When a wife no longer feels safe at home, when a husband feels degraded and humiliated all the time, leaving the relationship becomes their main priority. But it’s never as simple as walking out the door. For women, attempting to escape may put them in more physical danger to the point where their lives are at risk. Men may have an easier time leaving, but the lack of support systems available can make it difficult for them to recover and rebuild.
Abusive relationships do not discriminate. Any person of any race, religion, sexual orientation or economic status can be a victim. The abuse can be physical, mental, emotional, verbal and sexual; usually the abuser hurts their spouse in more ways than one. In Canada, of the more than 90,300 people who reported abuse by an intimate partner to police in 2013, 47% had been victimized by a spouse.
Spousal abuse can happen to both women and men; however, women are far more likely to be subject to severe forms of violence. More alarmingly, women are about four times as likely as men to be victims of intimate partner homicide.
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For victims of abuse, making the decision to leave is never simple or easy, but if and when someone is ready, it is important they make a plan beforehand, said Kaitlin Bardswich, Communications and Development Coordinator at the Canadian Network of Women’s Shelters & Transition Houses.
Spouses abuse their partner to gain power and control over them, and if the abuser finds out their partner is about to leave, or if the partner tells the abuser that the relationship is over, that control is taken from them, said Bardswich. To get it back, the abusive partner becomes aggressive and violent to try and prevent the woman from leaving, or to get her back into the home if she has escaped. That’s why it is so important for women to know where they are going to go, and how they will get there.
Staying at a friend’s or family member’s place is an option, but it may not be the safest place to go if the abuser knows their spouse is likely to be there. In that case, sheltersafe.ca can help. This online resource allows Canadian women to find the shelter closest to them, and provides provincial/ territorial numbers for 24/7 helplines that offer free counselling, emotional support, and assistance with creating a safety plan. It also offers tips on how to cover digital tracks when searching for help online.
Below are some things sheltersafe.ca recommends women do before they leave an abusive relationship:
-Know the quickest route out of your home. Practice escaping that way
-Know the quickest route out of your workplace. Practice escaping that way
-Know the route to shelters, police stations, hospitals, and public places/stores that are open 24 hours a day
-If you have children, teach them how to call 911 in an emergency situation
-If a situation looks like it may turn violent don’t run to the bathroom or bedroom where you may be trapped, go towards the nearest exit
-If possible, bring items like your driver’s licence, passport, credit cards, cash, medication that you usually take, and your phone, with you
-Your marriage license, separation and/or divorce papers (if you have them), and birth certificate are also key items to bring if you can access them
-Your children’s birth certificates and passports
Men who are being abused don’t often face such life-threatening danger when they leave, but they usually do experience more difficulty finding a place to stay after they are out of the house. Justin Trottier, Executive Director at the Canadian Centre for Men and Families, said many of these men try to get help at homeless shelters, or even women’s shelters, because they don’t know where else to go.
Even if they find a place to stay, the legal and emotional support they need is difficult to come by. While the CCMF is not itself a shelter, it will help men (and their children) find a safe place to stay, and provide therapy and counselling, peer support, and legal help.
Remember, you are not alone. Ask someone you trust for help.
Additional resources in Toronto: