What is violence against women?

What is VAW?

The United Nations defines violence against women (VAW) as:

“Any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.”

If you feel like you or someone you may know is in an abusive relationship, please see our resources page to get help.

Coercive control

Coercive control is a term developed by Evan Stark to help us understand abuse as more than a “fight”. It is a pattern of behaviour that seeks to take away the victim’s liberty or freedom, to strip away their sense of self. It is not just women’s bodily integrity that is violated but also their human rights. It seeks to explain the repeated, ongoing, and intentional control tactics used by perpetrators and the impact of those actions on survivors. Those tactics may be physical, sexual, economic, psychological, legal, institutional, or all of the above.

Some examples of coercive control are:

  • unreasonable and non-negotiable demands;
  • stalking and surveillance;
  • restricting daily activities;
  • manipulation through minimization, denial, lies, promises;
  • controlling access to information and services;
  • threats and negative consequences for non-compliance.

Signs of abuse

Warning signs of abuse may go unnoticed. Becoming familiar with them will help you assess your own situation or that of someone you may know.

  • Feel like you have to “walk on eggshells” to keep him from getting angry and are frightened by his temper;
  • Feel like you can’t live without him;
  • Stop seeing other friends or family or give up activities you enjoy because he doesn’t like them;
  • Are afraid to tell him your worries and feeling about the relationship;
  • Are often complacent because you are afraid to hurt his feelings and have the urge to “rescue” him when he is in trouble;
  • Unfairly accuses you of being unfaithful all the time;
  • Find yourself apologizing to yourself or others for your partner’s behavior when you are treated badly;
  • Stop expressing opinions if he doesn’t agree with them;
  • Stay because you feel he will kill himself if you leave;
  • Believe that his jealousy is a sign of love;
  • Blames you for his violence;
  • Believe the critical things he says to make you feel bad about yourself;
  • Believe that there is something wrong with you if you don’t enjoy the sexual things he makes you do;
  • He treats you like you are his property;
  • Begin to wonder if you’re the one who is “crazy”.

Forms of abuse

Economic/financial abuse occurs when the perpetrator controls an individual’s financial resources without the person’s consent or misuses those resources. Here are a few examples:

  • preventing you from having/keeping a job;
  • harassing you at work;
  • controlling your access to finances;
  • taking your money;
  • forcing you to put your names on accounts and then destroying your credit;
  • forcing you to work illegally.

Physical abuse occurs when the perpetrator uses a part of their body or an object to control a person’s actions. Here are some examples:

  • slapping, beating, kicking, pushing, biting, spitting;
  • choking, use of weapon;
  • holding you captive;
  • preventing you from eating or sleeping;
  • preventing you from seeking medical care or withholding medications;
  • animal cruelty towards pets.


Emotional abuse occurs when the perpetrator says or does something to make a person feel worthless. It includes but is not limited to;

  • name calling, criticizing;
  • blaming all relationship problems on the person;
  • using silent treatment;
  • jealousy;
  • humiliating and degrading you in front of others;
  • questioning your sanity.

Verbal abuse occurs when the perpetrator uses language, whether written or spoken, to cause harm. It includes but is not limited to:

  • recalling a person’s past mistakes;
  • expressing negative expectations;
  • expressing distrust;
  • yelling, lying, insulting;
  • withholding important information;
  • threats.

Sexual abuse occurs when a person is forced to take part in sexual activity. It includes but is not limited to:

  • withdrawn affection and excessive jealously;
  • demanding sex after a violent incident;
  • forcing unwanted touching or sex;
  • forcing you to engage in prostitution or pornography;
  • refusing safe sex practices;
  • controlling decisions about pregnancy or abortion.

Psychological abuse occurs when the perpetrator uses threats and causes fear in an individual to gain control. It includes but is not limited to:

  • isolation;
  • threats;
  • attacking your vulnerabilities;
  • playing mind games;
  • being unfaithful;
  • always claiming to be right.

Use of technology occurs when the perpetrator uses different forms of technology to locate or harass someone. It includes but is not limited to:

  • monitoring your email communication;
  • sending you repeated email or texts;
  • using your online identity to post false information;
  • using social networking sites to get information about you;
  • using GPS devices to monitor your location.

“Violence against women is a global public health problem of epidemic proportion, requiring urgent action.”

World Health Organization - 20 June 2013


A 2013 analysis conducted by WHO with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the Medical Research Council, based on existing data from over 80 countries, found that worldwide, almost one third (30%) of all women who have been in a relationship have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner.