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Types of Abuse

Abuse is an intentional pattern of behaviours used to dominate and police a woman’s thoughts, body, and the way in which she chooses to live her life. Some types of abuse are easily identifiable while others are covert in nature. Abuse occurs across all cultures, races, ethnic groups, religions, ages, sexual orientations, gender identities, educational backgrounds and income levels. Abuse has nothing to do with love and everything to do with power and control.


Abuse occurs in many different ways, to many different women and children. It’s important to remember that everyone’s experience is unique and is not limited to the information provided here.

Emotional/Psychological abuse

Includes threats; constant criticism; public shaming; the silent treatment; teasing; put downs disguised as jokes; unflattering nicknames; withholding affection and emotional support; making a partner feel worthless; treating her like a child; treating her like property; “gas lighting” or over time convincing her that she is going crazy; telling her she is not a fit mother; threatening to take away her children.

Verbal abuse

The most common form of relationship abuse, often overlaps with emotional/psychological abuse and can include name calling; put downs; yelling; swearing; screaming; threatening; blaming; dismissing feelings. Verbal abuse often leaves a woman feeling like she is “walking on eggshells” because the slightest thing can trigger an attack.


Is a form of violence that involves the use of communication technologies like the internet, social networking, websites, email, text messaging and instant messaging to intimidate or harass a partner. Abusers may send threatening emails or text/instant messages; post embarrassing photos online; create a website to embarrass a partner; pretend to be their partner online; send personal or embarrassing information to others.

Manipulating children

Includes having children report on their mother’s activities; sending messages from the abuser to the mother through the children; threatening to cut off the mother’s contact with her children; threatening to or actually harming the children to punish the mother.

Financial abuse

Includes preventing a woman from working; purposely causing her to lose her job; taking her pay cheque; preventing her from having access to bank accounts or money; excluding her from financial decisions; cancelling credit cards and closing joint bank accounts; hiding assets; forcing her to work in a family business without pay; refusing to pay court ordered child support; and drawing out divorce/custody/other court proceedings in order to cause financial distress.

Social abuse and isolation

Tends to happen gradually and without anyone really noticing. Women living with abusive partners eventually lose contact with family, friends, coworkers, committees, volunteer groups, etc. Social isolation includes using technology like cameras and cell phones to monitor a partner’s whereabouts; preventing her from leaving the house; or maintaining constant contact while she is out.

Sexual abuse

Can happen within the context of a marriage, or other romantic relationships. It includes unwanted touching; demanding sex; forcing sex; name-calling with sexual labels; forcing a partner to engage in prostitution or pornography; forcing her to have sex with others; insisting on anything sexual that frightens or hurts her; refusing to use safe sex practices; preventing her from using birth control; controlling her decisions about pregnancy and/or abortion; withholding sex as a form of control; videotaping or photographing sexual acts without her consent.

Spiritual abuse

Is the use of religious doctrine to control a partner. Another form of spiritual abuse is when an abuser forces a partner to abandon her religion, or spiritual beliefs, in order to adopt the abuser's beliefs. It can also take the form of an abuser preventing a partner from practicing any religious or spiritual beliefs.

Physical abuse

Is one of the easier forms of abuse to identify because often there are very visible signs. Physical abuse includes preventing a woman from eating or sleeping; creating unsafe living conditions; refusing to help when she is sick, injured, or pregnant; withholding medications or medical treatment; harming or killing pets or animals; spitting on her; using or threatening to use a weapon against her; locking her out of the house; distracting her while driving; driving too fast; abandoning her in dangerous places; pushing; punching; pinching; biting; slapping; hitting; kicking; strangling; punching walls; pinning her down; throwing objects; pulling her hair; or confining her.


Occurs when an abuser scares or harasses someone with repeated, unwanted contact, communication, or by following or watching them.

Cycle of Abuse

The “Cycle of Abuse” refers to a typical cycle relating to violence against women in intimate relationships. 


Tension Build-Up

The abuser starts showing unpredictable behaviour, perhaps using threats, courting conflict, making the survivor feel bad about themselves, and generally showing more anger and violent behaviour. This may last a few hours or many months.



After an explosion and denial, there is often a period of remorse where the abuser may say they're sorry, and shower the survivor with gifts. The abuser may promise it will never happen again, say they will change, and even offer to seek treatment. The survivor feels hopeful, wanting to believe in the person the abuser "used to be."


The fight happens. The abuser may hit, kick, slap, strangle, throw things at their partner, or otherwise attack them. The survivor may be abused sexually or have weapons used against them. These incidents usually happen without witnesses, and the survivor generally cannot stop the attack. Afterwards, they may feel pain, fear, despair or humiliation.



The abuser uses defense mechanisms such as blaming the violence on the survivor or others, making excuses for the violence, or minimizing the violence.

They may say things like, "if only you hadn't...". Often, the survivor blames themselves for the abuse: "if only I'd..."

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