What is violence?

Definition of violence 


Domestic violence has no face. It can occur in all social classes, in young couples as well as in the elderly, regardless of their ethnic origin or sexual orientation. 


Domestic violence against women is a complex problem. This is not a simple ‘domestic dispute’; it is rather a social problem since this violence is directed against a specific group, namely women, as illustrated by the following definition:


“Domestic violence is characterized by a series of repetitive acts, which generally occur in an upward trend. Experts call this escalation of violence. It proceeds, in the aggressor, according to a cycle defined by successive phases marked by rising tension, aggression, disempowerment, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Violence includes psychological, verbal, physical, and sexual assault as well as acts of economic domination. It does not result from a loss of control, but rather constitutes a means chosen to dominate the other person and to assert their power over them.’


(Politique en matière de violence, prévenir, dépister et contrer la violence, Québec, 1995) [Policy on violence, preventing, detecting and countering violence, Quebec, 1995]


Consult the cycle of violence

Violence is first and foremost a relationship of power and coercive control. The different behaviors used are not always easy to identify and are often carried out privately by the couple, without witnesses. Often, there is a whole climate of intimidation that sets in before the first physically violent behaviors.  Over time, we notice that there is an escalation in violent behavior. There is always an ulterior motive and the control exerted by the abusive partner is specifically aimed at preventing the victim from doing something or forcing the victim to behave as the abuser wishes. The abuser always has to have the last word. In general, violent behavior has as its aim: 


  • Making all the decisions in order to impose their will and needs;
  • Imposing their presence in all spheres of the victim’s life, deciding on activities or loved ones that the victim will or will not see;
  • Requiring that certain tasks or responsibilities be done in the abuser’s own way;
  • Punishing the victim when they do not comply with the abuser’s demands.


The impact of violence will be even greater when a person with a lot of social power abuses a person with less. Socio-economic and ethnic differences, sexual orientation and gender identity, and mental or physical health conditions are all vulnerability factors that can increase the consequences of violence for victims. 


So let’s take a look at the main forms of violence that can occur in a romantic relationship.

Often the most trivialized and tolerated. It becomes a mode of communication that reinforces psychological aggression and increases the intensity of the contempt the aggressor has for the victim. Here are a few examples:


  • Screaming or shouting 
  • Constantly cursing/swearing 
  • Insulting or abusing
  • Giving orders 
  • Using a brusque or authoritarian tone 
  • Constantly interrupting the conversation

A form of psychological violence that concerns religion, but also a person’s values and beliefs. 


  • Making fun of what the victim believes in
  • Imposing their vision of religion and how the victim practices it or not
  • Harming the attainment of each other’s dreams or projects
  • Using moral or religious values to control or threaten

Different tactics can be used to discredit and isolate the victim, even in the face of the authorities trying to support the victim.  This can be done by: 


  • Making false accusations
  • Lying to support and judicial workers
  • Prolonging legal proceedings unnecessarily
  • Failure to comply with court orders or their conditions

This form of violence brings together all the behaviors that violate the physical integrity of the person. This is the culmination of the escalation that has taken its course over time, in order to establish domination and fear among the victims. Here are a few examples:


  • Pushing , jostling 
  • Grabbing the arms 
  • Kicking and punching 
  • Hitting, with or without an object 
  • Preventing the other person from sleeping 
  • Burning with a cigarette 
  • Pulling the hair 
  • Strangling 
  • Threatening with a weapon 
  • Homicide  


Physical violence can also occur indirectly. Preventing someone from leaving a room, banging on walls, throwing objects, breaking property, or driving dangerously are all behaviors that threaten the victim even if the perpetrator does not touch them directly.

In our hyper-connected society, violence by means of technology allows constant control over the victim, even remotely. In addition, many electronic gadgets facilitate monitoring and are available at a low cost.  Here are some examples of behaviors victims face: 


  • Requiring them to answer the phone or messages immediately 
  • Forcing them to provide their passwords and reading their exchanges or texts
  • Installing cameras or spying apps without your knowledge
  • Requiring the victim to constantly keep their GPS open or track them via this type of app 

This form of violence refers to communication content. The aggressor’s goal is to destroy the victim’s self-esteem and undermine his or her credibility. Psychological violence takes an insidious hold and causes a lot of confusion in the victims who, within a few months, can feel a loss of identity. The victim believes for a long time, wrongly, that they are responsible for the situation. This can happen in a multitude of ways:


