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Domestic Abuse and Staying Safe

By Shatyra Williams, MSW, RSW

Published: April 2014

What is Domestic Abuse?

Domestic abuse can be described as any form of physical, verbal, emotional, financial, or sexual abuse between domestic partners. If you are in an unhealthy relationship and have been a victim of violence, it is important to understand the seriousness of your situation. Remaining in an abusive relationship long-term can have terrible impacts on your mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing.  Domestic abuse can be displayed in various forms, such as: physical violence (hitting, slapping, kicking, etc.), verbal abuse (name calling, threats, insults, etc), manipulation, use of force, aggressive outbursts of anger, and breaking household items as a means of intimidation. These are some of many examples of how domestic abuse can be displayed.

Children and Domestic Abuse

Children are especially vulnerable to the effects of living in a home where domestic abuse is present.  Children may experience psychological impacts if they are exposed to traumatic displays of domestic violence or are victims themselves of violence or verbal abuse. If you are involved in a violent relationship be sure to prioritize the safety of your child and establish an action plan immediately to prevent your child from exposure to violence. Domestic abuse is a family issue not an isolated personal matter. Create a safe environment for yourself and your family. If you are not well, then you will lack the ability to parent your children at an optimal level. Getting help is not always easy but there are many resources available to support you with your safety plan.

Options For Help

Domestic abuse can be a terrible experience for any woman. There are many supports available to help you through the pain. Consider some of the following options:


Support Groups- A group of women who identify as having experienced domestic violence and meet together regularly to provide informal, moral support to one another.


Counselling groups – A professionally facilitated group where you will discuss your experience with domestic abuse and learn strategies for healing from the trauma.

Women’s Counsellor – A counsellor who specializes in women’s issues will provide you with a space to discuss your situation and brainstorm personalized approaches to moving beyond the pain.

Family or Couples counselling - If your partner is willing to work towards establishing a healthy relationship, consider seeing a couples counsellor who can provide mediation services and help to resolve any family disputes. Children may also require support from a counsellor if they have witnessed or experienced violence in the home.


Helpline – There are many crisis lines and help lines available for women suffering from domestic violence. A helpline is an excellent resource for immediate support and information about local resources.

911 Emergency Services - Knowing when to call 911 is an important part of protecting yourself and your family. If an aggressive partner has become physically violent, has threatened violence, or you suspect may become violent towards you, 911 emergency services are readily available to intervene.

Creating a Safety Plan

A safety plan is Key to preparing yourself for unavoidable violent encounters. Your plan should be personalized and communicated with your children or trusted family members.  When developing a safety plan, consider the following:

A safe place in your home - If an argument erupts, attempt to make your way to a room with a door that leads outside. Avoid cornering yourself in a bedroom or washroom.

A neighbour to connect with – Inform a trusted neighbour or community member about your situation. In the event of a violent attack, go straight to your neighbour’s home for support and assistance. You may also want to consider arranging for your children to go to a neighbour’s home if a violent situation is anticipated in advance.

A contact person for support – Have the telephone number of a helpful contact person such as a family member, friend, social worker, or professional to call in the event that you need advice or information.  It is important to remember that these contacts are not a substitute for 911 emergency services or a women’s crisis line.

A telephone for contact - Be sure to have your phone charged as often as possible. Keep a spare charger in a safe place if possible. Familiarize yourself with the location of pay phones in your neighbourhood in the event that you need to call for help and you cannot access your cell phone.

A means for transportation- Always have a way to transport yourself and your children to safe place. Keep extra bus tokens, cash, or spare car keys in a safe and easily accessible place.

Important belongings - Prepare a light weight bag of your most important documents such a

s identification cards, health card, social insurance card, medical information, children’s identification, and any other important documents you own. If you take medications you will also want to have these on hand in the event that you need to leave home suddenly. If you have a baby, you will want to pack at least a few diapers and a tin of formula if at all possible. Keep in mind that in the event of violent attack, your focus should not be on collecting belongings – this is why it is important to have the items packed in advance.

A safe place to sleep - Research women’s shelters in your community or plan a safe place to sleep, such as a relative or friend’s home where you may stay the night in the event of unavoidable violence.


Abusive situations can often alter an individual’s personal expectations. You may have been quite content with yourself, your lifestyle, or your appearance, before you were taught differently from an abuser. Regaining your self-esteem is a part of healing that involves accepting your self, loving your self, and remembering who you were before your ideals became corrupted by exterior expectations.

About the Author

Shatyra Williams MSW, RSW is a Toronto-based Social Worker with a passion for women's wellness. As Program Manager of RWRJ's Artistic Healing Group, Shatyra teaches healthy coping strategies for women survivors of trauma. Through a variety of creative educational techniques Shatyra helps women to challenge themselves, to embrace their imperfections, and to love their journey. 

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