters or support organizations might turn Trans women away
  • Fear that one’s Trans identity will be revealed through seeking help
  • Fear that one’s Trans identity will not be respected by support organizations
  • Cisnormativity (widespread assumption that all humans have a gender identity that matches their sex) can affect organizational policies, programming, and how healthcare professionals interact with Trans victims
  • Limited research on IPV for Trans survivors in Canada

Canadian Trans women IPV statistics

A 2019 survey by Trans PULSE found that:

  • 3 in 5 Trans women experienced IPV since 16 years of age
  • 56% of Trans women had a partner that verbally abused them
  • 29% of Trans women have experienced a physical altercation with a partner (such as a push, shove, shake, or pin down)
  • One in three Trans women was forced or pressured into non-consensual sexual activity


Intimate Partner Violence and the LGB+ Community

This information focuses on relationships between lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals and people of a sexual orientation that is not heterosexual (LGB+).

What is intimate partner violence (IPV)?

  • Gender-based violence caused by a current or former intimate partner or spouse
  • Can include physical abuse, stalking, sexual violence, emotional/financial/spiritual abuse, coercive control, reproductive coercion, and cyberviolence

IPV warning signs and abuse tactics unique to LGB+ survivors

  • Homophobic/bisexual slurs by the perpetrator
  • Questioning the validity of the partner’s sexual orientation
  • Controlling how partner expresses their sexuality
  • Threatening to reveal partner’s sexual orientation to friends, family, children, community, or employer to coerce a certain act or outcome

Barriers to seeking help unique to LGB+ survivors

  • Most IPV support literature presumes a heterosexual female audience
  • Stigma and community denial that abuse can occur in same-sex relationships
  • Since certain LGB+ communities may be small and tight-knit, victims may feel hesitant about disclosure and seeking help due to a lack of discretion or anonymity
  • LGB+ victims might have greater mistrust of police, discouraging them from seeking intervention in serious incidents

Canadian LGB+ women IPV statistics:

  • LGB+ women experience higher rates of intimate partner violence since 15 years of age (67%) compared to heterosexual women (44%) – Statistics Canada 
  • LGB+ women report physical/sexual assault by intimate partner since 15 years of age almost twice as common (49%) compared to heterosexual women (25%) – Statistics Canada
  • LGB+ women have experienced some form of IPV (20%) about double the rate of heterosexual women (12%) – Statistics Canada
  • 55% of sexual minority women shared their experience with a friend or neighbour, 40% told a family member – Statistics Canada

Intimate Partner Violence and Traumatic Brain Injuries

What is a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)?

TBIs are “acquired” brain injuries resulting from blunt force to the head, face or neck, or suffocation. Examples of TBIs associated with intimate partner violence (IPV) include concussions, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (brain condition caused by repeated blows to the head), and hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (injury due to loss of oxygen to the brain for an extended period).

What are common symptoms of a TBI?

TBIs can range from mild to severe. Common symptoms of mild TBIs include mood changes, seizures, sleep difficulties, physical problems (e.g., dizziness, headaches), and cognitive difficulties (e.g., memory problems, difficulty concentrating). Although mild TBIs tend to be the most common, moderate to severe forms of TBIs can cause significant long-term physical and cognitive impairments and, in some cases, be fatal.

How can TBIs impact a survivor?

While some individuals recover within the first three months following a TBI, others can continue to struggle with TBI symptoms and cognitive difficulties for months or years after the injury. Survivors of IPV and TBIs might also struggle with chronic pain, anxiety and depression, and/or alcohol and drug-related problems.

How common are TBIs?

Studies show that between 19% and 75% of survivors suffer from a TBI. However, it is important to recognize that face, neck, and head injuries are the most common physical injuries among survivors of IPV.

Unfortunately, mild TBIs, such as concussions, can often be missed by clinicians and survivors. Moreover, these symptoms can make it more difficult for survivors to leave abusive relationships.

What to do if you suspect you, or someone you know, might have a TBI?

Seek medical care as soon as possible. In Ontario, local shelters and crisis centres for survivors of IPV often have counsellors who can provide accompaniments to medical settings to support survivors if requested. Even if the abuse is historic, if there were any injuries to the face, head, or neck, it might be helpful to get an evaluation from a physician to ensure that a potential TBI is not missed. If a TBI is present, a medical health professional can support the management of both the short- and long-term impacts of the injury.

Call EMS/911 if the symptoms are severe or life-threatening. Possible severe or life-threatening symptoms associated with TBIs include:

  • Loss of consciousness or responsiveness, or difficulty staying awake
  • Difficulties with physical coordination (e.g., stumbling, falling over, disorientation)
  • Bruising around the eyes or behind the ears
  • Blood or fluid coming from ears or nose
  • Blurry or double vision or complete loss of vision
  • Dilated pupils or pupils of unequal size
  • Sudden confusion, restlessness, or agitation
  • Sudden slurred speech or difficulty speaking
  • Seizures
  • Loss of control of bladder or bowels
  • Repeated or projectile vomiting
  • Severe or worsening headache

Please note that this list of symptoms is not exhaustive. If unsure about the severity of symptoms, it is always best to access medical care for injuries to the face, neck, or head to confirm that potential severe or life- threatening symptoms are not missed.