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Keep safety in mind when leaving an abusive relationship

By Jaskiran Bajwa

Intimate partner violence (IPV) is one of the most common forms of violence against women, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Men and those in same-sex relationships can also be victims of violence at the hands of their partners. However, WHO states men are far more likely to be harmed by a stranger or acquaintance than by someone close to them.

All genders, ages, socioeconomic, racial, educational, ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds are impacted by IPV.

Children exposed to this violence are also affected. The Government of Canada reports that intimate partner violence can occur:

  • within a marriage, common-law or dating relationship;
  • regardless of the gender and sexual orientation of the partners;
  • at any time during a relationship and even after it has ended; and
  • whether or not the partners live together or are sexually intimate with one another.

In 2021, police across Canada reported there were 114,132 victims of IPV, marking the seventh consecutive year it has increased.

While living with an abusive partner is traumatic, many are fearful of the consequences of leaving the relationship. If you are in this situation, it is essential to put safety first. Separation and divorce can be a difficult and stressful time, especially when you are dealing with an abusive spouse. But you don’t have to face it alone. At Demas Schaefer Family Lawyers, we are to support and guide you. We will listen to your concerns and identify your needs to offer a situation-specific approach designed to help you rebuild your life.

Defining intimate partner violence

According to research from McGill University and WHO, more than one in four women around the world experience IPV before the age of 50.

“While Canada is among the top 30 countries with the lowest rates of intimate partner violence, it’s still a problem that affects one in 25 women,” says McGill professor Mathieu Maheu-Giroux. “Some provinces in Canada are looking at different ways to address domestic violence. In Quebec, for example, the government approved a pilot project in 2021 to create a special court for victims of domestic and sexual violence,” he adds.

The Government of Canada states IPV can occur publicly or privately and include:

Physical abuse: Intentional or threatened use of physical force, such as punching, slapping, pushing or shoving, cutting, punching, or strangulation.

Criminal harassment: Often referred to as stalking, it can include repeated conduct that creates fear for the victim’s safety or the safety of a loved one. This can occur through threats, obscene phone calls, and following the victim physically or on the Internet.

Sexual violence: This includes sexually degrading language and belittling sexual comments, sexual acts without consent and threats for refusing sexual activity or forcing someone to watch pornography or participate in making it.

Emotional/psychological abuse: This can be insults, constant humiliation, intimidation, threats of harm, threats to take away children, or harming or threatening to harm pets.

Financial abuse: This is also referred to as economic abuse and can include control or misuse of money, assets or property, or controlling a partner’s ability to access school or a job.

Spiritual abuse: Using spiritual beliefs to manipulate, dominate or control someone.

Coercive control:
This includes patterns of control and abuse meant to cause fear or terror. 

The use of technology to facilitate virtual or in-person harm. This could include tracking the victim’s location to scare, intimidate or humiliate them.

Reproductive coercion:
This could include controlling the victim’s reproductive choices, pregnancy outcomes and/or access to health services.The Divorce Act was amended in 2021 to broaden the definition of family violence. Family court judges must now consider the impact of violence on parenting arrangements.

It is important to remember that physical or mental cruelty is one of the three grounds for divorce in Canada.

Emergency Protection Orders

One form of immediate help is obtaining an Emergency Protection Order (EPO).  An EPO can be applied for without first giving the usual notice required by the opposite party under most court proceedings.  It can be applied for before a Provincial Court Judge or a Justice of the Peace.  Generally, to be successful in obtaining an EPO, you need to show there has been a history of violence, that it is reasonable to assume that future violence may occur and that there is some impending danger.

On successfully obtaining an EPO, police will serve the other party with a copy of the order.  The matter is then returned to the Court of King’s Bench for a review nine days later.  At the review, the Court of King’s Bench Justice will first determine whether the initial granting of the EPO was warranted.  The Court can then either confirm the EPO for a period of time, vacate (terminate) the EPO, adjourn to a future court date for further review or set the matter for an oral hearing to determine whether it should be extended or terminated.

Further information on the EPO application process can be found here.

Help is available

If you are a victim of intimate partner violence there are a number of community organizations in Alberta ready to listen to you and offer guidance and assistance. If you are in immediate danger, contact the police.

There are many telephone services or crisis lines that are open 24 hours a day where you can speak anonymously to receive advice. The Domestic Abuse Resource Hub is one resource that is now available to Albertans. It is the first of its kind in Canada, offering connections to counselling, videos, podcasts and written materials. The resource is based on University of Alberta research and uses artificial intelligence to continuously improve what is offered.

“The hub is a one-stop shop where anyone can find information on domestic abuse that is credible, reliable and up to date,” says Stephanie Montesanti, associate professor at the University of Alberta’s School of Public Health.

For some, it may be financially impractical to leave an abusive relationship. However, the Alberta Government provides help for those who need emergency shelters and temporary housing. The province also offers the Escaping Abuse Benefit, one of a number of programs available for Albertans fleeing abuse. You can apply for the benefit if you:

  • are living in an abusive family situation or have already left;
  • do not have enough money to leave or start over;
  • you do not qualify for other ongoing Alberta benefits;
  • are at least 18 years old; and
  • live in Alberta and are a Canadian citizen or permanent resident, refugee or refugee claimant.

Under the program, you are eligible to receive assistance with emergency transportation to a safe place, costs for short-term stays in a hotel or motel if shelters are unavailable and an allowance to buy personal items not provided by the shelter. Funding also covers emergency items not available through shelters such as prescription drugs, child care, dental and eye care services.

There is a one-time benefit to move within Alberta or outside the province to escape the threat of violence, a one-time allowance to set up a new home, money for the damage deposit for a new home and costs for food, clothing and telephone calls. There is also extended health coverage for adults and children from families with limited incomes. To apply, call Alberta Supports toll-free at 1-877-644-9992 on weekdays from 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. or 1-866-644-5135  on weekends, holidays and after-hours.

Make a plan

Some victims of domestic violence are hesitant to tell people about their situation. But it can be the first step in getting the help you need. Speak with someone you trust, such as a friend or a family member.

Your family doctor can also provide advice if you are being abused. They can help you with your physical or psychological injuries or refer you to someone who can. 

You may have many questions: How do I get out of the relationship? What will I do financially? How will I support my children? What will my future look like?

There are things you can do to prepare. Store a packed suitcase with someone you trust with essentials that include any important documents you will need. Set some cash aside in a safe place or open your own bank account and credit card accounts. Make a list of government agencies that can provide support. Talk to a family lawyer.

Ideally, it is always preferable to have a concrete plan and the finances so you can leave the relationship. However, if your safety is in jeopardy you may have to make an immediate decision to flee without the resources you need. Just remember that you can always make arrangements to put your life back together once you are away from the violence.

We are here for you

Leaving an abusive relationship can be daunting. However, your welfare and the safety of your children are paramount. At Demas Schaefer Family Lawyers, we know there is more than one way to deal with a problem and our experienced team can guide you through this difficult time in your life. Whatever the circumstances, we have a solution for you.

We have represented clients in Edmonton, Leduc, Wetaskiwin, Sherwood Park, Spruce Grove, St. Albert, Red Deer, Provost, Grande Prairie, Peace River, Edson, Hinton and Cold Lake. Contact us for a free 15-minute telephone or video consultation to see how we can assist you.

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