Abuse & family violence

Young woman looking away at mountains.
Abuse and family violence

Violence is not a private family matter. When someone assaults or harasses someone else, it's a crime. It's not less of a crime just because a family member commits it.

Anyone can be abused in a relationship. But no one deserves to be hurt. The police, the courts, and many other agencies are out there to protect you against violence.

Aboriginal families and communities face particular challenges. Women might be afraid they have to leave their home on reserve if they break up with their partner (see If you decide to leave, below). Or they might be afraid that someone will contact social workers about them (see Child protection to find out how Parents Legal Centres can help).

Any kind of abuse is harmful; abuse can be emotional, psychological, physical, sexual, and/or financial. It's very important to take steps to stay safe. Help is available.

The information below can help you make the decisions that are right for you and your family. Please note that some of this information may remind you of painful experiences. Make sure you have support from people you can talk to. See the resources listed at the bottom of this page for help. Remember to clear your internet browsing history.

Call the police

If you're being assaulted or criminally harassed, call 911. Or call the number for the emergency police or RCMP listed inside the front cover of your phone book.

If you live on reserve, you can phone the community police if your band has a detachment. Or you can phone 911.

Police can help when abuse is happening or after it has happened. It's a good idea to have the police or RCMP come to your home, especially if your safety is at risk or if you have children with you.

What is abuse?

What is abuse?

Abuse and family violence come in many forms. It can range from threats to physical or sexual assault. It might also include harmful financial, emotional, and verbal actions (things said).

An abuser uses threats and violence to gain power and control over their partner. Often the abuser blames the abuse on the victim. Remember abuse is the abuser's fault. Abuse against you isn't your fault.

Abuse can be emotional, psychological, physical, sexual, and/or financial. Here are some examples of abuse in relationships.

Emotional abuse

  • calling you names
  • putting you down
  • blaming you for everything
  • embarrassing you
  • yelling at you
  • hurting your pet
  • damaging something you own

Psychological abuse

  • controlling who you see
  • controlling what you do
  • opening and reading your mail or other private papers
  • threatening to hurt you or someone else

Physical abuse

  • shoving
  • punching
  • hitting
  • slapping
  • choking

Sexual abuse

  • making you do sexual things when you don't want to
  • ˜forcing you to perform sex acts that make you uncomfortable or hurt you
  • using pornography in front of you when you aren't comfortable with it
  • talking to others about your sexual abilities
  • putting you at risk for unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases
  • having sex with you when you're not awake or alert enough to agree to it
  • rape or unwanted sex
  • ˜injuring sexual parts of your body without your agreement.

Financial abuse

  • controlling how you spend your money
  • making all the household money decisions and not letting you have any money
  • not letting you use bank accounts or credit cards
  • refusing to let you get a job or makes you lose your job
  • running up debts in your name

Abuse that's against the law

Certain types of abuse are more harmful than others and are against the law — these are crimes. Assault and criminal harassment are crimes.

  • Physical assault — when your partner hits or hurts you, or threatens to hit or hurt you and you believe that can and will happen.
  • Sexual assault — when anything sexual happens to you without your agreement, including unwanted kissing, sexual touching, forced intercourse (rape), and using a weapon to force you into sexual activity.
  • Criminal harassment — sometimes called stalking — when your partner forces unwanted and continuing attention on you. It's a pattern of threats and actions that makes you afraid for yourself and your children. The law says your partner can't phone or email you again and again, follow you, threaten you, or threaten to destroy your property.

What is a safety plan?

What is a safety plan?

A safety plan is made up of steps you can take to protect yourself and your children whether you stay with your partner or leave. Having a safety plan means you know how to get help if your partner is abusing you. Your children will feel safer when you help them make their own safety plan.

If you're thinking about leaving your partner, it's important to plan what to do before and after you leave. A safety plan can help you protect yourself both at home and outside your home.

Get help to make a plan to stay safe

It's a good idea to ask a friend, advocate, or victim service worker to help you make a safety plan. VictimLinkBC can help you get started on your safety plan. They offer confidential support to people experiencing abuse. Call 1-800-563-0808 (24 hours).

