Violence in the Family

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If you are seeking information about services for women who have experienced violence, you can click here.

Domestic violence is a serious crime. Domestic violence is any use of physical or sexual force, actual or threatened, by your partner or ex-partner. Threatening, hitting, kicking, punching, pushing, stalking and harassing another person are crimes. Having sex with a person against that person's will is also a crime. Being married does not change this. A person committing these acts can be arrested, charged, convicted and jailed.

Domestic violence can also include threats to harm children, other members of a family, pets and property. Domestic violence is committed primarily by men towards women. However, domestic violence can be committed by women against men and also occurs in same-sex relationships.

Domestic violence can be a one-time use of force. However, often these crimes happen in a pattern. The violence might be meant to scare, intimidate or humiliate, or to make a person feel powerless. The violence might also include a number of acts that could sound minor by themselves, but together make up a pattern of abuse.

Domestic violence can also take the form of psychological/emotional abuse, verbal abuse, and economic/financial abuse. Although not always considered criminal offences, these forms of abuse are very serious.

If you or your children are experiencing domestic violence, you are not alone. There is help available for you. If you feel you are in danger, you can call 911.

If you have been physically or sexually assaulted, you can call the police. The police,with your permission, can call the Victim Crisis Assistance and Referral Services (VCARS). VCARS staff and volunteers can provide you with short-term assistance, such as emotional support, financial assistance through the Victim Quick Response Program and referral to community agencies.

If you do not wish to call the police or you are experiencing other forms of abuse, there are resources in your community to help you.

Talk to people at your community information centre or community health centre. They know about services in your community that can help you and your children. If you’re comfortable doing so, speak with your doctor. She/he can take care of your injuries and make a note of them in your file. These records can be used in court to prove to a judge that you were assaulted. You can also contact a Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Care and Treatment Centre. These hospital-based centres provide care to women, men and children who have been sexually assaulted or who are victims or survivors of domestic violence.

Talk to a lawyer about what you can do to protect yourself and your children. This may include starting a case in family court and asking for a restraining order or other orders relating to you or your children. More information about these orders is shown below. If you are considering starting a case in family court, you can also obtain information from a family court support worker including referrals to specialized services, help with safety planning, information about the family court process and help when you are at court.

You can also call the Victim Support Line (VSL) whose staff can tell you about services in your community such as sexual assault and counselling programs, shelters, legal aid clinics and children's services including Children's Aid Societies. In addition, the VSL can provide information about community programs for those who abuse their spouse/partner.

If the case goes to criminal court, it will go through a specialized court process called the Domestic Violence Court Program. As part of that program, Victim/Witness Services Workers from the Victim/Witness Assistance Programs (V/WAP) are available in many communities to help you go through the court process. In some cases, those who have assaulted their spouse/partner are referred to an in-depth educational program called the Partner Assault Response Program.

If your spouse/partner abused you and is now in jail, you can call the Victim Support Line to register for the Victim Notification Service (VNS). The VNS will notify you when your spouse/partner will be released from jail.

It is important to find out about resources in your community. If you have to leave your home and you have no money and no place to stay, you may be able to get income support, subsidized housing, legal aid and free counselling.

You can also contact the Assaulted Women’s Helpline or Fem’aide, which provides services in French, to receive support, information and referrals.

There is also an Office for Victims of Crime that looks at how services to victims of crime in Ontario are being provided. You can write to this office if you have concerns about any gaps in the services you require.

Laws for victims of abuse

There are laws to protect you and your children from violence.

Access orders

Ontario’s laws require a court to consider any violence against a spouse or parent of a child when making an order for custody of or access to a child. If your child is a victim of abuse by the other parent, you can ask the court to deny that parent access or allow access only if it is supervised.

Restraining orders

A person who has been abused by his or her spouse/partner can ask the court to make a restraining order. The restraining order can be general - that your spouse/partner has to stay away from you - or it can be specific. It can say that your spouse/partner must not come to your home, to your place of work, to your children's school or to other places where you often go (for example, your place of worship or your parent's home).

The restraining order must be served on your spouse/partner as soon as possible but you do not have to serve it yourself. It's best to have someone else serve it for you. If that's not possible, the court will assist you.

If your spouse/partner disobeys the restraining order, you can call the police. The police will want to see the restraining order. Keep it with you at all times. They may also ask you if your spouse/partner knows about the restraining order. If the police believe that your spouse/partner has disobeyed the restraining order, he or she can be arrested and charged with a crime.

The steps that must be taken to obtain a restraining order in family court are in the Ministry’s guide to restraining orders.

Exclusive possession of the family home

The rules on exclusive possession of the family home apply only to married couples. If you are married, you can ask the court for the right to live in your home and to make your spouse leave. You have an equal right to stay in your home even if the home is in your spouse's name.

Before a judge will order your spouse out of the home, the judge will consider if there was violence in the relationship, if there is another suitable place for you to live, if it is in the children's best interests to stay in their home, and your financial position.

If the judge agrees to an exclusive possession order, your spouse must move out and stay out of the house. If he or she tries to come in, you can call the police and he or she can be arrested.

Restraining orders and exclusive possession orders may not be enough to stop a violent person from hurting you. Your spouse/partner is already breaking the law by hitting you and may be prepared to break other laws by hurting you again.

If you are a woman in this situation, a women's shelter, in your community may be the safest place for you to live with your children for a while.

Stopping Abuse

If you are physically or emotionally abusing your spouse/partner, you can do something to stop. You can:

  • talk to a counsellor about your violent behaviour;
  • find out about groups that help people who abuse their spouses or partners;
  • call a community information centre, a community health centre, the 211 information and referral line, a counselling service or your doctor to get the telephone number of a group in your community;
  • talk to an Employee Assistance Program counsellor who may be able to help; and
  • accept responsibility for what you say and do.

Emergency Checklist for Assaulted Spouses or Partners in Crisis

You can find more information about creating a safety plan for you and your children on the Ontario Women’s Directorate website. There may be services in your community that can help you create a safety plan. You can call the Victim Support Line or the Assaulted Women’s Helpline or Fem’aide to find out more about resources in your area.

  • When your spouse or partner is assaulting you, call the police. Tell them you are being assaulted.
  • When the police arrive they must lay a charge if they believe an assault has taken place.
  • Make noise: neighbours may call the police.
  • Teach your children to call the police.
  • If you can, take the children when you leave.
  • Ask if the police can go back to your home with you later to get things that you need.
  • Open a bank account in your name and arrange that bank statements are not mailed to you.
  • Save as much as you can.
  • Set aside money for a taxi and quarters for pay phones.
  • Plan your emergency exits.
  • Keep emergency numbers with you at all times.
  • Hide extra clothes, house keys, car keys, money, etc. at a friend's house

If you have to leave in a hurry, try to take:

  • Extra car or house keys
  • Passports, birth certificates, immigration papers, health card, social insurance number
  • Prescriptions and other medicines
  • Emergency suitcase already packed, if possible
  • Some special toys and comforts for your children