What is Gender-Based Violence?
The violence is not always physical, but can include psychological, emotional, cultural, social, intellectual and financial abuse to maintain and enforce oppression. New forms of coercion and control are arising in the digital age. Tech-facilitated violence and cybermisogyny are two forms on the rise in recent years, with a new surge of experiences reported during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The terms “gender-based violence” and “violence against woman” tend to be used interchangeably. Both represent similar oppressions experienced due to gendered inequalities and harmful gender norms. Both terms encompass gendered experiences of oppression within a patriarchal, colonial society. The United Nations’ defines violence against woman as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.”2
Throughout this website, we will use the term gender-based violence (or GBV) to speak to violence that disproportionately impacts women, girls and gender non-conforming people and is predominantly perpetrated by men. We believe this term better includes gender diverse people who experience violence within a patriarchal society.3
Why does gender-based violence occur?
Both men and women receive overt and covert messages through gender and social norms that it is acceptable for men to have more social power than women. In this context, the false belief that men have a right to control women, using physical force or social and economic power, is common. This is not only wrong, it’s against the law.2
Despite being so prevalent, gender-based violence is largely under reported because of stigma and lack of access to resources and support systems.3
- Goddard et al. “Making Connections: Supporting Women with Experiences of Violence, Substance Use and/or Mental Health Concerns” Woman Abuse Response Program, BC Women’s Hospital & Health Centre (2013)
- “What causes gender-based violence?” Canadian Women’s Foundation.
- Ott, Meghan. “What does that Mean? Gender-Based Violence” Women for Women International. (Nov 2017)
How can gender-based violence be experienced?
Gender-based violence can include:
- intimate partner violence
- sexual assault
- street harassment
- relentless, unwanted attention
- words or actions that attempt to degrade, control, humiliate, intimidate, coerce, deprive, threaten or harm another person due to their gender
The negative impacts of gender-based violence reach far beyond the individuals who directly experience it. Violence can have long-lasting, negative effects (health, social, economic) that span generations. This impact can lead to continued cycles of violence and abuse within families and sometimes within whole communities.1
- “About Gender Based Violence” Status of Women Canada.
Intersectional Experiences of Violence
While statistics cannot tell the complete story of gender-based violence, they do provide a stark illustration of the intersectional experiences of gender-based violence in Canada: 2
- Approximately every six days, a woman in Canada is killed by her intimate partner
- Indigenous women (First Nations, Inuit and Métis) are 2.5 times more likely to experience gender-based violence than non-Indigenous women, and 6 times more likely to be victims than non-Indigenous women
- Studies show that when women of colour report violence, their experiences are often taken less seriously within the criminal justice system and their perpetrators routinely receive less harsh punishments
- Immigrant and refugee women are more vulnerable to domestic violence due to economic dependence, language barriers and a lack of knowledge about community resources
- Newcomers who arrive in Canada traumatized by war or oppressive governments are much less likely to report physical or sexual violence to the authorities, for fear of further victimization or even deportation
- According to both police-reported and self-reported data, younger women are at a much higher risk of gender-based violence, with the rate of violent crime against women aged 15 to 24 being 42% higher than rates for women aged 25 to 34, and nearly double the rates of women aged 35 to 44.
- 60% of women with a disability experience some form of violence
- Women who identify as lesbian or bisexual are 3 to 4 times more likely than heterosexual women to report experiencing domestic violence
- Luke’s Place CLRA submission.
- “Who is most at risk of gender-based violence?” Canadian Women’s Foundation fact sheet.
- “About Gender Based Violence” Status of Women Canada.
- Women with Disabilities and Violence Fact Sheet, DAWN Canada, undated.
- Family Violence in Canada: a Statistical Profile, 2014, Statistics Canada, p. 14.
