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Kinds of abuse

Abuse is any behaviour or action that is used to scare, harm, threaten, control or intimidate another person. It can come in different forms: physical, emotional, verbal, sexual, financial, or spiritual. If you are trying to decide whether or not a situation may be abusive, look at the person’s intention behind their action. If the person’s intention is to do any of the above, there may be a risk for abuse.

Abuse of Women

Is defined as physical, emotional, psychological, stalking/harassment, sexual, financial, and/or threats of such abuse directed at a female by a person known to her in an attempt to control her. In this definition, control refers to an attempt on the abuser’s part to force a woman to comply with anything against her wishes. Woman abuse occurs regardless of socio-economic status, class, age, sexual orientation, occupation, mental health status, citizenship status, ability, spirituality practices, language, race, culture or ethnicity.

It is also recognized that in our society, violence against women is perpetrated predominantly, but not exclusively, by males against females. There are, however, female perpetrators of violence. Although the abuse may involve repeated episodes with increasing severity, it may also be a one-time occurrence causing physical or emotional injury that is detrimental to the woman’s well being or that of her family.


Is when a person becomes a target of actions by others — using computers, cellphones or other devices — that are intended to embarrass, humiliate, torment, threaten or harass.

Financial Abuse

Includes controlling or restricting money to buy necessities such as medicine, medical supplies, food and clothing. It also includes withholding information about household financial matters, denying access to bank accounts and coercion to sign financial documents. Financial abuse can also include denying the right to seek and/or maintain employment, taking personal money, denying independent access to money, and/or excluding someone from financial decision-making.

Physical Abuse

Includes bodily harm, discomfort or injury caused by hitting, punching, kicking, slapping, pushing, burning, biting, spitting, dragging, pulling, using weapons and objects, restraining, confining, stalking and/or the withholding of food and/or medical attention.

Psychological and emotional abuse

Is any act that provokes fear, diminishes someone’s dignity or sense of self-worth, and/or intentionally inflicts psychological trauma as a means of exerting power and control. These may include, but are not limited to, on-going criticism, intimidation, humiliation, overly sarcastic comments, passive/aggressive control, harassment, threats to harm self or others, threats to harm pets, threats associated with immigration status, threats to take children away, inappropriate expressions of jealousy, brainwashing, dominance, degradation, possessiveness, control over daily activities, social isolation, purposeful destruction of property and use of privilege in society to threaten or coerce.

Sexual Abuse

Includes any unwanted or forced sexual activity, including touching and intercourse. It also includes the possibility of exposure to sexual transmitted diseases and/or pregnancy by denying the use of protection during intercourse, and forced exposure to or participation in pornography or prostitution. It also includes withholding sex and demeaning a person sexually through jokes, and sexual accusations.

Stalking and Harassment

Includes behaviour which, in some cases, is against the law and known as “criminal harassment.” One of the key elements, which turns stalking behaviour into a crime, is a person’s fear for his/her own safety or the safety of others. Stalking and harassment can take many forms but usually involve a pattern of repeated actions, or a series of different incidents. Each small incident may not seem important, but all the incidents together constitute a pattern.

Spiritual Abuse

Includes degrading a person’s spiritual beliefs, withholding the means to practice, and/or forcing adherence to a particular belief system.

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Yellow Brick House is a nonprofit organization providing emergency shelter, counselling and supportive services to abused women and their children in York Region.

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Learn more

Websites promoting promoting safe and healthy relationships:

Other resources

Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres
Offers sexual assault and related resources

Government of Canada: Violence in Dating Relationships
Provides facts, terms, myths vs. reality about dating violence

World Health Organization: Violence Against Women
Includes information from the international health organization

White Ribbon Campaign
Engages men, young men and boys to challenge language and behaviours that lead to violence against women.