Family Violence Initiative

Physical abuse

Lena sat quietly with the social worker and the interpreter in the hospital emergency room. She tried to stop the panic she felt. Her broken arm hung limp at her side. "You should report this, you know," the social worker said. Lena stirred suddenly. "No. No police!" she said with renewed energy. "There must be another way." She began to shake all over. The mention of the police brought Lena back to terrifying memories of soldiers coming to her hometown—to memories of death and loss, and of brutal rape and torture. Lena and her husband, George, had come to Canada in hope of leaving those memories behind. But instead, the echoes of those dark times still haunted them, undoing their attempts to start a new life. George, especially, was moody and found it hard to get along with others. His ups and downs made it difficult to keep a job. His frustration often led to rage when Lena told him to stop being mean to her. He had started to hit her sometimes. Her neighbour had noticed the bruises and urged her to leave. "George is just going through a hard time," Lena had replied. But this time, seeing Lena's broken arm, her neighbour had insisted on taking her to the hospital. "You have to get help. It's only going to get worse," she said as she called them a taxi. Lena remembered this in the hospital room and turned slowly to the social worker, "My husband and I have been through so much. Is there any way he could stop behaving like this?" The social worker placed her hand on Lena's good shoulder and said through the interpreter. "We can find you someone who understands and can try to help you."

What does it look like?

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:

  • pushing or shoving
  • hitting, slapping or kicking
  • pinching or punching
  • strangling or choking
  • stabbing or cutting
  • shooting
  • throwing objects at someone
  • burning
  • holding someone down for someone else to assault
  • locking someone in a room or tying them down, or
  • killing someone.

All of these acts are crimes in Canada.

Physical violence is taken very seriously by the police. If the abuser is convicted for using physical violence against you, the punishment can be very severe. You can report physical violence to the police at any time, even a long time after the violence happened. But it is best for you to report it as soon as possible.

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

Violence based on so-called honour

Violence based on "honour" happens when family members use violence to protect family honour. The victim is usually female. The victim has behaved in ways that the family believes will bring shame or dishonour. For example, the family might not approve of:

  • dating or talking to boys
  • having sexual relationships outside marriage
  • wearing what the parents believe is the wrong clothing, or
  • refusing a forced marriage.

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

  • beatings
  • forced confinement
  • threats
  • counselling suicide, and
  • killing.

These actions are crimes.

If you know someone who is afraid for their safety because of family honour, contact the police.

Underage and forced marriage

Nathalie leaned forward and cradled her head in her hands. She felt like she was in a bad dream. "You're shaking," said her best friend Christine, quietly. She'd been so grateful when Christine had picked up the phone and agreed to meet her at the park. Now Nathalie told her everything: how her parents had arranged a marriage with a man back home, and how they expected her to simply accept it, like her mother had when she was young. "But how could they do that?" Christine cried. "You have terrific marks! It's Grade 12! They know you want to go to university!" Nathalie stared at the ground. "Yes. I've told them that a thousand times. All they can see is that I need to get married. My wishes don't matter to them."

Nathalie could barely believe what had just happened. "They were all there for a party—my uncle, my grandmother, my sister, my brother and my parents. Then suddenly my father announced that we were going back home for a visit and that I was going to be married to a man they had chosen for me. When I complained, my uncle told me I had no choice—that it was about loyalty to the family. My mother turned away and couldn't even look into my eyes. I don't know what to do! It's like I have to suddenly choose between my dreams and my family. I'm really scared." Suddenly she looked up at her friend and said in a panicked voice, "What if I hate him? What if he rapes me? Don't they care?" Christine stood up from the bench quickly. "Come on," she said, reaching for Nathalie's hand. "If you want, you can stay with us for a few days. I spoke to my Mom before coming over to see you. She said she would take you to a legal clinic to get some advice. It's against the law to force someone to marry. You need to get some help and you need to stay safe."

Marriage in Canada

Canadian requirements for a valid marriage include that:

  • Both people getting married must give their free and enlightened consent to the marriage.
  • Both must be at least 16 years old. and
  • Neither of them can be married to anyone else.

Forced marriage

A forced marriage occurs when a person does not want to marry, but is made to marry by someone else. It is not the same as an arranged marriage, where both people consent to the marriage.

Family members might believe that the marriage is the right thing for the person and for the family. Sometimes they will even use physical violence, threats of violence, abduction, forced confinement or emotional abuse to force someone to marry. But forcing someone to marry against their will is a crime in Canada. It is also a crime to take a person under 18 years of age out of Canada to force them to marry in another country. Some tactics used to force a person to marry are also crimes - for example, threats and violence.

If you or someone you know is being forced to marry, tell someone you trust or contact the police or a social worker. You may want to ask them about applying for a peace bond* to prevent the marriage from taking place. You can also call the police if you suspect that you or someone you know will be taken out of Canada and forced to marry in another country. You can find more information on steps you can take to protect yourself from being forced into marriage on Global Affairs Canada's forced marriage webpage (https://travel.gc.ca/assistance/emergency-info/forced-marriage) or by calling 1-800-387-3124. That webpage also has a directory of services that may include places to get help in your province or territory.

Underage marriage

Canadian law requires anyone getting married to be 16 years old or over. This minimum age also applies to anyone who is ordinarily resident in Canada where the marriage takes place outside Canada, in person or by telephone or proxy. It is a crime in Canada to celebrate, aid or participate in the marriage of a child who is under 16 years of age, even if the child agrees to be married. It is also a crime to take a child under 16 who ordinarily lives in Canada, to another country to be married. If you know a child under 16 who will be married in Canada or taken to another country to be married, call the police or a social worker.

Polygamy

Canadian law permits two people to marry each other. It is a crime in Canada to marry a person while you or they are married to someone else. If you are married to one person, you cannot marry another person until you take legal steps to end your marriage through divorce or are widowed. Practising polygamy, which means knowing that you are involved in a form of marriage that involves more than two persons at the same time, including a religious marriage, is a crime in Canada.

Female genital mutilation

Female genital mutilation, sometimes called female genital cutting, is any procedure that injures or removes all or part of the external female genital organs for non-medical reasons. It can cause pain and serious long-term health problems. Female genital mutilation is a crime in Canada.

Any person who helps mutilate a female's genitals could also be charged with a crime. This includes parents, doctors or nurses. Even a person who arranges for someone else to do this to a person commits a crime. It is also against the law to take a child out of Canada to have this procedure done in another country.

Female genital mutilation of a child is child abuse and should be reported to the authorities.

If you suspect that someone you know might be at risk of female genital mutilation, contact the police.

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