Emotional abuse can include threats and intimidation, demeaning and degrading verbal and body language, control and isolation, subordination and humiliation. Victims may suffer serious loss of self-esteem and experience feelings of shame, anxiety, hopelessness, depression and terror.
An effective legal response to spousal violence requires coordination by all parts of the criminal justice system. The Criminal Code and the Canada Evidence Act provide protection for victims as well as sanctions for offenders.
Prosecution policies and guidelines ensure that charges proceed in court. However, the police are usually the first step in the legal process and the major point of contact in spousal assault cases.
If the investigation finds reasonable and probable grounds that a crime has been committed, appropriate criminal charges can also be laid. The RCMP policy defines spousal assault as a “criminal act of violence or series of acts which causes injury to a spousal or common-law partner.” Even if criminal charges are not laid, individuals can apply for a peace bond or restraining order to prohibit their partners from threatening or harassing them further.
An assault is the intentional use of force on another person against his or her will (e.g. touching, slapping, kicking, punching). This charge may also apply if a person is kissed or touched in a sexual way without his or her consent (no sign of physical injury or abuse need be present).
An individual may be charged with aggravated sexual assault if the victim is wounded, crippled, disfigured or brutally beaten and/or his or her life endangered. The RCMP pro-arrest policy reinforces the laws that make spousal violence a crime, not a private family matter.
An abusive relationship is often a confusing mix of love, fear, dependency, intimidation, guilt and hope. We know that partners in an abusive relationship have often experienced family violence themselves as children.
Women are at greater risk of severe violence or even of being murdered just after they leave their husbands or partners. The risk of being killed by a spouse or partner is eight times higher for women in common-law relationships than in registered marriages.
Research indicates that young couples are at increased risk of spousal violence (Brzezinski, 2004). According to results from the 1999 and 2004 GAS victimization survey, respondents who had partners in the 15 to 24 year age groups and in the 25 to 34 year age groups reported the highest rates of spousal violence (Family Violence in Canada : A Statistical Profile 2006).
The rate is significantly lower than among women and the severity of abuse, especially homicide, often less. Since these groups may already be stigmatized in society, it can be difficult for either partner to reach out for appropriate help and support.
Aboriginal women and men experience higher rates of spousal violence than the general population. However, there is a growing understanding that simply witnessing spousal or partner violence in their home can affect children the same way as abuse directed at them.
Footnote 1 12% of women who have experienced spousal assault have never told anyone about the abuse. Footnote 1 When spousal or partner abuse is reported to the police, it is assumed that several assaults have already occurred in the relationship.
Almost half of women and men report that spousal violence stopped after police intervention. Overall, the rate of spousal abuse against women in Canada has declined in recent years.
The facts show that wife assault has declined in recent years. Changing attitudes, services for victims, treatment programs for violent men, stronger laws and pro-arrest policies are all making a difference.
The best way to start is through a family doctor or social service agency. Spousal violence is a serious criminal matter with a huge impact on society.
As the National Clearinghouse on Family Violence states: “Health costs for injuries and chronic health problems caused by abuse amount to about a billion dollars every year. We also pay a social cost in the form of children too traumatized to learn or develop normally, adult victims unable to function to their full potential, and diminished quality of family and community life.” We all need to work to prevent violence and to build a society where abuse of power is not tolerated.
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The Criminal Code also contains a number of special provisions that serve to protect victims. When charges relating to family violence have been laid, criminal courts have a wide range of powers to release or detain an accused person.
They can provide for release conditions such as “no contact” until the trial or appeal (Section 515). Even where no offense has been committed yet, where personal injury or damage is feared, courts can also order peace bonds or recognizance, which require an individual to agree to specific conditions to keep the peace (Section 810).
Because of the nature of the harm, sentencing provisions of the Criminal Code (Section 718.2) make it an “aggravating factor” for sentencing purposes when the offense involves abuse of a spouse or common law partner, abuse of a person under the age of 18 or abuse of a position of trust or authority. Provincial and territorial governments make laws in areas of their own jurisdiction.
To date, six provinces (Alberta, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador and Saskatchewan) and three territories (Northwest Territories, Yukon and Nunavut) have proclaimed specific legislation on family violence: These civil statutes are designed to complement protections in the Criminal Code.
Civil measures provided include emergency intervention orders which may grant the right for only the victim to remain in the home and use the family vehicle. These include failure to provide the necessaries of life, child abandonment and an extensive number of child-specific sexual offenses.
The person might have to go to jail for a few hours until the bail hearing or maybe longer depending on what the judge decides. If you are afraid for your safety, ask the police to notify you before the person is let out of jail.
If you are afraid of being hurt when the person is released from jail, you may want to find a safe place to stay such as with a friend or at a shelter. The order might make the person abusing you leave the family home for a period of time.
If the person who abused you plead guilty to a criminal offense, the judge will decide on a sentence. If you are afraid, tell the Crown prosecutor or your victim services worker.
You may be able to speak to the judge from behind a screen or from another room by closed-circuit television so that you do not have to see the person who abused you. If the person who abused you are found guilty, the judge will decide on a sentence such as a fine, probation or jail time.
Assault is one of the more serious violations a Canadian can commit, and is classified as a criminal act, which means it will be tried in court. The basic definition of assault in Canada is the intention to apply force to someone else in a direct or indirect manner, without that person’s consent.
For context, this means that in the case of a typical hockey game, athletes who are body-checked or throw their gloves down and fight amongst each other cannot be charged with assault, or sue each other for personal injury, even though acts of violence are clearly involved. On the other hand, a person walking down the street that is suddenly, randomly struck in the face is a victim of assault, and the assailant would be criminally charged.
However, in more severe cases of simple assault, it can be treated as an indictable offense, which will require a more formal court process. Like the bodily harm charge, this can also be prosecuted as either a summary conviction or indictable offense with similar maximum jail sentences.
This is a more serious type of assault, usually resulting in serious, potentially life-long crippling injuries, or a real danger of death for the victim. Aggravated assault is always treated as an indictable offense, with a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison.
Like assault, this has both summary conviction and indictable offense variations, with 18 months and 10-year maximum sentences based on the charge. More severe versions of sexual assault, these are charged similarly depending on circumstances.
Should a weapon be involved, such as a gun, the minimum jail sentence in the event of conviction is four years. Depending on circumstances, a police officer assault charge can be a summary conviction, or it can be an indictable offense.
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