Discussion Guide

A Better Man can inspire courageous conversations about intimate partner violence, justice and healing. Our discussion guide can support those conversations with questions, activities and resources to spark reflection among friends, family and community members.

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In A Better Man, we glimpse a man beginning to take responsibility for abusing his partner, co-director Attiya Khan, 20 years ago. The conversations the film records between Attiya and Steve were painful, illuminating, and ultimately transformative for both of them.

While not everyone in Steve’s position does, some people do embark on this kind of journey toward non-violence and accountability. They may do so with the guidance of elders, counsellors, healing circles, support groups, restorative or transformative justice programs, or perhaps with just the support of friends and family.

Difficult and long-term personal journeys are never easy, but can lead to meaningful change. Very often, change starts with a conversation.

In this section, we explore some questions you may be asking about what it means to take responsibility for abuse. We invite you to read any sections that apply to you, and take care of yourself while doing so. For general coping and self-care tips, visit Crisis Centre’s Coping and Self-Care guide. For self-care tips directed toward women and feminine-identified people, check out BabeVibes’ Methods of Self-Care online zine.

A note on language: People of any gender identity are capable of using or experiencing violence in an intimate relationship, including those who do not identify as men or women. For this reason, we use gender-neutral language throughout this section (e.g. “people”, “they/them/their”). However, it is important to acknowledge that intimate partner abuse is a highly gendered form of violence. The majority of people who use violence against their partners are cisgender men, and the majority of people who experience violence from their partners are cisgender women and transgender people.

We also refrain from using labeling language such as “survivor” or “victim,” opting instead for the term “people who have experienced violence,” although people should always be free to identify or label their own experiences however they wish. We avoid using labeling language such as “abuser” or “perpetrator,” instead using the term “people who have used violence.”

What does the person who experienced violence want or need to feel safe and supported?

Experiencing intimate partner violence often undermines a person’s power, control, and confidence in their choices. To avoid reinforcing these effects, resist making decisions on their behalf. Rather than telling them what you think they should do, begin by asking them what they need to feel safe and supported.

People who have experienced violence have different needs and priorities and may be influenced by:

  • Feelings for the person using violence
  • Past or continuing trauma as a result of the abuse
  • Access to social and/or financial support outside the relationship
  • Immigration status
  • Values and beliefs
  • Housing
  • Presence of children or other dependents
  • Their power in society relative to the person abusing them (in areas such as race, gender, gender identity/expression, sexuality, disability, and class)

For this reason, ask the person who experienced violence what they need, rather than taking a default course of action such as calling the police. For some people (e.g. those with precarious immigration status and those from groups that have experienced police violence), calling the police may not be the safest action to take. Others may feel that entering into a legal process will not contribute to their healing, and they would rather seek an end to the violence through other means. Many who use violence in their intimate relationships monitor their partner’s communications, so speak to the person being abused face-to-face in a safe place if possible.

While the needs of the partner being harmed are central, they may not be the only person who has been harmed. There may be children impacted by the violence, or more than one partner who has been abused by this person. The needs and safety of all of these people deserve careful consideration.

How do I respond if the person who experienced violence blames themselves or minimizes the abuse?

There is no such thing as a “perfect victim.” Some people who have experienced violence may voice ways in which they feel they behaved harmfully in the relationship. This can sometimes be healing for the person who experienced violence, if they raise the topic themselves and are not pushed by others to discuss it. Do your best to listen without judgment, and to gently remind them that any unhelpful actions on their part do not justify the violence they experienced. These responses may ease pressure to act like a “perfect victim” just to see their experiences acknowledged and the violence addressed.

Some people experiencing violence may not define their experiences in the relationship as abuse, and may resist or resent those definitions. Some may express a desire to leave the relationship and ask for support in doing so, only to later change their mind. Coming to terms with experiences of violence can be a long and complicated process, and it may be frustrating or distressing for you to witness. Many people who have experienced violence face growing isolation as those they care about drop out of their lives. Do your best to prevent that isolation by continuing to reach out with offers of support, regardless of how long it may take the person experiencing violence to accept that support.

How can I help address the violence?

