Domestic violence in Canada and its path to homelessness

Aug 2021 | Homelessness Other Resources

Domestic violence in Canada is a major social issue, with four out of 10 women and one-third of men experiencing intimate partner violence, according to Statistics Canada.

Over the last year, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated domestic violence and a CBC in-depth investigative series has shown that Canada is facing a domestic violence crisis where thousands of Canadians are subjected to harassment, abuse, and murder at the hands of their intimate partners. Social distancing during the pandemic has reduced victims’ connections to family and friends, isolating them further from their abuser. That, combined with increased mental health challenges has led to a crisis where we’ve seen a severe increase in domestic violence.

Domestic violence definition

The definition of domestic violence is a pattern of behaviour intended to attain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner in any relationship. According to the United Nations, this includes any actions that scare, intimidate, humiliate, blame, terrify, manipulate, or harm another person.

When there is a close link between the perpetrator and the victim, the term “domestic violence” is used. Typically, there is a power disparity between them. The victim is reliant on the perpetrator. Domestic violence can manifest itself physically, sexually, emotionally, economically, or psychologically. It can also affect a child or another relative, as well as any other household member.

Canadian statistics

Domestic abuse is difficult to address because of the extremely private nature of these occurrences. However, statistics have shown that domestic violence in Canada is more prevalent among women than among men. According to Canadian Women’s Foundation:

There are 100,000 victims of domestic violence in Canada each year and around 90 individuals die at the hands of their abuser. Based on a May 2017 national scan, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police also found that Indigenous women are far more likely than non-Indigenous women to face violence and homicide. The Canadian Women’s Foundation cites that Indigenous women are killed at six times the rate of non-Indigenous women.

A path into homelessness 

People facing domestic abuse no longer feel safe at home but are often financially dependent on their partner and have been isolated from friends and family. Leaving can be a choice between abuse or homelessness when the support they need isn’t available to prevent them from falling into homelessness. 

CBC’s in-depth investigation found that an average of 620 women and children were turned away from domestic violence shelters across Canada each day in November 2019. That works up to roughly 19,000 times each month. The real figure may be substantially higher considering not every incident is reported. 

The unfortunate reality for abuse victims is that when they attempt to flee, they frequently find themselves with nowhere to go. This may mean that when someone has nowhere else to go, they are compelled to remain with their abuser for an extended period of time, which eventually could cost them their lives. If they do leave, they may be vulnerable in other ways as homelessness can put them at risk of experiencing other types of violence. There are also the mental and physical health impacts of experiencing homelessness to consider.

Impact on children living in families with domestic violence 

Domestic violence not only impacts the adults in the relationship; it can also have a detrimental impact on their children. Researchers have found that domestic abuse has an emotional, mental, and social toll on children and teenagers, and the impact varies according to their age, gender, and developmental stage. 

When children are exposed to domestic violence, they not only witness it, but they can also get caught-up in incidents of abuse.  A study has shown that children are not just passively watching the violence, but experiencing and feeling it with all of their senses. Additionally, children exposed to domestic violence are also more likely to suffer from neglect, physical and/or sexual abuse. 

All of this can have long and short-term impacts on children exposed to domestic violence, according to the BC government public safety and emergency services:

It is evident that supporting women and children is a priority, not only for their overall well-being, but also for the well-being of Canadian communities. According to Canadian Women’s Foundation, violence against women costs taxpayers and governments billions of dollars every year.  Dealing with the result of spousal violence alone, Canadians spend $7.4 billion.

The rate of youth homelessness in Canada is on the rise as the homeless population between ages 13 and 24 is growing.

Support and services for women to access help 

Domestic violence of any kind, whether physical, verbal, or sexual, is unacceptable in any relationship. These services and programs are available for women who need help with domestic violence: 

Victim Services assists victims of crime in locating services throughout Canada. Visit the website to locate the office that is most convenient for you. They can assist you in developing safety strategies and making referrals to legal assistance, social workers, and counselling. 

Crisis Line is manned 24 hours a day and will assist you in accessing shelters, victim services, counselling, and a variety of other options. Call Crisis Line (1-800-784-2433) if you are considering ending an abusive relationship.

PEACE (Prevention, Education, Advocacy, Counselling and Empowerment) offer individual and group counselling to children who have seen parental abuse, with the goal of breaking the intergenerational cycle of violence. For more information, call VictimLink BC at 1-800-563-0808

Women’s Transition Housing and Supports Program provide housing and services to women and children who have experienced domestic violence in BC or who are in danger of experiencing violence. A list of transitional housing, safe housing, and second-stage housing in BC is available in this link

Haven Society advances the integrity and safety of women, children, youth, and families, as well as the growth of a respectful and healthy community. Haven Society located in Nanaimo is guided by feminist ideals and offers a range of services, public education, and campaigning. Cedar Woman House is a purpose-built institution in Nanaimo for Indigenous women and children who have undergone or are in danger of facing violence. It is staffed 24 hours a day. This facility was built with Indigenous values, cultural interests, and programming in mind. The Cedar Woman’s House meets an acute need for emergency housing and assistance for women and children in the Hul’q’umin’um’-speaking community’s territory.

Resources to help you

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