Domestic Abuse March 2007 q What is domestic abuse? q Am I to blame for the abuse? q Are children affected by domestic abuse? q What can I do if I am being abused? q What do the police do if I report an assault? q Will the police always lay charges? q Can I withdraw charges? q Do I have to go to court? q What happens in court? q Will I be kept informed? q What sentence will my spouse or partner get? q What are “Anti-stalking Laws” q What are my rights if I leave my spouse or partner? q What are my rights to my children if I leave my spouse or partner? q What are my rights to the matrimonial home if I leave my spouse or partner? q What are my rights to property if I leave my spouse or partner? q Where can I get more information? Q - What is domestic abuse? A – Domestic abuse can occur in a marriage, common-law or other intimate relationship. Most victims of domestic abuse are women, but men can also experience abuse by a partner in a relationship. The term “domestic abuse” (or “family violence”) describes any form of abuse by one spouse (husband, wife, common-law or same sex partner) against the other. Abuse may be: q physical (for example, slapping, choking or punching) q threats (for example, to harm you, your children, or your property) q mental or emotional (for example, constant criticism, insulting you) q sexual (for example, forcing you to have sex or to participate in other sexual activities) q financial (for example, refusing to give you money for groceries, not paying bills) q social (for example, not letting you see your family or friends, embarrassing you in public) <Back to questions> Q - Am I to blame for the abuse? A - Often a spouse or partner who is abused is made to feel worthless by the abuser and told he or she is to blame for the abuse. But no one deserves to be abused. The responsibility for the abuse lies solely with the person who is abusing you. <Back to questions> Q – Are children affected by domestic abuse? A - Children who witness domestic abuse may suffer serious short and long-term effects, and often have the same symptoms as children who are abused directly. These symptoms may include: depression, anxiety, aggression, low self-esteem, bad relationships, and trouble in school. Boys of battered mothers are more likely to grow up to become abusers and there is a greater likelihood that girls will become the victims of abuse. <Back to questions> Q - What can I do if I am being abused? A - Your choices depend on your personal, emotional and financial situation. Here are some suggestions: 1. Talk to someone about the abuse. You can tell the police, a family member, a friend, your doctor or someone else you trust about the abuse. You can talk to staff at your local Transition House or Women’s Centre for information, support and advocacy. See the contact list below under the FAQ Where can I get more information? 2. Get medical help. If you have been hurt you can go to your doctor or to the Emergency Department at a hospital. If your injuries are visible you can have photos taken, which may be used in court if assault charges are laid. There are special medical and police procedures for sexual assault cases. See the Legal Information Society of Nova Scotia’s (LISNS) pamphlet called “Sexual Assault” and the Family Violence FAQs called Sexual Assault on this website for more information. 3. Apply for a peace bond. A peace bond is a court order signed by your spouse or partner (the “defendant”) promising to keep the peace and be of good behaviour. The peace bond may have other conditions, such as a requirement that the defendant stay away from your home and your place of work and not have guns or other weapons. You have to go to court to get a peace bond. You do not have to be assaulted to apply, nor do assault charges have to be laid. You do have to convince the judge that you have a reasonable fear of the defendant. The defendant will also be in court. The judge may issue the peace bond for up to one year. In most cases you apply for a peace bond at Provincial Court. In some limited circumstances, the Family Court, or Supreme Court (Family Division) in Cape Breton and Halifax Regional Municipality, may also deal with a peace bond application. See the LISNS pamphlet called “Peace Bonds” and the Family Violence FAQs called Peace Bonds on this website for more information. 4. Apply for an Emergency Protection Order. An Emergency Protection Order is a court order made by a Justice of the Peace to protect victims of family violence where the situation is serious and urgent. Emergency Protection Orders may: q remove your spouse or partner (the respondent) from the home; q give you (the victim) temporary possession of personal property (such as a car, keys, bank cards); q give you or another person temporary care and custody of your children; q order your spouse or partner to stay away from you, your home or place of work; q order your spouse or partner not to commit any further acts of violence against you. You (the victim) or a person acting your behalf, such as a police officer, Victims’ Services staff or Transition House worker, may apply for an Emergency Protection Order between the hours of 9 am and 9 pm any day of the week by calling the Justice of the Peace Centre at 1-866-816-6555. Emergency Protection Orders last for up to 30 days. Police and transition houses may also apply on your behalf any time day or night. See LISNS’ Family Violence FAQs called Emergency Protection Orders on this website for more information. 