Forms of Violence and Abuse

Violence against women and girls is not limited to physical abuse. It includes abusive words, actions and criminal acts that seek to degrade, humiliate or harm a woman or girl. Often, the term violence is used to refer to specific, usually physical, acts, while the word abuse is used to refer to a pattern of behaviour that a person uses to gain or maintain power and control over another. In this web site, these words are often used interchangeably, or the broader term of abuse is used.

Table of contents

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse, including assault, is the intentional use of force against a person without that person's consent. It can cause physical pain or injury that may last a long time. Physical abuse includes:

All of these acts are crimes in Canada.

Sexual Abuse (Adults)

Sexual abuse of an adult can include:

All sexual contact with anyone without consent is a crime called sexual assault. Sexual assault includes sexual touching or forcing sexual activity on a spouse, a common law partner or a dating partner. Even within marriage, one spouse cannot force the other to have sexual contact.

Sexual Abuse (Children)

There are also special laws to protect children from sexual abuse and from sexual activities that exploit them. Child sexual abuse happens when a person takes advantage of a child for sexual purposes. It does not always involve physical contact with a child.

For example, it could happen when an adult makes sexual comments to a child, or secretly watches or films a child for sexual purposes. Sexual abuse of a child includes:

Any sexual contact between an adult and a child under 16 is a crime. In Canada, the age of consent for sexual activity is 16, but there are some exceptions if the other person is close in age to the child.

In addition, children under 18 cannot legally give their consent to sexual activity that exploits them. Sexual activities that exploit a child include prostitution and pornography. They also include situations where someone in a position of authority or trust, or someone the child depends on, has any kind of sexual activity with the child. A person of authority or trust could be a parent, step-parent, grandparent, older sibling, teacher or coach.

Emotional or Psychological Abuse

Emotional abuse happens when a person uses words or actions to control, frighten, isolate or take away another person's self-respect. Emotional abuse is sometimes called psychological abuse. It can include:

Some forms of emotional abuse are crimes: stalking, threats to harm someone, harassing someone on the phone, intimidating someone on purpose or counselling (advising) someone to commit suicide. Many other forms of emotional abuse are not crimes, but they often have long-term negative effects and might lead to criminal acts later on.

If a child is emotionally abused, child protection authorities could intervene and remove the child from his or her parents.

Financial Abuse

Financial abuse happens when someone uses money or property to control or exploit another person. It can involve:

Most forms of financial abuse are crimes, including theft and fraud. Financial abuse can also include situations where one person intends to financially exploit another, as in cases of dowry fraud.

Criminal Harassment/Stalking

Criminal harassment, also known as stalking, is a crime. It involves repeated conduct that makes someone fear for their safety or the safety of someone they care about. It can include:


Spouses and common-law partners have a duty to care for each other. Adults have a duty to care for their dependent children as well as their dependent parents. Neglect happens when a family member, who has a duty to care for another, fails to provide for that person's basic needs. It can involve:

It may also include leaving someone alone for too long when that person is injured or unwell.

Some forms of neglect are crimes in Canada, including failure to provide the necessities of life and child abandonment. If a child is neglected, child protection authorities could intervene and remove the child from his or her parents.

Violence Committed in the Name of so-called "Honour"

Violence based on so-called "honour" happens when family members believe that the victim has behaved in ways that will bring shame or dishonour to the family. Violence, from the perpetrator's perspective, is used to protect family honour. The victim is usually, though not always, female. For example, the family might not approve of:

The family members may believe that using violence will bring back the family's reputation. The types of violence the family uses can include:

These actions are crimes.

Forced Marriage

Forced marriage happens when one or both people do not consent to the marriage. Forced marriage is not the same as arranged marriage. In arranged marriages, both people consent to the marriage.

Family members sometimes use physical violence, abduction, forced confinement or emotional abuse to force the person into the marriage. Even if parents try to force their child to marry because they think it is good for the child, using threats or violence to do this is a crime.

For information on key indicators on the prevalence and severity of violence against women; the various risk factors and impacts of violence; and criminal justice and social responses, consult Measuring Violence Against Women: Statistics Trends.

Note on Sources

Adapted from the Department of Justice publication entitled Abuse is Wrong (2009).
Note on Sources

Adapted from the Department of Justice publication entitled Abuse is Wrong (2009).

Date modified: