In an interaction between two or more persons, an act of violence occurs when words, texts or behaviours, whether obvious or subtle, are used intentionally against another person and that may bring about negative repercussions (anxiety, loss of material assets, trauma, psychological damage, developmental problems, physical injuries, death).
This means that the way a person behaves in certain situations may be considered violent. For example, forcefully insisting on getting something from another person, even virtually through text messages or emails, can be regarded as violence.
Psychological violence is generally used to gain or maintain control over someone. There is no respect, and consent is obtained in an unacceptable manner. The common thread in all strategies that rely on psychological violence is that one person acts in an abusive way toward another person. For example, by:
- constantly criticizing the other person
- belittling the other person
- distorting reality to alter the other person’s perception of it
- making the other person doubt themselves
- manipulating the other person’s emotions
- socially isolating the other person
This form of violence is often difficult for victims and the people around them to identify because it is subtle and hypocritical. Victims can feel manipulated (have the impression that someone is playing mind games with them) or that they are being treated unfairly. However, certain indicators in the perpetrator’s behaviour can help to identify psychological violence. Here are some examples:
- repeated criticism or frequent reproaches:
- “You never get it right the first time!”
- “You’re not feminine enough!”
- “You did it wrong again . . . ”
- “You’re hearing things, I never said that!”
- “I’ll stop doing you favours if you don’t pay me for that!”
- “I know things about you that the bosses would be really disappointed to hear.”
- “If you leave me, I’ll kill myself!”
- false or unjustified accusations (without proof):
- “I know you’re cheating on me!”
- “I knew you didn’t deserve my trust.”
- “It’s your fault if I get angry, you’re unbearable!”
- “If you tell the boss about that, you’ll be seeing me on your way home.”
- “You’d better think twice before you do anything, because you won’t see your children ever again.”
- a person who sulks for hours or even days
- a person who deliberately avoids a subject with the goal of creating tension
- ignoring you:
- a person who pretends not to see you
- a person who pretends not to hear you
Psychological violence frequently occurs in a number of settings, and may take place between individuals of equal or different statuses. It often occurs in situations of conjugal violence, sexual assault and sexual exploitation, but it can also take the form of harassment, for example, between two employees of the same level, or between an older parent and their adult child.
Verbal violence is used to intimidate, humiliate or control a person or a group of people. It can also occur in all types of interactions (between strangers, neighbours, colleagues, friends, spouses or partners) and in relationships of authority (boss-employee, teacher-student, coach-athlete). This form of violence can also be a forerunner to physical violence.
Like psychological violence, verbal violence can be difficult to recognize, because many people minimize and ignore it (telling themselves that it is none of their business). Here are some indicators that can help to identify verbal violence:
- complimenting someone while intending to convey the opposite
- “You’re a real drag on the team!”
- “How do you manage to stay alive when you’re such an idiot?”
- “Hey refugee, go back where you came from!”
- demeaning or humiliating remarks:
- “With cleavage like that, it’s no wonder you got promoted!”
- “We’ve never seen anyone as incompetent as you are. The boss should fire you!”
- shouting or giving orders:
- “I never asked you for your opinion, so just shut up!”
- “If you don’t want to be called stupid, stop saying such stupid things!”
Economic violence is the least understood form of violence, even though it is rampant. A person who is subjected to economic violence loses their financial independence, even if they work outside the home and earn a good salary.
Economic violence can occur between people who are equally wealthy or poor, just as it can between people with unequal incomes.
A few indicators that may reveal the presence of economic violence include:
- imposition of financial control
- vigilant monitoring of a budget
- withholding or removal of identification cards
- forced financial dependence
Common examples of situations of economic violence include when someone:
- forces a person to pay sums of money or to pay for expenses that are not their own
- steals a person’s debit or credit cards
- demands that a person justify their purchases
- hides, takes away or withholds a person’s pieces of identification (passport, driver’s licence, health insurance card, etc.)