Just as there is no “perfect victim,” there is no perfect way to intervene or offer support. Sometimes responding to people who are being abused by their partners can be overwhelming.  Sometimes what they need exceeds what others are able to give. Be clear about what you want and don’t want. When deciding how to help, you might consider:

  • The needs and wishes of the person being harmed (see above)
  • Your relationships with the people who have used or experienced violence
  • Your own history of using and/or experiencing violence (if any)
  • Your relationship with the broader community (for example, those seen as role models or leaders are often in a stronger position to influence the thinking of the person doing harm)
  • Your access to resources (e.g. money, contacts, a vehicle, a spare bedroom)
  • How other community members are willing to help

Both the person who experienced violence and the person who used it may benefit from a variety of forms of short-term and long-term support, and from a network rather than a single person. Each person must consider what they’re prepared to offer. Options could include:

  • Listen and offer support to the person who has experienced violence
  • Offer the person who experienced violence a safe place to stay or assistance with moving to a safe place
  • Invite the person who has used violence to talk about their choices, how you feel about those choices, and what can be done
  • Speak on behalf of the person who experienced violence in a conversation with the person who hurt them, if they want this kind of discussion to take place
  • Remain in contact with the person who used violence regarding their efforts to take responsibility, and report back to the person who experienced violence if they wish
  • Provide money, resources, or labour to support the person who experienced violence to heal, or to support the person who used violence in making healthier choices (e.g. money for therapy, physical space for a discussion, childcare, food/drink, rides, note-taking)
  • Researching programs, service providers, and learning materials that could provide emotional, logistical, social, and/or spiritual support to any of the parties involved (e.g. shelters, restorative justice programs, therapists, support groups, sweat lodges, books) – see our Resource List section below to get started.
  • Check out the Creative Interventions toolkit for more ideas

I care about the person using violence. How can I reconcile that with my desire to see the violence stop?

Perhaps you’re best equipped to provide ongoing, loving, and firm support to help them make healthier choices in relationships. Some people who have used violence feel shame about their choices and may cope with it in a number of ways, from addressing it head-on to avoiding it by focusing on their partner’s choices instead of their own. Support from friends and family, or from a therapist, elder, or support group, may help channel shame to long-term change.

We are all capable of both causing and experiencing harm. People who use violence are human beings; it’s possible to feel compassion for them while asking them to take responsibility for their violence. It’s okay for friends and family to provide emotional and material support to facilitate their journey toward non-violence and accountability. If this is the role that feels most appropriate for you, it is also crucial to check in with yourself regularly and honestly about your loved one’s commitment to that journey.

Lasting change is less likely if the person using violence engages in tactics of denial, minimization, gaslighting, or other manipulation to avoid taking genuine responsibility for their actions, particularly if their friends and family overlook or minimize this behaviour. Friends, family, and community members can be more vulnerable to this type of manipulation when the person using violence has power and authority (e.g. money, popularity, an influential job). Remain supportive but cautious of attempts at manipulation, and be honest with yourself about your biases.

What can I do if I care about both people in the relationship?

Some people who have experienced violence may not feel safe staying in contact with friends or family who offer support to the person who hurt them. It’s  important to consider your relationships with both of the people involved when deciding how best to help. While supporting the person who used violence in changing their behaviour is a valid way to help, it can be hurtful for those who experienced the violence, particularly if they’re not well supported themselves. If the role that makes the most sense for you does not directly support the person experiencing violence, you can still ensure they receive support from other people or groups.

Confronting abuse is never a comfortable course of action, especially when people we care about are the ones inflicting violence. But the fact that you’re reading this suggests that you value peace, justice, respect, and safety in intimate relationships. While addressing intimate partner violence among friends, family, and community members can be difficult, let these positive relationship values guide you in finding a way to support the people involved as best you can.

How can I help manage the risks involved?

Consider having safety plans in place for the person being abused and others in the household before speaking with the person using violence. The person who has experienced violence will be in the best position to determine if they feel a safety plan is necessary. A safety plan could include:

  • Make a list of trusted people to be present or available for support
  • Secure a safe place to stay and/or store important items outside the home or office
  • Speak with a boss, union rep, human resources office, front desk personnel, and/or trusted colleagues so they are aware of the situation and ready to support as needed (e.g. screening calls, accompaniment through the parking lot)
  • For more suggestions on safety planning, check out the Neighbours, Friends and Families project

What other resources and supports could be helpful?

