Aboriginal Legal Aid in BC

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 has committed 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 may be afraid that they have to leave their home on reserve if they break up with their partner. Or they may be afraid that someone will contact social workers about them. The information below can help you make the decisions that are right for you and your family.

To find people who can help you, see Who can help.


What is abuse?

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

An abuser uses threats and violence to gain power and control over their partner. Often the abuser blames the abuse on the victim. Remember that 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
  • Rape/unwanted sex
  • Having sex with you when you're not awake or alert enough to agree to it

Financial abuse

  • Controlling how you spend your money
  • Making all the household money decisions and doesn't let 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. This includes unwanted kissing, sexual touching, and rape.
  • 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 that your partner can't phone or email you again and again, follow you, threaten you, or threaten to destroy your property.

Find out more

Why you might stay

There are many reasons why someone stays with an abusive partner. You may be staying 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 may be very sorry. They may promise that it won't happen again, and may be very loving and attentive. This may 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 that 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. Sadly, abuse almost always gets worse. If you don't leave your partner, your life could be at risk.

Make a safety plan

You can do things to make yourself and your children safer. Making a safety plan is a good idea.

A safety plan is made up of steps you can take to protect yourself and your children. Having a safety plan means you know how to get help if your partner is abusing you.

It's a good idea to ask a friend, advocate, or victim service worker to help you make a safety plan. See our fact sheet Safety Planning for detailed information on how to make a safety plan.

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.

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.

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 VictimLink BC at 1-800-563-0808 (no charge, 24 hours a day). VictimLink provides services in over 100 languages, including 17 North American Aboriginal languages. See Who can help? at the bottom of the page.

It's also very important to get legal help. Phone Legal Aid right away to find out if you qualify for a free lawyer: 604-408-2172 (Greater Vancouver) or 1-866-577-2525 (call no charge outside Greater Vancouver). Or see the legal help options listed under Who can help? at the bottom of the page.

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 many more safe houses and transition houses that you can go to.

Victim service workers, Native courtworkers, and advocates

Throughout BC, there are programs in the community 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 come 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 may 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.

Who can help?

Safe houses, transition houses, victim services

100 Mile House & District Women's Centre Society — Call 250-395-4093

Battered Women's Support Services – Aboriginal Women's Program — Across BC

BC211 — Helps people in Metro Vancouver and Fraser Valley districts to find available shelters — Call 211

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

Elizabeth Fry Society — Prince George — Call 1-866-563-1113 (no charge, 24 hours a day)

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

KUU-US Crisis Line Society — Crisis line dedicated to the Aboriginal community — Call 1-800-588-8717 (no charge; available 24/7)

Native Courtworker and Counselling Association — Culturally appropriate support, explain legal situations — Call 1-877-811-1190 (no charge)

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

VictimLink BC — Counselling, information, and referrals — Call 1-800-563-0808 (no charge, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week)

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

Women Against Violence Against Women — 24-hour Crisis Line — Call 1-877-392-7583 (no charge, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week) — Across BC

Find an advocate

BC211 — Free confidential referrals to help and information — Call 211

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

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

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

Legal help

Legal information

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

Legal information outreach workers — Give legal information and provide referrals

Legal advocacy and advice

Access Pro Bono Law Clinics — Free legal help

Carole James, MLA, Community Office — Free legal clinic, including family matters — Call 250-412-7794

Family duty counsel — Free legal advice — Kwadacha and Tsay Key Dene — Call 1-877-601-6066 (no charge)

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

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

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

UBC Indigenous Community Legal Clinic — Free legal help on various legal matters — 604-684-7334 (Greater Vancouver) or 1-888-684-7334 (call no charge)

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

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