Abuse: Barriers experienced by victims of abuse
This section contains policy, procedures and guidance used by IRCC staff. It is posted on the department’s website as a courtesy to stakeholders.
There are many reasons why a victim may not report abuse to the authorities. As well, there may be circumstances where there is little evidence to substantiate abuse. The information provided below is intended to assist officers to better understand victims of abuse and the difficulties some clients may have in discussing or reporting the abuse.
On this page
- Barriers to a victim escaping an abusive relationship
- Barriers specific to recent immigrants
- Reasons why victims may not disclose abuse
- Reasons why people who witness or suspect abuse may not report it
Barriers to a victim escaping an abusive relationship
- belief that staying is best for the children or fear of losing custody of children
- lack of employment skills
- financial dependency on the abuser
- inability to afford legal assistance with divorce, custody or protection order proceedings
- fear of court system intervention
- isolation from social or family connections
- victim is attempting to change in hope that abuse will stop
- abuser expresses remorse and promises to change
- abuser has degraded the victim to the point that the victim believes statements and lacks the self-confidence necessary to leave
- lack of trust in the criminal justice system
- maintenance of family honour
- fear of abandonment by the victim’s family or potential for violence from the family if the victim leaves
Barriers specific to recent immigrants
- may feel alone, have trouble talking with or relating to Canadians, or be overcome with fear
- religious and cultural constraints
- may not have knowledge of Canadian laws, rights or support services available
- language barriers that make it difficult for immigrants to navigate the legal system and to access services
- may have been threatened with deportation by their sponsor or threatened with withdrawal of sponsorship of family members
- may be scared of police involvement due to past experiences with police in their home countries, especially where police are symbols of human rights violations
- maintenance of family and community honour
Reasons why victims may not disclose abuse
A person who is abused may endure the violence for a long time before seeking support or they may never tell anyone. The reasons why victims may keep abuse secret relate to their circumstances, feelings, beliefs and level of knowledge about domestic abuse.
- Age or developmental stage – Very young children may be unable to articulate or communicate what has happened to them.
- Physical frailty or disability – People with physical or cognitive disabilities may have limited access to others or to communications devices, or they may be unable to articulate what has happened to them.
- Literacy, language or cultural barriers – People who do not speak English or French could be unable to access services and supports in their own language, or they may fear deportation or other complications relating to their sponsorship or immigration status.
- Geographic or social isolation – People who live in rural or remote communities, or who are not connected to others in their communities may lack access to information, resources, supports and services.
- Dependency – Victims may be emotionally, physically, or economically dependent on the perpetrator.
- Social pressure – Victims may feel social pressure to maintain a relationship and protect the family’s or the community’s reputation.
Feelings and beliefs
Victims often feel conflicting emotions and suffer confusion or shame. They may believe that the abuse is their fault and that they will be punished for telling. Depending on their situation, victims may fear any of the following outcomes if they tell someone about the abuse:
- They will not be believed.
- They or their family will be rejected or stigmatized.
- Their sexual identity will be questioned.
- They or the abuser will be removed from the home.
- They will no longer be allowed to have contact with their parent(s) or children.
- They will be abandoned or institutionalized.
- They will lose custody of, or access to, their children.
- The abuser could have manipulated, bribed, coerced or threatened the victim to prevent them from telling anyone about the abuse. The victim therefore might be afraid of the abuser’s revenge.
- The victim might still love the perpetrator and want the relationship to continue, hoping that the abuse will stop. The person who has been abusive may have expressed feelings of remorse. Victims sometimes do not want to admit that they have been abused. They may want to protect family members, including the abuser, by keeping the abuse and family problems secret. They might not want the abuser, who may be their spouse, parent or child, to be removed from the home, go to jail, or have a criminal record.
- Victims may have personal views about family, relationships and child-rearing that emphasizes privacy and condones the use of physical punishment. They may be influenced by gender role beliefs that support inequality and violence in relationships.
- They may not believe that involving child welfare authorities or the criminal justice system will stop the abuse — or that these systems will be able to help or protect them.
- They may also fear that child welfare involvement may break up their family.
- Victims may not know how to report abuse, or they may be afraid of what will happen when a report is made.
Reasons why people who witness or suspect abuse may not report it
Other people—including professionals, neighbours, friends and other relatives or family members—may witness or suspect abuse, but not report it. Their reasons for not reporting relate to their circumstances, feelings, beliefs and level of knowledge.
- Dependence on the perpetrator – Depending on their circumstances, other relatives and family members may be physically, emotionally or economically dependent on the abuser and may be fearful of what will happen if they report the abuse.
Concern about the demands of becoming involved
- Some people may fear that it will take too much time or energy to report abuse. They could feel that they will be unable to cope if they become involved in any way.
- Shame and stigma – Other relatives and family members may feel ashamed of having abuse in their family and fearful of what will happen if they report the abuse.
- Some people may be afraid of retaliation for reporting abuse. They may be concerned of what the abuser may do to them if they find out who reported it.
Feelings and beliefs
- Disbelief – They may not believe that the victim has been abused.
- Do not believe reporting will be helpful – They may not believe that reporting abuse is in the victim’s best interest or that reporting the abuse will solve the problem. They may believe that no appropriate services are available to help the victim, or they may want to avoid having the victim or abuser removed from the home.
- Personal views – They may hold personal views that hinder their willingness to report abuse. For example, they may want to protect family privacy, or they may believe that the physical punishment is not abusive.
- Lack of knowledge – They may not know about the signs of abuse, or they could believe that the abuse is not serious if there are no visible or serious injuries.
- Lack of understanding – They may not understand or know about their responsibility to report abuse. They may not know that they can report the abuse, or that they can report it without being identified and without legal consequences, unless the report is false and made maliciously. Most provincial and territorial child welfare laws require anyone, including professionals and members of the public, who suspects that a child is being maltreated to make a report to the appropriate child welfare authority.
For these and other reasons, many cases of family violence are still not reported to either police or child welfare authorities.
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