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Family Violence

Family violence occurs when there is abuse, maltreatment or neglect between family members. Anyone can be a victim of family violence, no matter what their age, sex, and background (Department of Justice).

There are several categories of family violence:

  • Intimate partner violence: Intimate partner violence is when there is violence or abuse that occurs between two people who are in a relationship, who are married, used to be married or who are in a common law partnership (Royal Canadian Mounted Police). Intimate partner violence usually follows a continuous cycle and rarely improves without someone on the outside intervening. This cycle is known as the Cycle of Violence.
  • Child maltreatment: Child maltreatment is any type of abuse or neglect by someone in a position of authority or trust, toward someone under the age of 18. The effects of abuse vary from child to child, some may not show any effects; while others will have profound effects.
  • Elder abuse and neglect: Elder abuse is any action that causes harm or distress to an older person by someone who is in a position of authority or trust. Neglect is any lack of action by someone in a position of authority of trust (Seniors).

Types of Abuse:

There are several types of abuse that can occur at any age:

Type of Violence Definition Examples
Neglect When an individual is not provided with the basic needs for his or her physical, psychological, or emotional development, or well-being and survival. Neglect of physical needs: food, medical care, clothing and shelter. The neglect of emotional needs: love, safety and a sense of worth. (Department of Justice)
Emotional Abuse Emotional abuse is the constant tearing down of another human being. It is often based on power and control over another person. Put-downs, intimidation, bullying, controlling what a person wears or who they see. It can also constitute threats, isolation, ignoring, rejection, degradation, etc.
Physical Abuse Physical abuse is the most visible form of abuse. It is any non-accidental act that results in trauma or physical injury. Kicking, hitting, pushing, shaking, burning, etc.
Sexual Abuse Sexual abuse is when one person forces another to engage in a sexual act. Inappropriate or unwanted sexual touching, forcing someone to engage in sexual intercourse, forcing someone to watch sexual acts, movies or read pornographic material. (Kids Help Phone)
Harassment/ Criminal Harassment Harassment is when someone does something repeatedly over time that causes the victim to fear for their safety. No physical injury needs to occur for something to be considered harassment. Harassment can be sexual and/or non-sexual. Stalking, making unwanted sexual comments or sexual suggestions, persistent phone calls, sending many unwanted text messages or text messages with unwanted content, etc. (Kids Help Phone)
Financial Abuse Financial abuse occurs when someone uses another person's money in an illegal or an unauthorized way. Someone cashing another person's pension cheque and keeping all or some of the money, forcing someone to change their legal documents, improper use of guardianship or power of attorney, etc. (Seniors)
Honour-based violence When someone is abused by her family or community because their clothing, behaviour or choices is perceived has unacceptable and damaging to their family's "honour." A girl and her family move to Canada, where the girl dresses in non-traditional clothing. The father sees this as damaging to their honour and punishes her physically. (ICWA)
Forced Marriages When someone is forced to marry someone they don't want to. Other forms of abuse may be used to make them obey. Two families forcing their children to marry each other, even though they don`t love each other. (Forced Marriages)

Warning Signs

A youth may be experiencing or witnessing family violence if they:

  • Withdraw from their usual activities;
  • Show anger or aggression;
  • Demonstrate low self-esteem;
  • Seem powerless and incapable of making decisions independently, sometimes around certain people;
  • Make excuses for someone else;
  • Have unexplained physical injuries;
  • Have major behavioural changes;
  • Have learning problems or changes in school performance (in cases of child abuse);
  • Have unusual knowledge or inappropriate sexual behaviour; or
  • Lack sufficient clothing or have poor hygiene (more often with children). (Source: End Violence Against Women and Girls)


Legal Impacts

There is no specific Criminal Code offence called "family violence;" however, the different types of violence are in the Criminal Code. For example, assault, sexual assault, failure to provide the basic necessities of life, uttering threats, making indecent and harassing phone calls and intimidation are all offences under the Criminal Code of Canada (Department of Justice). However, it is important to note that not all types of abuse are crimes in Canada.

Health Impacts

The effects experienced by those who have been abused vary depending on each situation. Those who have experienced family violence may have trouble listening to authority, suffer from mental health issues, not get along with their peers or experience delays in their development (bed-wetting). They may also experience many physical impacts such as headaches, stomach aches, eating disorders, etc. Even people who do not directly experience family violence can feel the effects of it. By witnessing or hearing violence, or seeing the results of violence in their family, children and youth can also suffer from a number of psychological and emotional effects (RCMP).

What You Can Do


If you are experiencing any type of family violence…

  • Call 9-1-1 if you are in immediate danger;
  • Know that it is not your fault and that you deserve to feel safe;
  • If possible, leave, and stay with a friend or family member you trust until the issue has been dealt with;
  • Remember that there are people who will support you;
  • Talk to someone you trust, whether that's a teacher, a friend or another family member. Or contact the Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868 (they have counsellors available to talk 24/7).


If you suspect someone is experiencing any type of family violence…

  • Call 9-1-1 if they are in immediate danger;
  • Report known or suspected child abuse or neglect to the local police or child protection agency, as required by law;
  • Support, believe and trust them;
  • Reassure them that what they have been through is not their fault;
  • If there's no immediate danger, encourage them to contact the police;
  • Ensure that they have a place to stay;
  • Be patient and listen openly and carefully. (Royal Canadian Mounted Police)