About Gender-Based Violence

What is gender-based violence?

What is the difference between sex and gender?

Sex refers to the biological and physiological characteristics that define males, females and intersex persons.

Gender refers to the roles and behaviours that society associates with being female or male. Rigid gender norms can result in stereotyping and curb our expectations of both women and men. A society’s understanding of gender changes over time and varies from culture to culture.

Gender-based violence, commonly referred to by its acronym GBV, is violence that is committed against someone based on their gender identity, gender expression or perceived gender.

If you look closely, you will see the roots of GBV all around you—in the jokes that demean members of the LGBTQI2+ community, in the media messages that objectify women, and in the rigid gender norms imposed on young children.

In Canada, GBV disproportionately impacts women and girls, as well as other diverse populations such as Indigenous Peoples, LGBTQI2+ and gender non-binary individuals, those living in northern, rural, and remote communities, people with disabilities, newcomers, children and youth, and seniors.

Often, the term violence is used to refer to specific, usually physical acts, while the word abuse is used to refer to a pattern of behaviour that a person uses to gain or maintain power and control over another.

GBV is not limited to physical abuse but includes words, actions, or attempts to degrade, control, humiliate, intimidate, coerce, deprive, threaten, or harm another person.

When it comes to GBV, a person may experience more than one form of violence or abuse. Here, these words are often used interchangeably, or the broader term ‘abuse’ is used.


Some populations are more likely to experience violence and may face unique barriers and challenges that put them at particular risk. For example:

  • women are at a 20% higher risk of violent victimization than men when all other risk factors are taken into accountFootnote i;
  • of all sexual assault incidents, nearly half (47%) were committed against women aged 15 to 24Footnote ii;
  • Indigenous women (10%) were more than three times as likely to report being a victim of spousal violence as non- Indigenous women (3%).Footnote iii Indigenous identity is a key risk factor for victimization among women, even when controlling for the presence of other risk factorsFootnote iv;
  • women with a disability were nearly twice as likely as women without a disability to have been sexually assaulted in the past 12 monthsFootnote v;
  • lesbian and bisexual women are 3.5 times more likely than heterosexual women to report spousal violenceFootnote vi;
  • six in ten (58%) senior victims of family violence were female, with a rate 19% higher than that of male seniorsFootnote vii; and
  • women living in the territories are victimized at a rate eight times higher than those living in the provinces. Women living in the territories have a risk of violent victimization about 45% higher than men’s (when controlling for other risk factors).Footnote viii Remote and isolated communities face particular challenges related to access and availability of support.Footnote ix

Examples of violence and abuse

Examples of forms of violence and abuse include:

physical abuse

Physical abuse, including assault, is the intentional use of force against a person without that person's consent. It can cause physical pain or injury that may last a long time. It includes:

  • pushing or shoving
  • hitting, slapping or kicking
  • pinching or punching
  • strangling or choking
  • stabbing or cutting
  • shooting
  • throwing objects at someone
  • burning
  • holding someone down for someone else to assault, or
  • locking someone in a room or tying them down
sexual abuse (adults)

All sexual contact with anyone without consent is a crime called sexual assault. Sexual assault includes sexual touching or forcing sexual activity. It can include:

  • sexual touching or sexual activity without consent
  • continued sexual contact when asked to stop, or
  • forcing someone to commit unsafe or humiliating sexual acts.
sexual abuse (children)

Any sexual contact between an adult and a child under 16 is a crime. Child sexual abuse happens when a person takes advantage of a child for sexual purposes. It does not always involve physical contact with a child. For example, it could happen when an adult makes sexual comments to a child, or secretly watches or films a child for sexual purposes. Sexual abuse of a child includes:

  • any sexual contact between an adult and a child under 16 years of age
  • any sexual contact with a child between the age of 16 and 18 without consent, or
  • any sexual contact that exploits a child under 18.

In Canada, the age of consent for sexual activity is 16, but there are some exceptions if the other person is close in age to the child.

In addition, children under 18 cannot legally give their consent to sexual activity that exploits them. Sexual activities that exploit a child include prostitution and pornography. They also include situations where someone in a position of authority or trust, or someone the child depends on, has any kind of sexual activity with the child. A person of authority or trust could be a parent, step-parent, grandparent, older sibling, teacher or coach.

emotional and psychological abuse

Emotional abuse happens when a person uses words or actions to control, frighten, isolate or take away another person's self-respect. Emotional abuse is sometimes called psychological abuse. It can include:

