What is abuse?


On this page, partner means the person:

  • you are or were married to,
  • you live or lived with in a marriage-like relationship, or
  • you have a child with.

What abuse means

Abuse in relationships includes behaviour ranging from threats to physical or sexual assault. It may also include harmful financial, emotional, and verbal actions.

An abuser uses threats and violence to gain power and control over his or her partner. Often the abuser blames the abuse on the victim. Remember that abuse is the abuser's fault. Abuse against you isn't your fault.

Abuse can be physical, emotional or verbal, psychological, sexual, and/or financial. Here are some examples of abuse in relationships.

Physical abuse is when your partner:

  • stops you from leaving your home;
  • breaks your things, damages property, or threatens to damage something that you value;
  • shoves, slaps, chokes, punches, or kicks you; and/or
  • threatens or hurts you with a weapon or any object.

Emotional or verbal abuse is when your partner:

  • embarrasses you, yells at you, insults you, or calls you bad names;
  • constantly criticizes and blames you for everything;
  • doesn't let you contact friends and family;
  • threatens to have you deported; and/or
  • accuses you of having or wanting to have sex with someone else.

Psychological abuse is when your partner:

  • decides what you can do or know about, where you can go, or who you can see;
  • opens and reads your mail or other private papers;
  • follows or watches you wherever you are, or monitors your phone calls;
  • phones or emails you again and again; and/or
  • threatens to hurt you, your children, friends, or pet.

Sexual abuse is when your partner:

  • forces you to have sex when you don't want to;
  • forces you to perform sexual acts that make you uncomfortable or hurt you; and/or
  • injures sexual parts of your body without your agreement.

Financial abuse is when your partner:

  • makes all the household money decisions and doesn't let you have any money;
  • doesn't let you use bank accounts or credit cards;
  • refuses to let you get a job or makes you lose your job; and/or
  • runs up debts in your name.

Abuse can also be emotional, physical, or sexual harm to your children. For example, abuse happens if your partner threatens to kidnap your children or threatens to use the courts to take your children away from you.

The abuse can continue even after you leave your abusive partner. For example, your abuser may threaten to take you to court to pressure you to do what he or she wants. Or he or she may keep taking or trying to take you to court and/or not pay child support as the court ordered.

Abuse that's against the law

Certain types of abuse are more harmful than others and are against the law — these are crimes. Assault and criminal harassment are crimes.

  • Physical assault is when your partner hits or hurts you, or threatens to hit or hurt you and you believe that can and will happen.
  • Sexual assault is when anything sexual happens to you without your agreement. This includes unwanted kissing, sexual touching, and forced intercourse (rape).
  • Criminal harassment (sometimes called stalking) is when your partner forces unwanted and continuing attention on you. It's a pattern of threats and actions that makes you afraid for yourself and your children. The law says that your partner can't phone or email you again and again, follow you, threaten you, or threaten to destroy your property.

Why you might stay

There are many reasons why someone stays with an abusive partner. You may be staying for one or more of these reasons:

  • You may be a victim of a "cycle of violence" — a repeated pattern of violence in an abusive relationship. It sometimes begins with tension that slowly builds until a violent event happens. After the violent event, your partner may be very sorry, may promise that it won't happen again, and may be very loving and attentive. This may convince you and your partner that the abuse will end. But this pattern of abuse often occurs again.
  • You feel you're financially dependent on the abuser, especially if you suffer from a disability.
  • You're afraid for your children’s safety.
  • You're afraid of losing your home.
  • You think that no one will believe the abuse happened.
  • You have no social supports because you stay away from your family and friends.
  • You don't know about your legal rights or support services that can help you.
  • You're afraid of losing your immigration status.
  • You don’t speak English well and think you won't be understood.
  • You feel isolated and pressured by family or community problems because you're a newcomer to Canada.

You can get help

Because you're in an abusive relationship, you may feel ashamed, afraid, and alone. Abuse in relationships is not a private family matter. You can get help for yourself and your children, whether you want to stay in the relationship or leave. Support services and trained people can help you wherever you live in BC.

If you're being assaulted or criminally harassed:

  • Call 911 or the number for the emergency police or RCMP listed inside the front cover of your phone book.
  • If you don’t speak English, ask 911 for an interpreter.

Police can help when abuse is happening or after it has happened.

For more information about getting legal and other help, see Who can help, and the Live Safe, End Abuse fact sheets about relationship abuse that explain what abuse is and where people who are being abused can get help.

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