Who is most at risk for domestic violence?

All domestic violence is harmful. Although people of any gender can experience domestic violence, women are most commonly subjected to domestic violence and men are more commonly perpetrators. Women are most often targets in high-risk situations, with the most serious injuries, and have the greatest likelihood of being killed by domestic violence.

Some women are more vulnerable or face increased barriers to accessing domestic violence services or support. Indigenous women are 5-7 times more likely to be killed by an abusive partner or ex-partner than non-Indigenous women. Sixty percent of women with disabilities experience violence in their lifetimes, and women between the ages of 15-24 experience the majority of police-reported violence. Immigrant women and women in rural communities are also at high risk due to lack of access to shelters and other services. Trans workers report more prevalence of domestic violence in their lifetime than non-trans workers in Canada.

What are the warning signs that someone may be experiencing domestic violence?

Some warning signs that someone may be experiencing domestic violence may include:

  • Physical injuries such as broken bones, a black eye or loss of hearing, which people who are experiencing abuse may attribute as “accidents” or “from being clumsy”
  • Inappropriate clothing for the season (such as long sleeves or turtlenecks in the summer or wearing sunglasses indoors)
  • Uncharacteristically late or absent from work, wanting to work extra hours to avoid going home
  • Change in job performance: errors, slowness, lateness, absenteeism, lack of concentration
  • Sudden signs of anxiety and fear
  • Making special work requests (such as to leave work early)
  • Generally acting isolated and quiet
  • Emotional distress including sadness, depression, or suicidal thoughts
  • Minimizing or denying harassment or injuries
  • Excessive phone calls, emails or text messages. Reluctance to respond to phone messages. Others at work may overhear or witness insulting messages intended for the victim
  • Sensitivity if people ask about home life or trouble at home
  • Disruptive visits in the workplace by past or current partner
  • Fear of job loss
  • The sudden appearance of gifts (such as flowers) after an apparent dispute between the couple
  • Using drugs and/or alcohol to cope

These warning signs are intended to help direct your intuition and ask questions. Never jump to conclusions. Even if you think someone may be abused according to these warning signs, it does not mean that they are in an abusive relationship. Allow this list of warning signs to spark dialogue with a member.

SNCit! See it, Name it, Check it

Three steps you can take to when talking to a member is the See it, Name it, Check it (SNCit) system:

  1. See it – learn the warning signs, and treat your suspicions and concerns seriously.
  2. Name it– name the warning signs as a concern. Always stick to the facts, as a bruise does not necessarily mean abuse. You might say “I saw bruises” or “I heard yelling” and “I am concerned about you.”
  3. Check it– ask questions such as “are you ok?” or “what can I do to support you?” and confirm your assumptions on whether the member is experiencing abuse. Remember that hearing these questions can be very difficult for someone, so be patient and allow your member to feel as though they are still in control of the conversation. They may deny the abuse and/or react defensively. If they do, do not take it personally and leave the door open for future conversations.

Some examples of SNCit conversations:

“I’ve noticed you’ve been late to work more often lately. Is anything bothering you?”
“You looked upset after that phone call today. I’m worried about you. Are you ok?”
“I overheard your partner yelling at you on the phone today. Are you ok? Do you want to talk?”

The goal of these conversations is NOT for you to act as a therapist or convince someone to leave their relationship, but rather for you to express concern and open a door for support. SNCit conversations work best in a private setting, such as an office with the door closed or away from where others can hear/see the conversation.

What are the warning signs of abusive behaviour?

When a person is engaging in abusive behaviour at home, they may not be recognized as an abuser at work. Abusers will often work hard to hide their abuse and may even appear likeable or charming. Some common warning signs of abusive behaviour in a relationship include:

  • Putting their partner down
  • Dominating conversations
  • Checking up excessively
  • Suggesting they are the victim
  • Isolating the victim
  • Acting as if they own their partner
  • Lying to make themselves look good

Some workplace warning signs of abusive behaviour include:

  • Is absent or late due to a conflict at home
  • Repeatedly contacting their partner during work
  • Bullying others at work
  • Blames others (especially their partner) for their problems
  • Denies problems in general
  • Acts defensively when challenged and cannot take criticism
  • Acts superior to others in their home
  • Controls current or past partner’s activities
  • How are abusers impacted in the workplace?

Perpetrators of domestic violence also are negatively impacted at work by their abusive behaviour. Many abusers find their work performance is negatively impacted, that they have a hard time concentrating when at work, and can be at high risk of causing a workplace accident due to distraction.

When is a situation high risk?

Just as some people experiencing abuse are at higher risk, some circumstances can lead to particularly dangerous domestic violence.

High-risk factors include when the abuser:

  • Has access to the children
  • Has access to a weapon
  • Has a history of abuse
  • Shows obsessive behaviour
  • Threatens to harm or kill the victim if they try to leave
  • Threatens to harm children, pets, or property of the victim
  • Has threatened to kill themselves
  • Has hit or choked their partner or ex-partner
  • Is going through major life changes (such as losing their job, going through a separation, has depression)
  • Is convinced their partner or ex-partner has another romantic partner
  • Blames the victim for worsening their life
  • Refuses support and help
  • Supervises their partner or ex-partner’s actions, phone calls, emails, text messages, or follows them in public
  • Is unemployed
  • Is commonly using a substance such as drugs or alcohol
  • Disregards the law
  • Has attempted to isolate their partner or ex-partner from friends or family

Other signs that someone may be in serious danger are when a person experiencing domestic violence:

  • Has just separated with the abuser or is planning to leave
  • Is fearful for their life or their children’s life
  • Cannot see any problems or risk with the relationship
  • Is in a custody battle or has children from another relationship
  • Is involved in another relationship
  • Has no access to a private phone or computer
  • Faces other obstacles such as not speaking English, not having Canadian citizenship and/or has a disability
  • Has no friends or family involved in their life

The more risk factors that a situation embodies, the higher the danger. If a risk factor is present in a situation, seek expert advice for safety planning, and encourage the person experiencing domestic violence to have a local women’s shelter or the police do a risk assessment.