Although the expression "spousal abuse" has been traditionally confined to persons who are married, it is also frequently used to refer to conduct between divorced spouses or persons living in a cohabitational relationship. "Spousal abuse" takes various forms but all involve domination or the improper exercise of power or control over a spouse, divorced spouse, or quasi-marital partner. Spousal abuse may involve physical, sexual, psychological, or economic oppression.
Physical abuse involves the application of force. It includes beating, slapping, punching, kicking, choking, stabbing, shooting, and throwing objects at the victim. Even when physical assaults are intermittent or isolated, they may have a long-term impact because the threat of repetition is never far from the victim’s mind. Domination established through a single act of violence can produce long-term emotional abuse that is reinforced by subsequent threats, isolation, degradation, or economic control.7Spousal homicide accounts for 15 percent of all homicide deaths in Canada. Four times as many women as men are killed by their spouses or partners.
Sexual abuse is usually an aspect of physical abuse that involves the perpetration of sexual acts against the will of a spouse and may include marital rape. The fact that a couple is married or living together does not entitle either of them to insist that their partner engage in any form of sexual activity. Marital rape or any other forced sexual activity is an offence under the Criminal Code8 of Canada. In 1983, the criminal offence of "rape" was replaced by the offence of sexual assault, which can be committed by a spouse or partner as well as by a stranger.
Emotional or psychological abuse most frequently arises from verbal assaults, such as threats or disparaging comments directed towards a spouse. Emotional abuse often accompanies physical or sexual abuse, but can exist in the absence of physical or sexual abuse. Emotional abuse signifies that one party demeans, belittles, degrades, or threatens the other party to such a degree that the victim’s psychological well-being is in jeopardy.
Economic abuse arises from an improper exercise of control over personal or household finances by one spouse to the exclusion and deprivation of the other.
Spousal abuse is not confined to any age group or socio-economic class. Many victims of spousal abuse suffer in silence. Consequently, statistics on spousal abuse are...