- deprives a person of their basic needs (food, medication, etc.)
- incur costs (expenses, loans) in another person’s name without that person’s consent
- forbids a person from working or prevents a person from pursuing their education
- forces a person into prostitution and claims that person’s earnings
Economic violence frequently occurs in cases of conjugal violence. Forced marriages can also be considered forms of economic violence. In fact, economic considerations are usually a factor underlying the reasons for forcing one’s child to marry, often at a very young age. Forced marriages do not constitute valid consent and are prohibited in Canada. For more information and resources on forced marriages in Canada, refer to the website of the Secrétariat à la condition féminine (in French only).
Economic violence may also be a factor in sexual exploitation, child abuse, and elder abuse or in the relationships between co-tenants.
Physical violence can be used against a person, a group, objects, animals or premises. It might escalate from banging a fist on a table to destroying an entire set of furniture. It might also escalate from pushing or shoving to homicide. Escalation is what makes physical violence extremely dangerous.
While this form of violence is minimized in various settings (schools, sports, video games), it can lead to serious consequences for victims (concussion, severe physical and psychological injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder, etc.).
Contrary to popular belief, physical violence is often difficult to identify because it is usually hidden. A person will rarely hit or deliberately shove or push someone in a public place or in front of witnesses. A person who experiences physical violence at school, within their family (children or the elderly), or within a romantic relationship might try to hide their injuries to avoid answering questions. Injuries might also be covered up as an accident, and the victim will tend to stick to this version of events.
Victims may adopt certain behaviours that could indicate the presence of physical violence. For example, victims may:
- frequently wear clothing that conceals the entire body, even in summer
- claim to be clumsy as a way to explain bruising (ecchymosis)
- avoid certain locations, even if it means taking long detours
- be easily startled by the slightest movement or noise
- show obvious signs of anxiety in the presence of another person
- move reflexively to protect their face or body when another person moves quickly
Victims of physical violence in a context of conjugal violence might also tend to defend their abuser and justify their abuser’s actions for any number of reasons (attachment, fear, etc.).
Physical violence can occur in situations of child abuse, conjugal violence, sexual assault, sexual exploitation, elder abuse and even harassment.
The goal of sexual violence is generally to dominate or destabilize a person in the most intimate aspect of their life. Its connection with intimacy may explain why this form of violence is seldom reported, but there are other reasons. The following are among the most frequently stated reasons for under-reporting:
- the victim knows their assailant
- feelings of guilt
- the perception that the legal system is overwhelming and frightening
Although every individual has a different level of comfort with regard to sexual contact, any action for which consent has not been given, whether with or without physical contact, is still sexual violence. For this reason, obtaining a person’s consent before initiating or continuing with any kind of sexual contact is essential.
Sexual violence may take many forms and occur to varying degrees of severity. Here are some examples of actions exhibiting a form of sexual violence:
- using phone voicemail, texting or email to send content of a sexual nature without having obtained consent (sexting). The content can be audio or visual, including photos (dick pics) or videos (licking objects, inserting objects in orifices, thrusting so as to simulate penetration).
- rubbing one’s genitals or breasts against another person, or touching or brushing the genitals or breasts of another person without their consent. This type of violence usually occurs in public places or in places where people are crowded together (frottage).
- showing one’s private parts to another person without their consent (exhibitionism).
- spying on someone during a private moment (voyeurism).
- manipulating a person to obtain sexual favours without their consent.
- forcing a person to provide sexual favours to someone else even if they don’t want to.
- forcing a person to watch pornography even if they don’t want to.
- forcing a person to touch themselves or to masturbate in front of another person even if they don’t want to.
- discreetly removing a condom during the sexual act without the other person’s knowledge (stealthing).
- forcing a person to insert objects in their mouth, vagina or anus when they don’t want to.