See also the resource Live Safe, End Abuse to find out how to start a safety plan, and how to protect yourself at home, protect yourself if you leave, and protect your children.

Why you might stay

Why you might stay

Someone might stay with an abusive partner for many reasons. You might stay for one or more of these reasons:

  • You may be a victim of a "cycle of violence" — a repeated pattern of violence in an abusive relationship. It sometimes begins with tension that slowly builds until a violent event happens. After the violent event, your partner might be very sorry. They might promise it won't happen again, and might be very loving and attentive. This might convince you and your partner that the abuse will end. But this pattern of abuse often happens again.
  • You feel you depend on the abuser for money, especially if you have a disability.
  • You're afraid for your children’s safety.
  • You're afraid of losing your home.
  • You think no one will believe the abuse happened.
  • You feel like your partner has power in the community and you're on your own.
  • You have no social supports because you stay away from your family and friends.
  • You don't know about your legal rights or support services that can help you.

Emotional effects of abuse

The idea of leaving might feel very difficult. Abuse makes you feel very isolated (alone). It can make you feel cut off from your friends and family and your childhood community.

You're not alone. Help is available. Sexual assault centres, shelters, and other anti-violence programs can help with emotional support and safety planning using online options like videoconferencing, or by phone, email, or text.

You can get help for yourself and your children, whether you want to stay in the relationship or leave. There are support services and trained people who can help you all over BC. Scroll down for the resources list under See more, below Get help.

Sadly, abuse almost always gets worse. If you don't leave your partner, your life could be at risk.

Harm reduction strategies

Being confined at home with an abusive partner can be very scary. Harm reduction strategies can help you through this overwhelming time. Try to make time for your own health and wellness to help make a big difference in how you feel. Try to keep in touch with family and friends over the phone, text, or email if it's safe for you to do so.

Get help making a safety plan. You can do things to make you and your children safer if you decide to stay with your abusive partner. See the section What is a safety plan? above to find out how to get help to protect yourself and your children in your home.

If you decide to leave

If you decide to leave

Sometimes leaving your partner can trigger more violence. It's very important to stay safe. If you're in immediate danger, call 911.

To find the nearest victim service worker, safe house, or transition house call VictimLinkBC at:

1-800-563-0808 (24 hours a day)

VictimLinkBC provides services in over 100 languages, including 17 North American Aboriginal languages.

It's also very important to get legal help. Call Legal Aid BC right away to find out if you qualify for a free lawyer:

604-408-2172 (Greater Vancouver)

1-866-577-2525 (elsewhere in BC)

Safe houses and transition houses

Some bands have transition houses on reserve that help women and children who are survivors of abuse. If you're off reserve or you want to leave it, there are more safe houses and transition houses you can go to.

Victim service workers, Native courtworkers, and advocates

Throughout BC, communities offer programs that help survivors of abuse. Some of them mainly serve Aboriginal women.

A victim service worker can also help you deal with police, the welfare ministry, and the courts. Or you can ask an advocate or trusted community member. That helper can go with you to meetings and give you emotional support.

You can also look for Native courtworkers. They can explain legal situations to you or speak on your behalf in court.

Who can stay in the family home on reserve?

As of December 16, 2014, there are new laws that set out who can stay in the family home on reserve when you and your partner break up. For more information, see Your home on reserve.

The new Family Homes on Reserve and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act sets out who can stay in the family home on reserve if your relationship breaks up. The new act applies to you if:

  • you live on a First Nation reserve,
  • at least one of you is a member of the First Nation or a status Indian, and
  • you've been living with your girlfriend or boyfriend for at least a year (you're common law partners), or
  • you're married (spouses).

If you've left your home due to family violence, you might still have a right to live in the home. It doesn't matter that you were the one to leave. It also doesn't matter whether you're a band member or status Indian.

When you're ready to start healing

When you're ready to start healing

You may feel ashamed, afraid, and alone. Abuse in relationships is not a private family matter. You can get help for yourself and your children, whether you want to stay in the relationship or leave. Support services and trained people can help you wherever you live in BC.