- Goddard et al. “Making Connections: Supporting Women with Experiences of Violence,
- Substance Use and/or Mental Health Concerns” Woman Abuse Response Program, BC Women’s Hospital & Health Centre (2013)
- Violence Against Women in Canada Fact Sheet, Status of Women Canada (2013), p. 2
- All That Glitters is not Gold: The False Promise of Victim Impact Statements by Rakhi Ruparelia; Sexual Assault in Canada: Law, Legal Practice and Women’s Activism, p. 683
- Migrant Mothers Project, Policy Report, 2014, p. 34.
- Violence Against Women, 2013, Statistics Canada
Types of Gender-based violence
Many types of gender-based violence occur simultaneously or progress throughout a relationship. Survivors have usually experienced numerous forms of violence, leading to significant issues in legal responses to gender-based violence. Legal responses attempt to separate out specific behaviours or acts; in doing so, they construct and constrain the interpretation of punishable behaviour and what is inconsequential.1
Typically, ‘assault’ refers to a singular act of violence while ‘abuse’ refers to a pattern of harmful and/or violent behaviours.
Power and Control Wheel – Domestic Abuse Intervention Project2
Physical violence can include:
- Pushing, punching, hitting, kicking, etc.
- Throwing objects to cause harm
- Use of weapons
- Limiting movement by constraints
Sexual violence is removed from desirability or sexual attraction. Instead, it is about power and is used by perpetrators to control and/or humiliate. Sexual violence includes coercing others into sex acts through false promises, insistent pressure, abusive comments or reputational threats.
Sexual violence crosses all social boundaries, affects people of every age and cultural background, and has devastating impacts on the lives of survivors and their families as well as the well-being of society.2 Statistics show that 1 in 3 women will be sexually abused during their lifetime,3 with much higher rates reported for Indigenous women and women of colour.
Sexual violence can include:3, 4
Contact acts: sexual assault, sexual harassment, rape, attempted rape, forced sexual acts
Non-contact acts: catcalls and whistles, humiliating remarks to someone’s sex, sexuality or sexual orientation, stalking, indecent exposure, voyeurism, non-consensual condom removing (stealthing), non-consensual sharing of intimate images, sexual exploitation.
Sexual violence can have severe health consequences on the survivor, including sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy or miscarriage. It can affect the survivor psychologically as well, leading to deliberate self-harm, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts, eating disorders, dissociation, depression, panic attacks, PTSD, flashbacks, etc.5
- “Sexual Violence Support & Preventions”
- The Association of Rape Crisis Centres in Israel (2020). What is sexual abuse?
- Rainn (2020). Effects of Sexual Violence.
A variety of terms are used somewhat interchangeably to describe emotional abuse, including psychological abuse, verbal abuse, mental cruelty, intimate terrorism or psychological aggression. When the emotional abuse occurs in a residential care setting, it is often called systemic or institutional abuse.2
Emotional abuse can include:1
- yelling or criticism
- degrading or insulting the victim
- bullying or name calling
- threatening to harm someone or their loved ones
Depression, anxiety, PTSD, eating disorders, self-harm, substance abuse, self-blame, loss of self-esteem, etc. are all potential short-term and long-term effects of emotional abuse.3
It is vital to recognize emotional abuse in gender-based violence, considering its impact alongside other types of violence, such as physical and sexual abuse. Psychological abuse is a common and significant form of interpersonal violence in terms of its frequency; several researchers have argued that victims experience more significant trauma from ongoing, severe psychological abuse than from experiencing infrequent physical assault.2
A variety of terms are used someone interchangeably with psychological abuse, including emotional abuse, verbal abuse, mental cruelty, intimate terrorism or psychological aggression. When psychological abuse occurs in a residential care setting, it is often called systemic or institutional abuse.2
Psychological abuse can be just as dangerous as physical abuse, especially as it does not physically show on the survivor. Women in physically abusive relationships indicated in a 1999 study3 that psychological abuse has a more significant adverse effect on them than physical abuse.