  • put downs, name calling or insults
  • constantly yelling at someone
  • keeping someone from seeing friends or family
  • making fun of someone's faith or religion, not letting a person practice it (spiritual abuse)
  • controlling what someone wears, where someone goes, who someone can see (in the case of adults)
  • preventing someone from going out, taking classes or working if the person wants to (in the case of adults)
  • threatening to have a person deported if the person doesn't behave in a certain way
  • making threats to harm another person
  • destroying a person's belongings, hurting a person's pets or threatening to do so, or
  • bullying: intimidating or humiliating someone (including on the Internet)

Some forms of emotional abuse are crimes: stalking, threats to harm someone, harassing someone on the phone, intimidating someone on purpose or counselling (advising) someone to commit suicide. Many other forms of emotional abuse are not crimes, but they often have long-term negative effects and sometimes lead to criminal acts later on.

criminal harassment or stalking

Criminal harassment, also known as stalking, is a crime. It involves repeated conduct that makes someone fear for their safety or the safety of someone they care about. It can include:

  • watching or following someone
  • making threats that cause someone to fear for their safety
  • making threats to someone's children, family, pets or friends that cause fear, or
  • repeatedly contacting someone or sending gifts after being asked to stop.
technology-assisted violence

Technology-assisted violence against women and girls is violence that is committed, facilitated, and aggravated through the use of contemporary technologies. It includes, but is not limited to, harassment, cyberstalking, luring, trafficking, non-consensual distribution of intimate images, non-consensual pornography via software applications (i.e. using an AI enabled programme to change the face of a person in a pornographic video recording), doxing (i.e. searching for and publishing private or identifying information about an individual on the internet with malicious intent), and mobbing (i.e. targeted campaign against an individual by a concerted group of perpetrators).


Some forms of neglect are crimes in Canada, including failure to provide the necessities of life and child abandonment. Everyone has a legal duty as a parent or guardian to provide necessities of life for their dependent children (under 16 years of age), as well as their spouse, common-law partner, and any other person they are legally responsible for. Neglect happens when a family member, who has a duty to care for another, fails to provide for that person's basic needs. It can involve:

  • failing to provide proper food or warm clothing
  • failing to provide a safe and warm place to live
  • failing to provide adequate health care, medication and personal hygiene (if needed)
  • failing to prevent physical harm, or
  • failing to ensure proper supervision (if needed).

It may also include leaving someone alone for too long when that person is injured or unwell.

so-called “honour” violence

So-called "honour" violence happens when family members believe that the victim has behaved in ways that will bring shame or dishonour to the family. The violence can be perpetrated by a partner or family member, and from the perpetrator's perspective, is used to protect family honour and restore the family’s reputation.

early or forced marriage

Forced marriage happens when one or both people do not consent to the marriage. Forced marriage is not the same as arranged marriage. In arranged marriages, both people consent to the marriage.

Family members sometimes use physical violence, abduction, forced confinement or emotional abuse to force the person into the marriage. Even if parents try to force their child to marry because they think it is good for the child, using threats or violence to do this is a crime.

financial abuse

Financial abuse happens when someone uses money or property to control or exploit another person. It can involve:

  • taking someone's money or property without permission
  • withholding someone's money so the person cannot pay for things
  • making someone sign documents to sell things that the person doesn't want to sell
  • forcing someone to change her/his will, or
  • not letting someone have access to family money to meet the person's or the person's children's basic needs.

Most forms of financial abuse are crimes, including theft and fraud. Financial abuse can also include situations where one person intends to financially exploit another, as in cases of dowry fraud.

Fact sheets

It's time to recognize
What is gender-based violence?

This fact sheet outlines definitions of sex and gender, as well as the personal and economic costs of gender-based violence.

Fact sheet:
It's time to recognize (PDF)

It's time to acknowledge
Who is affected by gender-based violence?

This fact sheet highlights the populations more at risk of experiencing gender-based violence and is accompanied by key violence statistics.

Fact sheet:
It's time to acknowledge (PDF)

It's time to pay attention
Consultation and reports

This fact sheet talks about the engagement activities that helped inform the Canada's Strategy to Prevent and Address Gender-Based Violence.

Fact sheet:
It's time to pay attention (PDF)

It's time to act
Recent federal actions

This fact sheet discusses recent federal actions, including investments from Budgets 2016 and 2017, which the Government of Canada has made to help prevent and address gender-based violence.

Fact sheet:
It's time to act (PDF)

It’s Time: Canada’s Strategy to Prevent and Address Gender-Based Violence

This fact sheet presents the new strategy and whole-of-government approach to preventing and addressing gender-based violence. It gives the breakdown of the $100.9 million investment from Budget 2017 and outlines the actions that will take place under the Strategy’s three pillars.

Fact sheet:
It’s Time: Canada’s Strategy to Prevent and Address Gender-Based Violence (PDF)


This glossary provides helpful definitions to terms included in the previous five fact sheets.

Fact sheet:
Glossary (PDF)

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