Understanding Abuse


Abuse is defined as “any act that imposes our will in a way that denies

a person’s dignity,safety (emotional or physical) or self worth”.


The United nations defines abuse as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in physical, sexual, or mental harm or suffering to women including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life”.

Abuse is a pattern of behaviour used by an abuser to establish power and control over another person. Underlying all abuse is a power imbalance between the person and their abuser.

Family violence and abuse affects all levels of society. It involves all cultural groups, ages, economic classes, and religions. The younger and poorer are more vulnerable. Physical, verbal, emotional and sexual abuse is epidemic.

The statistics on domestic abuse:

  • Ninety percent of all domestic violence victims are women.
  • One in two Canadian women (51%) experiences at least one incident of violence after the age of 16
  • One in three B.C. women is assaulted by her husband or partner.
  • Abuse often escalates after separation and divorce.
  • About 20% of women who experience abuse are assaulted during pregnancy. Domestic violence rises dramatically during pregnancy.
  • B.C. has the highest rate of violence reported by women (59%) in Canada.
  • More than half of women who experience violence are assaulted by men who are known to them. (64%)
  • The abusers are most often spouses, boyfriends, dates and neighbors.
  • Only 14% of all incidents of violence are reported to police.
  • Many women who experience abuse and violence – one in five – do not go to anybody for help or support not even friends or family.
  • Children witness abuse in 40% of violent relationships.
  • Approximately 86% of women have reported emotional side effects including anger, fear, guilt, shame, depression and loss of self-esteem.

Substance abuse may increase the likelihood of abuse and violence by lowering the inhibitions of the abuser. Some people attempt to escape the effects of violence by resorting to the numbing effects of alcohol and drugs.

The consequences of abuse and violence are a serious public health problem in our society today. The health care costs are enormous because of the many psychological and physical effects that abuse creates. The stress of abusive relationships often goes unrecognized because the symptoms are not always physical bruises and injuries. Many people who are victims of abuse are often reluctant to talk about their relationship or to seek help.

Statistics show that over half of women murdered in Canada are murdered by their husbands or partners. Approximately half of all injuries presented by women in emergency services occurred in the context of abuse, and battering accounts for one in every four suicide attempts by all women.

Psychological and emotional abuse are as damaging as physical abuse to a woman’s self-esteem. These forms of abuse include: excessive possessiveness, threats of suicide, threats of violence, threats of endangering children, restricting activities, isolation from family and friends, forcing degrading activities, verbal insults, put-downs, name calling, controlling money and decision making, threatening and/or harming pets, destroying personal property.

Physical and sexual assaults, or threats to commit them, are the most apparent forms of domestic violence and are usually the actions that make others aware of the problem.

Although physical assaults may occur only occasionally, they instill fear of future violent attacks and allow the abuser to control the woman’s life and circumstances. Eventually, these episodes can escalate to life-threatening behaviors such as choking, breaking bones, or the use of weapons.