Psychological abuse can include:
- threatening someone or their loved ones
- gaslighting (manipulating someone into questioning their own sanity)
- creating fear in the victim’s mind
Psychological abuse can lead to the survivor to feel shame or fear, or experience loss of self-esteem, difficulty concentrating, insomnia, anxiety, social withdrawal, etc.4
- Dutton, M.A., Goodman, L. A., & Bennet, L. (2000). Risk Assessment Among Batterers Arrested for Domestic Assault. The Salience of Psychological Abuse. Violence Against Women, 6(11), 1190-1203.
- D & Berglund. D (2008) Psychological Abuse: A Discussion Paper.
- O’Leary, K.D. (1999). Psychological abuse: A variable deserving critical attention in domestic violence. Violence and Victims. 14(1). 3-23.
- What are the effects of emotional abuse? (2019). Medical News Today.
Financial (Economic) Abuse
Financial abuse involves behaviours that control someone’s ability to gain and use economic resources, impacting their ability to be economically independent and self-sufficient. A study by the Center for Financial Security found that 99% of domestic violence cases also involved financial abuse.1
Financial abuse is a specific form of economic abuse. Economic abuse, in comparison, includes behaviours such as disrupting a partner’s ability to access education, prohibiting them from working or sabotaging their employment.2
As the perpetrator usually has full financial control over their partner, those experiencing financial abuse may feel socially isolated and deterred from seeking options to leave the abusive relationship.
Financial abusive can include:
- demanding to know how money was spent
- withholding financial information
- building up debt in a partner’s name
- forcing a partner to ask for money
Survivors often do not have access to necessities such as food, prescribed drugs, hygienic items (pads/tampons), transportation or clothing. They may fall into depression, addiction, have paranoia or panic attacks.2 Financial abuse is often accompanied by physical and emotional abuse, all of which may affect the survivor in the short-term and long-term. Survivors can often have spotty employment records, ruined credit histories and mounting legal issues caused by years of financial abuse. Because of this, it can be challenging for survivors of financial and economic abuse to establish independence and long-term security.1
Coercive control behaviours can include:
- isolating the person from society
- threatening to harm someone or their loved ones
- micromanaging a person’s day-to-day activities
- controlling finances
- demeaning or downgrading behaviour
- limiting access to necessities
The use of coercive control may incorporate a range of economic, cultural, societal and individual factors to remove the survivor’s sense of individuality and prevent them from believing they can make their own decisions. The social consequences are considerable. A survivor can become isolated, lose their employment and income, find it difficult to trust or develop relationships, and question their abilities, including their capacity for parenting.2
The effects of coercive control abuse can be psychological and physical, ranging in short and long term impacts. This may include:
Psychological trauma: constant fear, anxiety, loss of self-esteem, exhaustion, PTSD etc.
Physical trauma: a range of health diseases such as asthma, dehydration, malnutrition, sleep deprivation, hypertension, complications in pregnancy, including miscarriage and stillbirth, etc.
It is vital to recognize and situate coercive control as violence, as it can often go unnoticed and unacknowledged by society. Anyone can experience coercive control, but it is deeply rooted in gender-based privilege – especially in domestic violence. Between 60-80% of women seeking assistance for abuse have shared stories indicative of coercive control. It is often hard for the survivors to seek assistance or reach out to service providers, as they are most likely being monitored.
Research into coercive control suggests that this type of abuse often predicts future physical violence. It is essential to understand the narrative of oppression, including the range of controlling tactics a survivor is subjected to alongside discrete acts of physical violence.2
Criminality of Coercive Control in Canada
In Canada, the government is still processing the recognition of coercive control as a form of intimate partner violence or gender-based violence.3 Despite many offences recognized by the Criminal Code of Canada related to psychological and emotional abuse, (such as criminal harassment (s.264); uttering threats (s. 264.1); making indecent and harassing phone calls (s. 372); trespassing at night (s. 177); and mischief (s. 430)) there is no offence capturing coercive control.
