1. Listen to the client’s concerns and identify her needs.
2. Treat disclosures of abuse as important and relevant.
3. Never minimize or deny the abuse. For more information about this click here.
How do advocates and service providers sometimes minimize or deny or fail to recognize
Service providers may minimize or deny woman abuse by:
• encouraging women, directly or indirectly, not to disclose abuse as a tactic to appear more
cooperative in court
• believing a woman is making up or exaggerating abuse to win in family court, or that the abuse
isn’t bad enough to be important
• ignoring the control tactics of abusive fathers and the impact on children of exposure to abuse
of their mother
• failing to uphold no contact orders or to see breaches of orders as an indicator of serious risk to
women and children
• failing to see abuse of the mother as reason enough to change custody or access orders in the
best interests of children
• using language that minimizes and ignores the importance of woman abuse (for example,
“high-conflict divorce” or “warring couple”)
• failing to address breaches of orders
• putting the onus on the women to deal with the situation
• failing to include an enforcement clause in court orders
4. Understand that the children’s best interests are linked to their mother’s safety.
5. Believe that disclosures come from women’s concern for their own and their children’s safety and wellbeing.
6. Encourage a woman to find an advocate. An advocate is a person (for example, a transition house or
women’s centre employee) who works on the woman’s behalf to help ensure that her needs are met
and her rights are respected. For more information on advocates, click here.
Advocates are different from a friend or family member because they are a professional with experience dealing with the people and agencies the woman is involved with, and they are not emotionally connected to the case. Because court appearances and meetings with lawyers, child protection workers, and Community Services can be stressful, it is sometimes helpful for a woman to have somebody with her who remains calm and focused.
Some of the things an advocate can do are:
• provide information
• take notes
• ask questions and explain things during meetings
• remind the woman of issues she wants to raise or questions she wants to ask
• inform the woman and others of their rights and responsibilities
Perhaps the most important thing an advocate does is provide moral support during difficult and emotional times.
7. React decisively to abusers’ escalating abuse and disregard for the law (for example, talking about
revenge, breaches of court orders, probation conditions).
8. Don’t expect the victim to cooperate with or have a neutral attitude to the abuser. There are often high
levels of reaction.
9. Use the language of crime with respect to the abuse (e.g., assault, stalking, intimidation, threats, rape), and
avoid the language of relationship trouble (e.g., high-conflict divorce, warring couple, it takes two to tango,
he said/she said).
10. Be familiar with and act to prevent or counter typical control tactics of abusive fathers during legal
processes (for example, false allegations to child protection authorities, allegations the mother
has fabricated domestic abuse to gain advantage in family court, allegations the mother is unstable,
threats to take or harm children).
11. Understand that different cultures have different expectations and responses and recognize your
own cultural biases.
12. Recommend that the woman apply for an Emergency Protection Order (EPO) if the abuse is severe.
An EPO is an immediate form of temporary protection available to women in abusive situations; it is
especially helpful for those with children. For more information on an EPO, click here.
An EPO is a court order made by a presiding justice of the peace to protect victims of family violence where the situation is serious and urgent. Among other things, EPOs can:
• remove the abusive partner from the home
• give the woman or another person temporary care and custody of the children
• give temporary possession of personal property (such as a car, keys, bank cards)
• order the abusive partner to stay away from the client, her children, home, or place of work
13. Recognize that the abuse may have affected a woman’s ability to trust in herself to make decisions
and allow her time to decide what to do.
14. Know the common impacts on children of exposure to domestic abuse.
15.Discuss with the client whether she wants to report abusive incidents to the police. There are lots of
reasons why an abused woman might choose not to contact the police, such as a bad past experience,
fear of her abuser, or simply a desire to move on and put the relationship behind her. However, many
women regret this decision if they later need evidence to support their abuse claims.
Click here to read more about this.
A police investigation can provide a record of abuse. Unless the police are contacted for help when offences occur (before, during or after separation), it can sometimes be difficult for a woman or her lawyer to document domestic abuse in a child protection or family court proceeding. Police records and physical evidence such as photos, witness testimony, and medical records can help to prove domestic abuse claims. However, each woman must decide for herself whether to contact the police.
17. Laws and customs differ among cultural groups, and cultural groups sometimes have access to
specialized services. It is helpful to familiarize yourself with the services in your community.
18. Encourage the woman to find ways to look after herself and her children. Remind her she can contact her
local transition house for assistance.
19. Become familiar with the court system in Nova Scotia, if you aren’t already.
A good place to start is www.nsfamilylaw.ca
20. Be supportive by listening to the woman and providing information on services and help available.
Contact your local transition house and/or women’s centre to find out about the services in your community
and help her access them. Click here for further information.
Let women know that even before or after they have separated from their partner, help is available at the nearest women’s shelter or women’s centre and that they do not have to stay at a transition house to benefit from its services. Transition houses have outreach staff who work with women in the community. They can provide information, advice and support; help with court documents; offer counselling to women and their children; help with accessing services in the community; go with the woman to appointments; and advocate on their behalf. They cannot provide legal advice. A woman can access services in person or by phone (she does not have to give her name over the phone if she prefers not to).
The 211 service is a United Way Service funded by the provincial government. Its purpose is to help Nova Scotians across the province find the community, social and health services they need. People can call 24/7 to get info about service by dialing 211. 211 has access to a wide variety of languages through interpretation services. People can also search an on-line database at ns.211.ca
21. Make a special effort to reflect on your process. Think through how you react and how you are
behaving and what you are saying.
How You Can Help
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