Addressing abuse is emotionally challenging. Take stock of possible sources of support to help you work through those challenges. Supports might include a therapist, a trusted loved one or group of loved ones to confide in, or childcare from friends and family.

You may find it helpful to explore options professional support for the person who experienced violence, the person who used violence, and any children or other members of the household. Options could include a community elder, a therapist, an alternative justice program (e.g. restorative, transformative, Indigenous, or other community justice programs), or a support group or healing circle. Visit the Resource List section below for a look at some of the options in Canada.

References and further reading:

6 ways to confront your friend who’s abusing their partner (Free)

By: Everyday Feminism (Author: Kai Cheng-Tom)

Neighbours, Friends and Families (Free)

By: Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children, Western University

The Peak Magazine, Transformative Justice issue (Free)

By: The Peak Magazine (various authors)

Recommended articles: “On safety” (Micah Hobbes-Frazier, pp. 4-6); “Where abolition meets action: A history of women organizing against gender violence” (Vikki Law, pp. 15-17); “Keeping our sisters safe” (Naomi Sayers, pp. 21-22); “On accountability: The role of choice” (Micah Hobbes-Frazier, pp. 27-28).

Creative Interventions Toolkit: A Practical Guide to Stop Interpersonal Violence (Free)

By: Creative Interventions

What do I want my relationships to look like?

Welcome. The fact that you’re reading this suggests that your use of violence does not reflect how you’d prefer to be in your relationships. Abuse does not define who you are — it’s a choice, not an identity. Despite whatever factors may have influenced you to make that choice, with the will to change and the right supports, you are capable of making different choices in the future.

When embarking on a journey toward non-violence, some find it helpful to consider the values and characteristics that define a good relationship for them. Spend a few minutes writing down qualities you’d like to cultivate in your current or future relationships. These might be qualities you’ve seen in the relationship of a friend, neighbour, or colleague, or a quality that exists sometimes in your own relationship. Consider questions such as:

  • “What do I want my children to learn from me? What kind of role model do I want to be for them?”
  • “How do I want my partner and/or children to feel?”
  • “How would I prefer to resolve conflict?”
  • “How would I prefer to express anger?”

Focus on characteristics that define a good relationship and not your ideal partner. We can’t control other people or force them to be the person we want them to be. We can only control our own actions.

Do my choices reflect the kind of relationship I want to have?

Safety is fundamental to a healthy relationship. If one partner doesn’t feel safe, most other good qualities in a relationship will be difficult or impossible to achieve. Consider how safety intersects with the other ideal qualities in a relationship. For instance, if your ideal relationship involves good listening, how would a greater sense of safety contribute to better listening in the relationship? If your partner doesn’t feel safe, how might this shape the quality of listening in your conversations with them?

This type of reflection tends to illuminate the gaps between the partnership you’d like to have, and the choices you’re currently making. Many factors can influence our choices in romantic relationships, including things learned about intimacy from family or early dating experiences, or relationship dynamics from pop culture. Men may receive messages from pop culture, friends, or family that have proven unhelpful for them in relationships, such as “Men should always win and never be wrong,” “Real men don’t ask for help,” and “Showing emotions means a person is weak.” These messages can encourage some men to feel that the only way to  approach conflict or express hurt, insecurity, and other negative emotions is through shouting, physical attacks, or other displays of anger and domination.

We can’t control our partners’ choices, but we can choose actions that reflect the qualities we would like to build in our relationships. Some people who have used violence benefit from writing down their relationship values and keeping them close at hand (in their wallet, for example), so they can refer to this list when their behaviour escalates. Many people who have used violence find therapists, elders, support groups, or healing circles helpful in developing a better understanding of gaps between their values and their choices.

I feel guilty enough already. What am I supposed to do, wallow in it?

The motivation to address violent choices and move toward non-violence may come from a variety of places. Some people may have noticed a flicker of fear in their partner or child’s face or voice. Perhaps their abuse resulted in a recent encounter with authorities (e.g. police, child services). In some cases, a friend or family member may have voiced concerns about the violence.