  • Dictating their moods or creating a tense atmosphere 
  • Blaming the victim for all the couple’s difficulties
  • Criticizing the victim’s decisions or judgment
  • Questioning the victim’s mental health
  • Minimizing, denying, or distorting the partner’s feelings, emotions and perceptions 
  • Ridiculing, denigrating, criticizing the partner’s actions or opinions 
  • Making the partner feel incompetent, guilty or unhappy with themself 
  • Making threats of all kinds
  • Making all decisions, whether important or not 
  • Blackmail 

Sexual violence has long gone unnoticed in a domestic context. But, since 1983, marital rape has been recognized as a crime in Canada. Beyond unwanted sexual assault and touching, there is a whole host of behaviors that undermine the sexual integrity and body image of the victim. 


This form of violence attacks both the physical and psychological integrity of the victim, as demonstrated by the following examples:


  • Making disparaging remarks about or ridiculing the physical appearance or body of one’s partner;
  • Accusing the other of having lovers;
  • Making sexist jokes; 
  • Forcing the partner to watch pornographic material;
  • Forcing her into prostitution;
  • Sharing intimate images without the consent of the victim;
  • Sexually comparing the current partner to former dates or pornographic actresses;
  • Manipulating the other in order to obtain satisfaction of their own sexual needs;
  • Any unwanted sexual activity which the woman considers repugnant or painful;
  • Initiating sexual intercourse when the victim is unable to give free and informed consent (when sleeping, for example).

Beyond simple theft, economic violence concerns the control over the victim’s financial resources, with the aim of restricting them financially and materially. This affects both the management of the couple’s finances and the victim’s professional life. Here are some examples:


  • Not taking financial responsibility;
  • Refusing to let the other person work or  causing them to lose their job (harassment, keeping the other person up all night, etc.);
  • Demanding accountability for the smallest expenses;
  • Controlling the finances and keeping the victim in the dark about them;
  • Constantly criticizing the victim’s purchases;
  • Committing fraud or impersonating the victim;
  • Refusing to give money for the basic needs of the family (food, shelter, medicine, etc.);
  • Spending all the money on their own needs (drugs, gambling, etc.);
  • Selling the house or children’s items to use the money for their own purposes

The social isolation created by violence allows the abuser to tighten their grip on the victim even further. This can manifest itself in the following ways: 


  • Restricting or prohibiting contact with family or friends;
  • Subjecting the victim to interrogation after outings without the partner;
  • Lying and manipulating relatives with regard to the victim.

To dominate a person, the abuser may choose to attack those close to them or those who try to help them or who have power over their situation. This allows them to isolate the victim and deprive them of people who are positive influences on their self-esteem.  


1. Children 


The tense environment in an abusive relationship affects children and also places the victimized parent in a difficult position.  The abuser may threaten or attack the children to punish the other parent or force them to submit. Parental alienation is frequently used.  Some women may also stay with or return to an abusive partner to protect their children. 


2. Pets


Animals can also be victims of threats or animal cruelty, which makes it difficult for many victims to leave the relationship if they cannot find a way to protect their animal. Without attacking the animal directly, a violent partner can also force the victim to lose their animal, by letting it run away or by having it euthanized against their will. 


3. Family, friends, and colleagues 


An abusive partner can manipulate victims’ social networks in different ways: 


  • Creating conflicts with loved ones : being jealous or denigrating friends or family, neglecting to pass on messages or erasing them, attacking relatives directly, and prohibiting the victim from seeing them again. 
  • Manipulating the image that relatives have of the victim : stating false information about them, saying that the victim is mad, unstable, or has mental health problems, positioning themself as the actual victim of the situation, or the conflict.
  • By manipulating the perception that the relatives have of the situation the abuser can lie or distort the facts in order to make the victim appear at fault and themselves blameless. 
  • Using relatives to spy on the victim : asking relatives to monitor the victim’s actions by making relatives feel that “it is for their own good”.
  • Appropriating the victim’s family and friends: interfering in the business of the victim’s family and friends to become the most important person in the relationship, excluding the victim from ties with loved ones and making them their own.


4. Support workers


Those working in psycho-social services and in the socio-legal environment are the target of abusers. They can lie and manipulate the support workers, who will then have great difficulty in seeing the situation clearly. It then becomes very difficult for them to accept the victim’s version and develop a positive relationship with the victim. This type of violence can have devastating consequences on the victim’s life, especially when it comes to child custody or divorce.