5. Leave your spouse or partner If you and your spouse or partner do not get along, the law does not require you to stay together. Before you leave you should talk with a lawyer about your rights in relation to your children and property. If you decide to leave, depending on your situation, you may be able to rent a place to live, go to a Transition House, or stay with family or friends. 6. Report to the police. Police investigate reports of criminal offences and lay criminal charges if there is enough evidence. The Criminal Code, a federal law, says that assault, sexual assault and threats are criminal offences. It describes three types of assault and sets maximum penalties (sentences) for each type. Assault may be: q Simple assault (usually called “common assault”). Examples are slapping, pushing, threatening to harm you, your children or property. q Assault with a weapon or Assault causing bodily harm. Examples are being beaten with a baseball bat or getting a black eye or broken bones. q Aggravated assault is an assault where your life is at risk or you are wounded, maimed or disfigured. Examples are where the offender threatens to kill you or where your injuries from the assault leave you with a limp or scars. See the Family Violence FAQs called Sexual Assault on this website for more information on sexual domestic violence offences. Agencies such as Transition Houses, Women’s Centres and Victims’ Services can provide information and support to help you. For contact details, see the question “Where can I get more information?” at the end of these FAQ’s <Back to questions> Q – What is the Nova Scotia Framework for Action Against Family Violence? A - Nova Scotia’s Framework for Action Against Family Violence says: • family violence must be treated as a serious problem; • those involved in the justice system, including police, Crown Attorneys, and probation officers must be consistent in their approach to family violence; • written guidelines (“protocol”) must be followed when dealing with family violence; • the victim must be kept informed at every stage of the criminal process. These guidelines apply to all forms of family violence committed by partners in a marriage, common-law or other intimate relationship (such as dating), as well as those who are separated or divorced. <Back to questions> Q - What do the police do if I report an assault? A - The police should respond to, and investigate, all domestic abuse complaints. They have written guidelines (“protocol”) to follow when dealing with domestic abuse (family violence). The guidelines require the police to: q talk to you and your spouse or partner separately and get a written statement from each of you and any witnesses q arrest your spouse or partner if it is likely your spouse will continue or repeat the assault, or if there are other reasons for arrest. For example, your spouse or partner used a weapon or injured you q tell you what help is available in your community and arrange to transport you to a Transition House or other safe place if necessary q following an arrest, if the police release your spouse or partner they should have him or her sign an agreement (“undertaking”) to have no contact with you until the matter is dealt with by the court q lay a charge if there are grounds to believe that your spouse committed an offence <Back to questions> Q - Will the police always lay charges? A - The police lay charges where there are reasonable grounds to believe that an offence has occurred. They can lay charges even if you do not want them to. The guidelines (“protocol”) for police, Crown Attorneys and others working in the justice system prioritize domestic violence (family violence) cases and encourage arrest, charge and prosecution. Cases of assault are usually dealt with in Provincial Court. If the police do not lay charges and you think that they should, you can speak to the senior officer in charge, or, if you are dealing with the municipal police, you can make a complaint to the City or Town Clerk or the Chief of Police. If you are dealing with the RCMP you can talk to the Commanding Officer or contact the RCMP Public Complaints Commission. If the police do not lay an assault charge, you can lay one. You must go to the court office and ask to see a Justice of the Peace (JP). If you have not already talked to the police, the JP may suggest you do so. However, the JP must allow you to lay the charges if you want to. <Back to questions> Q - Can I withdraw charges? A – If the police have laid a charge only the Crown Attorney can withdraw it. The police must tell your spouse or partner that you cannot insist that the charges be withdrawn. If you laid the charge privately (rather than the police) you can withdraw it by informing the court office. <Back to questions> Q - Do I have to go to court? A - If the police laid the charge the Crown Attorney will present the case in court. The Crown Attorney presents the evidence against a person accused of breaking a criminal law. You will likely be required to appear as a witness (to “testify”) for the Crown. If so, you will receive a subpoena, which is a paper from the court ordering you to come to court. If you do not obey the subpoena, the Crown Attorney may ask a judge to issue a warrant for your arrest and charge you with ‘Failure to Appear’. The fact that you and your spouse or partner have worked out your problems is