As coercive control is a cumulative abuse that occurs over time, it is partially covered under Criminal Harassment (s.264), but not clearly emphasized. When it comes to intimate partner violence under the Criminal Code of Canada, physical and sexual violence are the focus; however, repeated tactics to dominate and control a partner can be equally harmful and have severe consequences if not recognized as such.4
Bill C-78 proposed an amendment in Canada’s federal family laws related to divorce, parenting and enforcement of family obligations that clearly addresses coercive control in family violence. With the suggested amendments, the Divorce Act would consider a pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour in custody dispute situations when evaluating a child’s best interest. The majority of the Divorce Act amendments came into effect on July 1, 2020.3
- Stark, E. (2007) Coercive control: How men entrap women in personal life. Oxford University Press.
- Scottish Women’s Aid (2017). Coercive Control.
- C. & Aspinall. M. (2020). Understanding coercive control in the context of intimate partner violence in Canada: How to address the issue through the criminal justice system? Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, Department of Justice Canada.
- How to Recognize Coercive Control (2019).
Tech-Facilitated Violence and Cybermisogyny
Tech-facilitated violence is any form of violence that involves the use of modern technology. It covers a wide range of actions using technology both on and off the internet. Other terms sometimes used include cyberviolence or cyber abuse.1
Perpetrators of tech-facilitated violence use technology to harass, monitor, stalk, impersonate, extort or make threats to control, frighten or humiliate a person.
Tech-facilitated violence can include:
- abusive communication via text or email messages
- online stalking (monitoring social media updates, continued unwanted communication, etc.)
- installing stalkerware or other monitoring apps on electronic devices
- creating fake social media accounts to impersonate or stalk
- non-consensual sharing of intimate images online
- coercing images or blackmailing online
Cybermisogyny refers to the various forms of gendered hatred, harassment and abusive behaviour targeted at women, girls and gender non-conforming people via the internet. Discriminatory behaviour occurs within a context of power and marginalization. In this way, cybermisogyny is a more nuanced term than the more general ‘cyberbullying.’ Cybermisogyny violates a person’s rights to equality and freedom from discrimination in online spaces and contributes to the normalization of gender-based violence in mainstream culture.
Behaviours connected to cybermisogyny can include:
- Gender-based online hate speech
- Networked trolling of social media accounts
- Coordinated harassment to drive women, girls and gender-non-confirming people out of online spaces
- Online rape or death threats
- Deepfakes (the creation of sexually explicit images using AI technology)
- Doxxing (the publishing of someone’s private information, such as personal address, email or phone number)
Tech-facilitated violence and cybermisogyny can have severe impacts on survivors both physically and psychologically: the effects of tech-facilitated violence can leave the survivor in constant fear of their safety and security, online as well as offline. Survivors can experience suicidal thoughts, self-harm, psychological distress, damage to personal relationships, violation of privacy, etc.2
By its nature, the internet provides accessibility to and anonymity on public platforms.
While all people can experience tech-facilitated violence, women and girls are at greater risk, especially of severe types of online harassment and sexualized abuse.3 As the use of the internet and social media increases, so do the levels of tech-facilitated violence experienced by women and girls.
Tech-facilitated violence is often trivialized or minimized by the public, with perpetrators experiencing little or no consequences for their behaviour. Technology, therefore, facilitates “the proliferation of gendered hate and harassment.”2 However, there are many organizations dedicated to raising awareness of and researching tech-facilitated violence, such as the Legal Education and Action Foundation (LEAF)’s Cybersmisogyny Project. LEAF’s Project brings together feminist lawyers and researchers to examine and produce equitable legal responses to tech-facilitated violence and intervene on litigation cases.4 For example, during R v. Jarvis (a case regarding the criminal offence of voyeurism), LEAF argued that voyeurism is a violation to the sexual integrity of women and the case demonstrated that technology enables new forms of violence against women.
- eSafetyCommissioner (2020). What is technology-facilitated abuse?
- Learning Network – Western University (2020). Cyber Misogyny.
- Canadian Women’s Foundation (2020). The Facts about Online Hate and Cyberviolence Against Women and Girls in Canada.
- Cybermisogyny Project: LEAF. (2020). Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund.