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Abuse and Violence

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Spousal Assault: What Victims Want And Need From The Police


This booklet discusses the needs of victims of spousal assault when they deal with the police and the criminal justice system. Although police response to spousal assault is guided by well-established policies, procedures and provincial woman abuse protocols, establishing a relationship where the victim feels more comfortable is not always easy. 

Because of the intimate bond which the victim has with the perpetrator, spousal assault cases are usually quite different from stranger assaults. During a crisis an abused woman may not know what she wants from the police or the criminal justice system. She may be experiencing a complex mix of love, fear, dependency, guilt, intimidation and hope - emotions which do not characterize stranger assault. This also happens with other victims of family violence such as children and seniors. 

In addition, community expectations about the role of women, socialization, religious beliefs and low self esteem may encourage her to accept the abuse or blame herself. Or she may be financially dependent and worry that if she leaves, her children will suffer even more. Such factors often make it difficult for a victim of spousal abuse to cooperate with the police as they investigate the assault. Yet many victims do expect the police to help them stop the abuse. 

This booklet discusses ways for police to develop a relationship with the victim which makes her feel more comfortable. Building such a relationship clearly takes additional time but it is well worth the effort. It can help the victim to feel less reluctant about cooperating in the investigation and this should help the police to gather better evidence. It will also help the police to assess whether the victim is in a long term abusive relationship and to determine an appropriate intervention strategy which will resolve the crisis and enable the victim to be free and safe from violence. 

Section A explores eleven responses that victims want and need from the police during a crisis. These range from a prompt response, information about her rights and assistance getting to a place of safety. Since a victim’s expectations about what the police or courts can do for her is sometimes inconsistent with how the criminal justice system actually works, this section underscores the importance of providing a realistic picture of what might happen as a result of a spousal assault complaint. This section suggests ways for dealing with victims in a sensitive and caring manner. It also outlines ways for police to assist victims when there is no criminal follow-up and work cooperatively with shelter staff and other crisis intervenors in the community. 

Section B presents a map depicting RCMP District Policing and includes the name and telephone numbers of the transition houses and some of the key services which may be needed by victims of spousal assault.

SECTION A: What victims of spousal assault need from the police 

In a crisis, an abused woman needs the police to:

  • Respond promptly and seriously
  • Demonstrate a supportive and caring attitude
  • Acknowledge her suffering and victimization
  • Protect her and her children from the abuser
  • Get her medical attention if she is injured
  • Inform her what might happen as a result of a complaint
  • Tell her about her rights and non-criminal legal options
  • Get her to a safe place if she chooses to leave
  • Tell her about the nearest transition house
  • Stand by while she gets her children and necessary personal belongings
  • Tell her about services in the community to help her and refer her to the services of crisis workers

1 Exploring the needs of the victim 

1.1 Respond promptly and seriously 

When a victim of spousal assault calls the police for help she needs to feel that the police will treat the situation seriously and respond promptly. Many victims are afraid to call the police. They may think the police will side with the abuser, laugh at them or take their children away. Such myths can be widespread in the community and it often takes great courage to involve the police. 

Victims need to know about police response times. Police should discuss crisis responses with local shelters since staff often advise victims about calling the police. What is considered an emergency? What factors might affect response times? What alternatives could be put in place to help victims who are not in crisis? Victims living in rural areas have particular concerns about their safety. Calling for help in a crisis can further aggravate the perpetrator, endangering both the woman and the police. A long wait for help can be frightening. In rural areas people also worry that neighbours will be listening on their “scanners” and will gossip about the situation. 

An abused woman needs your patience and understanding. For example, a victim of spousal abuse may call 911 frequently. It is important that you do not make her feel guilty or suggest that she is lower on the priority list because she continues to live with abuse. Remember, on average abused women return to an abusive spouse 5 to 8 times before finally leaving. Her inability to leave the abusive situation is not a sign that she consents to the abuse. Police and other service providers must react with patience and understanding. If an abused woman senses your frustration, she might stop calling. Since every situation is potentially life-threatening, they must all be treated promptly and seriously. 

A victim needs to be taken seriously. Many victims blame themselves and they need to hear that they are not responsible for the abuse. Listen carefully to her language. She probably will NOT say that she is an abused woman or a victim of family violence. However, she may allude to the long term nature of the abuse by saying things like “I guess I pushed the wrong buttons” or “I nagged him too much” or “He didn’t mean it, he’s drinking”. Remind her that no one should be able to hurt another person just because he or she is a family member. Explain the seriousness with which the legal system views domestic assault. Tell her that you are there to help her. With practical information and support, an abused woman can begin to plan for a future without abuse. 

1.2 Demonstrate a supportive and caring attitude 

Be sensitive to her fears and vulnerability. If she refuses to cooperate in the investigation, do not lecture her. Do not chastise her if she decides to stay in the situation. However, do try to give her a reality check. Her partner may be telling her that this assault is the last. Remind her that once violence starts, it is hard to stop without help. Consider that many victims are frightened of everyone - not just their husbands. This can include the police and shelter workers. For example, they may believe police will take their children away or jail their husbands. Such fears affect a woman’s ability to make informed decisions about seeking help. 

Do not be judgmental. When abused women tell their story, people often express shock. Many well-intentioned people say insensitive things. They may suggest that the abuse is not serious because the couple has been together for many years. Or they may say she is “crazy to stay with him” or “crazy to go back to him”. This hurts victims deeply. Their abusive partners may have called them “crazy” for years and predicted that no one would believe them. 

Show compassion. The break up of a marriage is never easy under any circumstances. Add years of abuse and fear and you have an extremely complex emotional situation. Let her know that she is not alone. 

1.3 Acknowledge her suffering and victimization 

It is important, especially when the victim discloses a history of abuse, to acknowledge her pain and validate her victimization. You might simply say, “It must be very hard for you”. Responses which seem critical or judgmental only make victims withdraw or minimize the abuse. 

Victims need to know they are not responsible for the abuse. The police may have to ask the victim some “routine” questions which seem to the victim to suggest that she brought on the abuse. For example, the police might ask if she has been drinking or taking drugs. If she has, she may feel that the police are inferring that she is not a real victim or that she deserved the abuse. Explain why you are asking certain questions. When you ask for a victim’s statement, be sure to explain that she does not deserve to be beaten. 

1.4 Protect her and her children from the abuser 

Some victims are afraid that if they call the police their abuser will not allow the police into the home. Victims need to know that the police will protect them in a crisis by taking control of a man who is violent. Reassure her that once you arrive, you will make sure there is no serious trouble inside. 

Victims sometimes have false expectations about how the police can protect them. Victims who are afraid of further violence may expect the police to provide on-going protection. Be sure to tell the victim what the legal system can and cannot do to protect her. (See section 1.6 for a discussion of no contact orders.) 

An abused woman may want to hear about other criminal remedies such as peace bonds and criminal harassment charges. Explain such remedies but remind her that once she has been assaulted, it is too late for a peace bond. A peace bond is intended to prevent violence, not to punish an assault after it has occurred. 

Victims need to know that legal protections do not guarantee their safety. Emphasize that an abused woman must still take precautions for her safety because her partner may decide to disobey a court order. Suggest steps she can take to increase her safety such as moving, changing locks on doors and windows, installing a security alarm and outside lighting, getting an unlisted telephone number, changing her daily routines, having a friend check on her, etc. 

1.5 Get her medical attention if she is injured 

If she is injured she may need medical attention. When you offer to take her to a doctor’s office or an emergency room, she may refuse. She may need some encouragement to go if she doesn’t feel her injuries are serious. Explain that she may have internal injuries. Tell her that the doctor can make a full report and preserve evidence that might be important during a trial. 

If she has severe injuries tell her that the police will go to the hospital to take photographs. Remind her that sometimes bruises only appear after a few days. Explain that the police are responsible for gathering evidence of the crime. If charges are laid, photographs are often the most valuable evidence. Tell her that you will be calling her in a couple of days to see if the bruising has matured and is fully visible. Explain that you will make an appointment at that time for the police to take photographs of her injuries at the station. She may be reluctant to have her injuries photographed. For example, the bruising may be on her ribs or thighs. Let her know that she will be treated sensitively. Explain that the photographs may also be useful if she seeks compensation for her injuries either through criminal injuries compensation or a civil action.
She may need specialized trauma services. If these are available, offer to help her contact support services such as hospitals which use special procedures to deal with sexual assault victims to reduce their trauma. 

1.6 Inform her what might happen as a result of a complaint 

A victim needs to know what will happen when the police investigate a complaint. Explain that conducting an investigation includes taking a written statement. She may be reluctant to make a statement; she may worry that it will be her word against her partner’s word. Explain that in her statement she will be able to tell the truth about what happened to her. Reassure her that you will also gather as much evidence as possible to separately support the fact that she was assaulted. This will include such things as taking photographs of her injuries, taking photographs of the interior of the house or other items, talking to neighbours or other persons who may have seen or heard something, obtaining her consent to release medical records, obtaining tapes of previous 911 calls and so on. 

In cases of serious assault where it seems likely that the victim may later recant her statement, advise her that you can take her to the police station to record her statement by videotape (i.e. K.G.B. statement). Although you must caution her to tell the truth and state the consequences of not doing so, explain that the reason for this is because the videotaped statement can be used as evidence in the trial of her abuser. Be sure to tell her that the videotape is not a substitute for her testimony, but it can be helpful if she later feels pressure to change her version of the events. Explain that it is not uncommon for victims of spousal assault to experience a variety of pressures both external and internal. The videotape may give her a way to respond to these pressures. For example if her abuser, family or friends beg or threaten her to change her testimony, she knows that the judge can consider the videotape to be the truthful version of the assault. 

Often the abused woman will want to know if her partner will be arrested for assaulting her. Explain that you can arrest the perpetrator if you have reasonable and probable grounds to believe that a crime has been committed. However, not all perpetrators are detained or arrested and this is confusing to victims. Tell her what it means to charge her spouse, whether he will likely be kept in jail or released, how long it might be before a trial and so on. Encourage her to make plans even if her partner goes to jail. 

Some abused women would like the police to keep the perpetrator locked up and they are upset to learn that he may be released - often within hours. You should tell her about the rights and safeguards that the legal system confers on the accused. 

If a victim is afraid of further violence, explain that a judge could release the perpetrator on an “undertaking” which includes conditions not to contact her or her children. Explain that if she feels safe, she can remain in the marital home. If her spouse is under such a restriction and enters the home, he can be charged with breaching the order. Even so, she may be too frightened to stay because her spouse might breach the order. If she feels apprehensive, offer to take her to the nearest transition house where she will have security as well as counselling and support. If she does decide to stay at home, encourage her to consider the safety precautions discussed in section 1.4 and to call the transition house for information and support. 

Explain to the victim that a “no contact” condition does not end her spouse’s property rights. The only way to eliminate his “right” to enter the home is for her to take civil action. This means that she must get a court order for exclusive possession of the marital home. She should talk to a lawyer about this. 

Tell the woman about services and support for victims going to court. She will need all the support she can get. Explain that she might be eligible for crime compensation and refer her to a victim service worker. 

Some victims want the police to stop the abuse but they don’t want charges laid. They may even try to protect the offender. Explain the importance of making the offender accountable for his actions. Emphasize that if there is sufficient evidence, police are responsible for laying charges - not her. In New Brunswick, the Crown Prosecutor will determine if the evidence gathered is sufficient to support a charge. If it is, the police will lay an information in court against the accused. This explanation might help take the pressure off her.

Remind her that sometimes a charge acts as a wake up call for an abusive man. It may be the only way to ensure her safety and make her partner get help for his violent temper. If he is convicted, the judge can order counselling as part of his sentence. 

1.7 Tell her about her rights and non-criminal legal options 

A victim may need information about her legal rights in non-criminal matters. An abusive man may tell his wife that if she leaves she will have no right to the house, the children or financial support. Some men tell their wives they are crazy and threaten to lock them away in a mental institution or call child protection officials if they ever leave. Before such victims can cooperate with police on a criminal matter, they may need reassurances that they can get help to deal with their problems. Although it is not the job of the police to help victims with their civil and family law matters, you may be able to offer some general information about a victim’s rights in these areas. 

A victim needs to know that she can act on her rights if she decides to deal with the barriers. Many victims cannot afford a lawyer. Be sure to mention that victims of spousal abuse are eligible for domestic legal aid for help in applying for custody of the children, asking the court for a share of the marital property and seeking child and spousal support. Some victims may feel trapped regardless, if for example her spouse is threatening to burn down the house (marital property) if she leaves. However, for many women, knowing that they have rights and that they can act on them is empowering. 

1.8 Get her to a safe place if she chooses to leave 

Women who are being assaulted by their spouses may need to find a safe place where they can think about their options. Many have no place to go. If possible, take her or arrange transportation to the nearest transition house or another place of safety. 

Sometimes an abused woman needs help getting to safety even though the abuser has gone. For example, it may be impossible for her to call the police during an assault. Her only chance to get to safety is when her spouse leaves. If she has no money or transportation, the police may be her only option. However, when she calls she may no longer be in danger of imminent harm. If the police cannot transport her to a safe place (practices may vary), victims need to hear alternatives. If appropriate, suggest that the victim contact a relative, a friend, a neighbour, a shelter or take a taxi. Discuss the options with local service providers. 

Since local shelter staff and other service providers often advise abused women on getting to safety, they need to know about police procedures and policies in this area. Discuss the issues related to transportation of victims with shelter staff and other service providers. Is there an agency which will pay for an abused woman’s taxi ride to the shelter? Find a way to develop cooperative local solutions to effectively respond to victims who are trying to leave an abusive situation.

1.9 Tell her about the nearest transition house 

An abused woman needs reliable information about what to expect if she seeks shelter. She may know nothing about emergency shelters. She may have heard myths or rumours about shelters such as: shelters are run by government, residents sleep in dormitories, women are locked up, etc. 

In a crisis, the victim may need the following reassurances:

  • The police are concerned for her safety.
  • Going to a shelter does not automatically result in charges being laid against her spouse. (See Section 1.6.)
  • Shelter is temporary and she can go somewhere else that is safe when she wants.
  • Shelters have security and locked doors to protect her - not to make her a prisoner. She can come and go as she wishes.
  • Shelters have information on social services, legal remedies, referrals and support services.
  • Shelter staff are supportive. They are trained and experienced in helping women who are abused and maintain a strict code of confidentiality.

Victims need to feel that they are welcome at the shelter. Before police bring a new resident to the shelter, they should always call ahead. Since security and caution are major concerns at shelters, an unexpected knock at the door, especially in the middle of the night, is unsettling and frightening for residents and staff. If a victim is greeted with confusion and alarm, she may blame herself or feel rejected. 

By calling ahead the police officer will:

  • know if there is space for the woman;
  • know if the woman meets the shelter’s admission criteria which usually relate to domestic abuse and personal safety concerns; (Shelters are not drug or alcohol rehabilitation centres and most are not intended for the homeless.)
  • give shelter staff the chance to prepare for her arrival;
  • give shelter staff an opportunity, if they are full, to make arrangements for night accommodation at a local hotel;
  • enable shelter staff to arrange a transfer to another shelter if necessary;
  • reassure the victim that she and her children will be warmly welcomed.

Not only does an abused woman need a safe place to go, she usually needs an affordable place. Even in a crisis, some women are reluctant to go to shelter because they do not have money, clothes and toiletry items.Explain that there is no charge for staying at a shelter and the staff will help her with needed items.

Women who leave an abusive situation need to know that you will guard their confidentiality. Victims often arrive at the shelter in fear that their spouses will track them down to seek revenge or bully them into returning. Any violation of a resident’s trust would soon undermine her confidence in all support systems. A victim should feel confident that the police will not let her partner know where she is. Never call the victim or shelter staff when the abuser is around. Even passing on messages to the victim from her partner is unnerving; it may imply she is staying at the transition house.

A victim of spousal assault who does not seek shelter may still need emotional support. Let her know that shelters also offer telephone counselling and private counselling appointments. Encourage an abused woman who stays at home to simply get in touch with the shelter staff. Collect calls are usually accepted and callers can remain anonymous. A victim (or her friends and family) can ask questions, learn about options and get support anytime of day or night. 

1.10 Stand by while she gets her children and necessary personal belongings 

A woman who decides to seek shelter often takes her children along and she will need some clothing, toys, diapers and a few personal belongings. Encourage the woman to bring keys, important legal documents, identification for herself and the children, eyeglasses, prescriptions and personal items such as a photo album. Since this can be a volatile time, it may be impossible for her to take these items right away. Be sure to emphasize that the transition house can help her out with toiletry needs, clothing and other such items.

A woman who leaves with nothing in a crisis may need to return home to get some personal belongings, toiletries and pets. Depending on the situation, she may want the police to go with her. Timing is very important because a woman who waits too long may find that her belongings and pets have been destroyed.

Police practices vary and the local service providers need to know how the police will react to requests to return with a woman to her home and stand by while she gets personal belongings. If you do not provide this protection and service, consider suggesting alternatives. For example, the victim could return with shelter staff while the perpetrator is making a court appearance. 

1.11 Tell her about services in the community to help her and refer her to the services of crisis workers 

A victim of spousal assault often feels that she must continue to live with the abuse for the sake of her children or many other reasons. Many women make decisions without knowing what services and support are available in the community. As a result, victims often think that there are no options and are reluctant to cooperate when criminal charges are warranted. However, even if there is no criminal follow-up, police should tell abused women about the available local and regional services for victims of family violence. 

It is important for victims to know how to access services such as the following:

  • transition house
  • domestic legal aid
  • crime compensation
  • emergency housing
  • family violence counselling
  • income assistance
  • mental health
  • victim/witness assistance
  • sexual assault crisis counselling

Since a spousal assault victim may not know her rights or what services to ask about, do not wait for the victim to ask you about these services. Be prepared to offer help.

Where appropriate, refer the woman to a crisis worker for follow-up and support. For example, carry business cards of helping services such as victim services or the local transition house. Have pamphlets available with information on family violence and wife assault. If a woman is not ready to take action, offer her the information anyway. It may inform her about her options and help her later. Remember, some women may not be able to take pamphlets for fear that they will put her at risk with the abuser. Tell her how she can get the information when she is ready. 

Take the time to discover some local solutions! 

SECTION B: Services for Victims of Spousal Abuse 

Women who have been assaulted by their partners need the police to tell them about the services that are available in their community. Many do not know about the local transition house or other service providers who could help them. It is important that police know about crisis intervenors and support services for victims of spousal assault in their area. Here are some services which might help victims of spousal abuse. 

Counselling Services 

Professional counselling services and family life education programs for individuals and families who need help with personal, family or social problems are available throughout the province. Family violence counselling is also available. Fees vary with ability to pay.

Name of Agency



Restigouche Family Inc.

113, Roseberry St.
Suite 202
Campbellton, NB


Family Enrichment and Counseling Services Inc. (Fredericton)

618, Queen St.
Fredericton, NB


Family Services Moncton Inc.

120, High St.
Moncton, NB


Family Services Saint John Inc.

255, Metcalf St.
Saint John, NB


Services à la famille de la péninsule inc.

442 St-Pierre Blvd. W
Caraquet, NB


Nepisiguit Family Services Inc.

235, Main St.
Bathurst, NB


Kent Centre for the Prevention of Family Violence

7714, Route 134
Sainte-Anne-de-Kent, NB


Domestic Legal Aid
Victims of spousal abuse may be eligible for free legal assistance to deal with many of their family law problems through the Domestic Legal Aid program. This service operates out of the Court of Queen’s Bench - Family Division office. Family Division handles child protection, custody, support, division of marital property, divorce, enforcement of orders, restraining orders, etc. Although family court social workers also offer mediation services on these issues, this is not appropriate in family violence cases.

Location of Domestic Legal Aid Office



Family Division: Bathurst

P.O. Box 5001
Bathurst, NB
E2A 3Z9


Family Division: Campbellton

P.O. Box 5001
Campbellton, NB
E3N 3H5


Family Division: Edmundston

P.O. Box 5001
Edmundston, NB
E3V 3L3


Family Division: Fredericton

P.O. Box 6000
Fredericton, NB
E3B 5H1


Family Division: Miramichi

599, King George Highway
Miramichi, NB
E1V 1N6


Family Division: Moncton

P.O. Box 5001
Moncton, NB
E1C 8R3


Family Division: Saint John

P.O. Box 5001
Saint John, NB
E2L 4Y9


Family Division: Woodstock

606, Main St.
P.O. Box 5001
Woodstock, NB
E0J 2B0


Help Lines 

Crisis response lines can also offer help to victims of spousal abuse. Remember that victims can also telephone a transition house for information and help. 

Chimo Help Centre Inc. 1-800-667-5005 

Child Protection:
After Hours Emergency 1-800-442-9799
Toll Free 1-888-99-ABUSE

Sexual Assault Crisis 506-454-0437

Help-24-Au Secour 506-859-4357 (Crisis Line
506-857-9782 (Office) 

Restigouche Family 506-753-6769
Crisis Interveners Inc. 

Human Resources Development - NB (RE: Welfare)
This Department can help a person in need with expenses such as food, clothing, shelter, utilities, household and medical expenses. It may also help with any emergency or special expenses such as taxis. Information is available at the following Regional Offices:

Location of Offices












Grand Falls


















Saint John






St. Stephen








Transition Homes and Shelters

Name of Transition House

Location and Mailing Address


Passage House

P.O. Box 1284
Bathurst, NB E2A 4J1


Maison Notre-Dame

P.O. Box 158
Campbellton, NB
E3N 3G4


L’Escale Madavic d`Edmundston

P.O. Box 411
Edmundston, NB
E3V 3L1


Women in Transition Inc.

P.O. Box 1143
Fredericton, NB E3B 5C2

457-2770 (office)
459-2300 (crisis line)

Gignoo House(Native Women`s Healing House)

P.O. Box 3385, Station B
Fredericton, NB E3A 5H2


Miramichi Emergency Shelter for Women Inc.

P.O. Box 249
Miramichi, NB E1V 3M3


Crossroads for Women Inc.

P.O. Box 1247
Moncton, NB E1C 8P9


Hestia House

Saint John
P.O. Box 7135, Station A
Saint John, NB E2L 4S5

634-7571 (office)
634-7570 (helpline)

Fundy Region Transition House

St. Stephen
St. Stephen, NB E3L 1H3


Sussex Vale Transition House

P.O. Box 2184
Sussex, NB E0E 1P0


Accueil Sainte-Famille

P.O. Box 3685,
cucc. bureau chef
Tracadie-Sheila, NB
E1X 1G5


Sanctuary House

P.O. Box 4294
Woodstock, NB E7M 6B7


Kent Transition House

7714, Route 134
NB E4S 1H5


Victim Services: Department of the Solicitor General
The Victim Services Program provides support for witnesses in criminal trials. An abused woman can get support, find out about court, the status of her case and referrals to other services. Victims can also get information about crime compensation and restitution and victim impact statements.















Grand Falls










Saint John


St. Stephen






NOTE: In some places you may be able to refer victims to municipal police victim-witness units which offer crisis counselling for victims of abuse or specialized trauma teams for sexual assault.

Mental Health Centres













Grand Falls


Grand Manan










Saint John




St. George


St. Stephen


This booklet has been produced collaboratively by the Public Legal Education and Information Service of New Brunswick (PLEIS-NB) and the New Brunswick Coalition of Transition Homes and Second Stage Shelters. 

PLEIS-NB is a non-profit organization which provides information about the law to the people of New Brunswick. It receives funding and in-kind support from the Department of Justice Canada, the New Brunswick Law Foundation and the New Brunswick Department of Justice. Project funding for this project was provided by the RCMP and the New Brunswick Department of Family and Community Services.
The Coalition is an umbrella organization which promotes funding, policy development and related issues on behalf of the transition houses and second stage shelters for abused women and their children across the province. 

We would like to thank Public Prosecutions, Department of Justice of New Brunswick; Policing Services, Department of Public Safety of New Brunswick; and members of the Fredericton Police Force and RCMP “J” Division who reviewed the content of the booklet. We also wish to acknowledge the participation of staff from Women in Transition Inc. and the Victim Services Program for participating in the focus test of the booklet. Finally, we express our thanks to shelter staff from around the province for reviewing drafts of the booklet and providing valuable comments and suggestions. 

This booklet does not contain a complete statement of the law in the area and anyone who requires specific legal advice should consult a lawyer.

Published by

P.O. Box 6000 Fredericton, N.B.
Tel: (506) 453-5369
Fax: (506) 462-5193

June 2004
ISBN: 1-5523-057-1



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