not. by itself, enough to make the Crown Attorney withdraw the charges. If you are scared to testify, because of threats or because you fear repercussions from your spouse or partner, tell the police or the Crown Attorney, or contact Victims’ Services or your local Transition House. If you laid the charge privately you must present the case against your spouse or partner or you can hire a lawyer to do this for you. See Family Violence FAQs Being a Witness for more information. For contact information for Victims’ Services, Transition Houses and Women’s Centres, see the question Where can I get more information? <Back to questions> Q – What happens in court? A – For more information on what happens in court, who is present in the courtroom, how to give evidence (“testify”), Victim Impact Statements, what to do if you are frightened or if you have been threatened, and other court-related issues, please refer to the Family Violence FAQs Being a Witness. <Back to questions> Q - Will I be kept informed? A - The guidelines (“protocol”) require that you be kept informed by police, Victims’ Services and the Crown Attorney. You should be provided with information about: • The terms of release and a copy of the release order (“undertaking” or “recognizance”) if your spouse or partner is released to await trial • Your right to provide a Victim Impact Statement to the court (See the Family Violence FAQs on Being a Witness for more information on Victim Impact Statements) • The type of sentence the Crown Attorney will recommend to the judge • The sentence • If there is an appeal, the date of the appeal and the outcome • Any probation order and a copy of the order. In addition, the Crown Attorney should meet with you at least once before the trial. <Back to questions> Q - What sentence will my spouse or partner get? A - If your spouse or partner (the “offender”) is found guilty he or she will be sentenced. The sentence will depend on the seriousness of the assault. Types of sentences include a fine, a jail term, restitution, a discharge or probation. The judge may choose one or more of these penalties. For example, the judge may fine the offender and place him or her on probation. The offender may get a criminal record. Our brochure Sentencing has more information. <Back to questions> Q – What are “Anti-stalking Laws”? A - Anti-stalking laws (also called “criminal harassment”) may help protect you if you fear for your safety or the safety of someone you know because your spouse or partner is repeatedly: • following you around • contacting you, your family, friends or workplace • watching your home or workplace • doing anything which threatens you or your family If your spouse does any of these things you should contact the police. For more information on obtaining a peace bond to keep your spouse or partner away from you, see the Family Violence FAQs on Peace Bonds. If your situation is serious and urgent, you may want to apply for an Emergency Protection Order. See the Family Violence FAQs called Emergency Protection Orders on this website. <Back to questions> Q - What are my rights if I leave my spouse or partner? A - There is no simple answer to this question because each case is different. You should get legal advice based on your individual situation. You should not sign any papers that may affect your rights until you have spoken to a lawyer. You should not use the same lawyer as your spouse. You can contact the LISNS Legal Information Line and Lawyer Referral Service for basic legal information or to get a referral to a lawyer. Abused women can contact their local Transition House for legal information on what to do when leaving an abusive partner. <Back to questions> Q – What are my rights to my children if I leave my spouse or partner? A - Both parents have equal rights to their children. On separation or divorce, if you cannot agree on an access (visitation) arrangement or on who will have custody of the children you can apply to family court and a judge will decide. If you decide to leave your spouse and you want to take your children, you should talk to a lawyer or Transition House worker as soon as possible. You will probably need to apply for an “interim sole custody order” as soon as possible. For child custody and access orders, you apply to the Family Court, or, if you live in Halifax Regional Municipality or Cape Breton, the Supreme Court (Family Division). Do not take your children out of the area (“jurisdiction”) where you have been living before talking with a lawyer, since you could be charged with child abduction - even if your reason for leaving is to escape abuse. If you leave and are unable to take your children with you, you can still apply for custody or for access. You can also apply to family court for support for the children and for yourself if you need it. LISNS’ pamphlets Custody and Access and Maintenance and the Family Law FAQs give more information. For more information about child custody and access issues in domestic abuse cases, speak to a Transition House worker or refer to the Making Changes: A Book for Women in Abusive Relationships, which is available on the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women at: www.gov.ns.ca/staw/pubs2006_07/MakingChanges4rev_2006.pdf. <Back to questions> Q – What are my rights to the matrimonial home if I leave my spouse or partner? A - Usually both spouses have a right to live in the matrimonial home. On separation