Domestic violence isn’t black and white. There isn’t a clear list of signs to look for.

Domestic Violence

Even when we see domestic violence happening, we can’t see what’s going on beneath the surface. It’s about recognizing a pattern of behaviors that doesn’t seem right, people acting different than usual, or afraid or fearful. Recognizing abuse is about checking in on our assumptions about people and their relationships, and being willing to engage when something feels off.

Domestic Violence is like an


People experiencing domestic violence may seem fine on the outside, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t deeper issues beneath the surface.


Invisible cage

People experiencing domestic violence lack complete freedom, but no one around them can see the bars.

Domestic Violence is like an

Jenga tower

People experiencing domestic violence get caught in a cycle where each move is meant to undermine and de-stabilize the other person.

The Calgary Domestic Violence Collective defines Domestic Violence as:

The attempt, act, or intent of someone within a relationship, where the relationship is characterized by intimacy, dependency or trust, to intimidate either by threat or by the use of physical force on another person or property. The purpose of the abuse is to control and / or exploit through neglect, intimidation, inducement of fear, or by inflicting pain.

I noticed my co-worker was taking longer lunches and was becoming less talkative during the day. Finally I just asked if everything was okay and she totally opened up.


REAL Stories >
What is

Coercive Control

Coercive control is an act, or a pattern of acts, used to regulate and dominate another person’s daily life. These acts could look like different forms of abuse, including verbal, sexual, psychological, spiritual or financial. Everyone’s experience with domestic violence is unique, but the use of abusive behaviours are ways in which one person is trying to control or exploit another.



The person in control uses repeated tactics to dominate another person.



Control tactics are often subtle, quiet ways of manipulation.



These are little actions and behaviours that add up over time.


Not obvious

Controlling behaviour isn’t always easy to spot.

How to talk about it

Terms & language

People use many words to describe themselves and their experiences of domestic violence. Mirror their language.

Follow the lead of the person who is sharing their experience with you. Language matters and the choice for how to identify is personal and should be respected.

Victim vs. Survivor

These are words that might be used to describe someone who is experiencing violence. The word victim is often used to describe a person in the context of the law or in court proceedings. Survivor is a word that acknowledges that person’s trauma and helps to empower their choice to move forward from a violent relationship.

Person Experiencing / Using

Experiences of violence do not define us. Just because someone is impacted by some form of violence today, doesn’t mean they’ll be using or experiencing violence in the future. Everyone has the potential to change and labels that presuppose otherwise can be harmful. First-person language reflects the idea that people are always so much more than their experiences of violence.

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