You can get help

Get emotional support

When you're ready to begin the journey of emotional healing, it's a good idea to get counselling. You can call your local Aboriginal community centre, social services agency, or friendship centre. They can help you find local counselling or an Elder to talk to. If you live on reserve, your band might offer these services.

To find the nearest victim service worker, safe house, or transition house, call VictimLinkBC at 1-800-563-0808 (24 hours a day). Or call BC211 at 211 for information and referrals to supports available in your community.

For a list of more resources to help you, scroll down to See more, under Get help.


Get help

VictimLinkBC — Counselling, information, and referrals

Native Courtworker and Counselling Association — Culturally appropriate services and support

ShelterSafe — Emergency support and an interactive map of all shelters in Canada

See More

See More

Community support services

QMUNITY, BC’s Queer, Trans, and Two-Spirit Resource Centre — referrals to lawyers, shelters, and other resources; free counselling, social and support groups — Call 604-684-5307

Vernon Women's Transition House Society — Call 250-542-1185

Counselling and support

Women Against Violence Against Women — Counselling program — Call 604-255-6344 — Vancouver

Crisis support and counselling

Battered Women's Support Services – Indigenous Women's Program — Across BC — Call the crisis line at 604-687-1867

Elizabeth Fry Society — Burns Lake — Call 250-692-5720 (24 hours a day)

Elizabeth Fry Society — Prince George — Call 1-866-563-1113 (24 hours a day)

Kids Help Phone — free, confidential and anonymous — Call 1-800-668-6868 or text 686868 (24 hours a day)

KUU-US Crisis Line Society — Crisis line dedicated to the Aboriginal community — Call 1-800-588-8717 (24 hours a day)

Métis Crisis Line — Call 1-833-638-4722 (1-833-MétisBC), 24 hours every day

Women Against Violence Against Women — 24-hour Crisis Line — Call 1-877-392-7583 — Across BC

310Mental Health Support  — Call 310-6789 (no area code needed, 24 hours a day)

Health and wellness

BC Association of Friendship Centres — Find a friendship centre in your area

First Nations Health Authority: 1-866-913-0033

Housing services

BC Society of Transition Houses (BCSTH) — Listings of transitional housing offered by BCSTH members — Call 1-800-661-1040 or 604-669-6943 (Greater Vancouver)

Helping Spirit Lodge Society — Spirit Lodge Transition House — Call 604-872-6649


Legal help

Access Pro Bono Law Clinics — Free legal help

BC211 — Helps people in Metro Vancouver and Fraser Valley districts to find available shelters — Call 211 or text 2-1-1

Bella Coola Legal Advocacy Program — Free legal help — Bella Coola

Family duty counsel — Free legal advice — Kwadacha and Tsay Key Dene — Call 1-877-601-6066

Family duty counsel — Free legal advice on family matters — Williams Lake — Call 778-395-6200

First Nations and Inuit Hope for Wellness Help Line — Free, experienced, and culturally competent help — Call 1-855-242-3310 (24 hours every day)

First Nations and Métis Outreach Program (The Law Centre, University of Victoria) — Free legal help, including family matters — Victoria

Free legal advice clinics — Carrier Chilcotin Tribal Council and Williams Lake — Call 604-681-8021

Indigenous community legal workers — Give legal information and limited advice services

Lawyer Referral Service — Helps you find a lawyer to take your case — Call 604-687-3221 (Greater Vancouver) or 1-800-663-1919 (elsewhere in BC)

Legal aid navigators — Support and referral services

Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation — See their Guide to Indigenous Organizations and Services in British Columbia — Organizations that can help

PovNet — Information about poverty issues and links to organizations that can help

UBC Indigenous Community Legal Clinic — Free legal help on various legal matters — Call 604-684-7334 (Greater Vancouver) or 1-888-684-7334 (elsewhere in BC)

Upper Skeena Counselling Legal Assistance Society — Free legal help — Hazelton

Victoria Native Friendship Centre — Free legal clinic, including family matters — Call 250-412-7794