or divorce if you and your spouse or partner cannot agree on who will leave the home, who will pay the mortgage and upkeep on the home, or whether the home will be sold, you can apply to family court and a judge will decide. You do not have a right to keep your spouse or partner out of the home without a court order (for example, a family court order, peace bond, emergency protection order) and your spouse or partner does not have a right to keep you out. If either of you want to keep the other out, you should talk to your lawyer. If your spouse or partner assaults you in the home, you can call the police. They may remove your spouse or partner from the home temporarily. If they arrest your spouse or partner, they may release him or her and include in the terms of release that he or she have no contact with you until the matter is dealt with in court. They may also order your spouse or partner to stay away from the home. You can apply for an exclusive possession order for the matrimonial home. Such an order would forbid your spouse or partner to enter the home. The application is made to the Nova Scotia Supreme Court or Supreme Court (Family Division). You should talk to the police, your lawyer for advice on getting an exclusive possession order, a peace bond or an emergency protection order. If you are not living in the matrimonial home, for example, if you have left your spouse and rent an apartment, your spouse does not have a right to enter the apartment. You can call the police if your spouse or partner tries to enter. <Back to questions> Q – What are my rights to property if I leave my spouse or partner? A - Besides the home, you may have rights to a vehicle, furniture and other property. You should talk to a family lawyer about your situation. If you are living in a common law or same sex relationship and have a Registered Domestic Partnership, you may have rights to family owned property. You should speak with a lawyer about your situation. If you are in a common-law or same sex relationship that is not a Registered Domestic Partnership usually you have a right to remove anything that you owned before or bought during the relationship. Problems arise if you bought things jointly or if you and your spouse or partner disagree about who owns what. If this happens, you should talk with a family lawyer. When you leave you can take your personal items such as clothes. If you take the children with you, you can take their personal items also. If you leave in an emergency, you may need to return to the home later to collect personal items such as clothes for yourself or your children. If you fear that your spouse will assault you, ask the police to go with you to the house. If the police agree to go with you their role is to ensure that you and your spouse keep the peace. They do not have authority to make decisions as to who owns what. The courts are the proper place to decide property disputes. <Back to questions> Q - Where can I get more information? A – These are some agencies that may be of help: Victims’ Services supports victims of crime by providing information, support and assistance as a case moves through the criminal justice system. Head Office: 1-888-470-0773 Dartmouth: 902-424-3307 Kentville 1-800-565-1805 New Glasgow 1-800-565-7912 Sydney 1-800-565-0071 Transition Houses provide residential and outreach services to abused women and their children. For more information, or for details about the Transition House nearest you, you can call the Transition House Association of Nova Scotia (THANS) at (902) 429-7287 or visit the THANS website: www.thans.ca. Women’s Centres provide a variety of services, such as advocacy, accompaniment, referrals and information. There are eight Women’s Centres in Nova Scotia: Tri-County, Yarmouth (902-742-0085); Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre (902-863-6221); Every Woman’s Centre, Sydney (902-567-1212); Lea Place, Sheet Harbour (902-855-2668); Pictou County Women’s Centre, New Glasgow (902-755-4647); Second Story Women’s Centre, Lunenburg (902-543- 1315); The Women’s Place Resource Centre, Cornwallis (902-584-7195); and the Central Nova Women’s Centre, Truro (902-895-4295). Making Changes: A Book for Women in Abusive Relationships For an overview of issues and resources for abused women, see the guidebook Making Changes: A Book for Women in Abusive Relationships, which is available online at the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women: www.gov.ns.ca/staw/pubs2006_07/MakingChanges4rev_2006.pdf. You can order a hardcopy by calling the Advisory Council toll free at 1-800-565-8662. The Legal Information Society of Nova Scotia (LISNS). LISNS has a Legal Information Line and Lawyer Referral Service. For information on the law or to use the Lawyer Referral Service call 455-3135 in the Halifax/Dartmouth Metro area or 1-800-665-9779 toll free in NS if you are calling outside Metro. For information on LISNS publications and other business call (902) 454-2198. For pre-recorded information call LISNS Dial-a-Law program. It provides 24 hour recorded legal information. Tel: 420-1888 (not toll free). Legal Aid: Nova Scotia Legal Aid has offices across the province. They are listed in the phone book under Nova Scotia Legal Aid. Also, Dalhousie Legal Aid serves Halifax/Dartmouth. Tel: 423-8105. <Back to questions> These FAQ’s were developed with the support of a financial contribution from the Department of Justice Canada.