- deliberately failing to reveal a diagnosis of HIV, AIDS or a sexually transmitted or blood-borne infection (STBBI)
Sexual violence is not always experienced on its own. Perpetrators will sometimes use other forms of violence to maintain their control over their victim, be it psychological, verbal or physical violence.
Certain practices, such as excision (partial or complete removal of the clitoris), are not permitted in Canada. Regardless of whether the reasons for practising it are religious, cultural, traditional or social, excision not only constitutes sexual violence, it is also a criminal act.
Forms of sexual violence include sexual assault, sexual exploitation and conjugal rape.
Who does it affect?
Violence affects everyone, regardless of who you are or the type of violence in question. Anyone can experience violence in the course of their lifetime, just as everyone can also help to prevent incidents of violence in the lives of others.
However, certain groups are at greater risk of being subjected to violence:
- Indigenous people
- persons in the LGBTQ+ community
- persons from minority ethnocultural communities
- persons with disabilities
- elderly people
When a person belongs to more than one at-risk group, it is called dual vulnerability. For example:
- Indigenous women
- immigrant women
- women with disabilities
- elderly women
- women in the LGBTQ+ community
- Indigenous children
- children with disabilities
- immigrant children
Myths and realities
Different forms of violence are frequently associated with specific contexts. For instance, people often mistakenly think that conjugal violence mainly involves physical violence. Here are some examples of myths and realities.
Reality : Not necessarily. Conjugal violence is not solely defined by the occurrence of physical violence within a couple. Conjugal violence often combines several forms of violence (psychological, verbal, economic, physical and sexual). It usually starts with psychological violence and verbal violence, and then evolves over time: it endlessly repeats and intensifies. To better understand conjugal violence, it can be helpful to read about the cycles of violence (PDF 85 Kb).
Reality : Many sexual assaults occur without physical contact. For example, sending a photo of a sexual nature (dick pic) without the recipient’s consent or forcing someone to watch pornography constitutes sexual assault. These cases do involve sexual violence, but there is no physical violence.
The forms of sexual assault that are usually associated with physical violence are sexual touching and rape, which is sexual assault with penetration. However, in many situations, the absence of consent is sufficient to establish that sexual assault has occurred. The fact that a person gave into pressure to have sexual relations does not mean that the person consented to the sexual activity.
Reality : Sexual exploitation may also include all other forms of violence (psychological, verbal, economic, physical) and occur in different types of relationships. For example, a woman who is exploited by her spouse could be experiencing a situation of conjugal violence in addition to sexual exploitation. Thus, she could be experiencing sexual violence at home and, potentially, with her clients.
Help and resources
- If you need immediate help, dial 9-1-1.
- Helpline for victims of sexual assault and sexual exploitation
- Free bilingual, anonymous and confidential service, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, across Québec
- 1 888 933‑9007
- Crime Victims Assistance Centres (CAVAC)
- Available in all of Québec’s regions, providing access to trained intervention professionals.
- 1 866 532‑2822
- Live chat service (from 8:00 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., 7 days a week) and telephone helpline 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
- 1 800 263‑2266
- SOS violence conjugale
- Offers telephone support, psychological support, immediate intervention and referrals to shelters (SOS violence conjugale can make the call for you)
- 1 800 363‑9010
- Centre d’aide et de lutte contre les agressions à caractère sexuel (Sexual Assault Centres, CALACS)
- Offer direct help for women and female adolescents who have been sexually assaulted, as well as telephone support, support groups, accompaniment and support services for victims (police, hospital, etc.) and services for close friends and family members of victims
- 1 877 717‑5252
- The Director of Youth Protection (DPJ)
- Possibility of reporting a situation to the DPJ by telephone or written report, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
- Contact information for organizations part of the ESPACE Program (families and children)
- Program offering various workshops for children and operating a telephone helpline
- À cœur d’homme
- Offers referral, intervention and counselling services offering support to partners and fathers with violent behaviours
- 1 877 660‑7799
Last update: March 23, 2021