If you’re like most people who are working toward non-violence, the events or feelings that inspired you to embark on this journey were painful. It can hurt very deeply to recognize and accept that your actions are intimidating or hurting the people you love. However, this pain contains important information about what you truly value in relationships, about what matters to you. Ask yourself: “What does my shame over my harmful choices say about what is important to me? What would it say about my values if I did not feel ashamed?”

It can be tempting to turn away from the pain of shame by justifying or minimizing our choices, by telling yourself that your partner provoked this behaviour, or that it could have been worse. These excuses deflect responsibility. The feelings will keep coming back if you don’t face them head-on — and the choices that led to them. Shame can become a teacher and a motivator to start making more positive choices.

I want to change, but where do I start?

One of the first steps of an accountability journey is to take concrete action to stop the abuse. Abuse can include physical or sexual violence such as grabbing, slapping, pushing, kicking, choking, damaging property, and sexual assault. It can also include psychological, financial, and emotional violence, such as isolating your partner from their family/friends, denying them independent access to bank accounts, belittling and insulting them, threatening to harm people close to them, monitoring their movements and activities, or threatening to harm yourself and blaming them for your desire to do so.

Some people who have used violence against their partners say that they “just lose it” and escalate to abuse very quickly, as if on autopilot. A helpful tool for stopping the abuse might be slowing down these moments in order to study the warning signs of escalation. Many people who have begun a journey toward non-violence say that a crucial component of that journey was moving away from habitual, automatic responses and toward thoughtful, self-aware responses that are more consistent with their relationship values. Warning signs may include behaviour (e.g. voice raising during an argument), physical symptoms (e.g. muscles feeling tense, flushed cheeks), or thoughts and emotions (e.g. feeling hopeless, or thoughts such as “Here we go again”). Practical ideas on how to approach relationship conflict in healthy, respectful, and caring ways can be found in Erica Horechka’s “Relationship tools” (pp. 23-26), a feature in The Peak Magazine’s 2016 issue on transformative justice.

What can keep me motivated in the long-term?

It takes time to learn how to use violence in relationships, and un-learning can take just as much time. Ending violence generally doesn’t happen overnight. Progress toward healthier choices in relationships tends to be gradual, and at times those making this journey may find themselves returning to violence and the attitudes that contribute to it. It’s important to stay committed to making healthy choices in relationships every day, and to seek long-term support from people or groups outside the relationship in doing so.

Support in ending violence can come in a wide variety of forms, and many people benefit from a range of complementary supports. Possibilities could include joining a support group or healing circle, reading books on the topic, and having regular conversations with an elder, therapist, clergy person, or “relationship mentor” — someone you know and admire who models a respectful, equal, and loving dynamic with their partner. Our Resource List section below contains books, toolkits, and other support options that may be helpful.

Emotional support from friends, family, and other loved ones outside the relationship can be one of the most valuable resources for people working to bring an end to their violence. People who have taken this journey often say that increased emotional intimacy and openness with close friends was crucial to their processes of change. Loved ones who deny, dismiss, or minimize the violence are not the best choices to support you in ending violence and taking responsibility. Positive long-term change tends to be best supported by people who are willing to be honest about the violence. 

How can I take responsibility for my actions?

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to taking responsibility for violence. Some people do it by listening without arguing or minimizing as the person they harmed describes the abuse and how it affected them (as was the case between Attiya and Steve in A Better Man). In these conversations, it may be helpful to paraphrase their words back to them, so they know they are being heard and understood.

This type of discussion is only one way of taking responsibility. The person or people harmed by your violence may have visions of justice and responsibility that look very different from Attiya’s. Ideas could include:

  • Money for physical and mental health care, childcare, housing, groceries, or other things necessary to attain safety and heal from violence; either donated directly to the person you hurt for their personal care, or donated to an organization that matters to them
  • Voluntary labour to support the person you hurt (e.g. repairing holes punched in walls or doors) or community service to support ending gender-based violence or another related cause (e.g. migrant rights)
  • An agreement to not attend the same parties, gatherings, or other community events as the person you hurt
  • A formal apology (public, semi-public, or private)
  • Commitment to teaching your children that violence is wrong, both through conversation and by setting an example of non-violence
  • Commitment to personal work (e.g. counselling, group support, art therapy) and/or learning (e.g. a reading list on harmful masculinities, racism, colonialism, childhood trauma, transphobia, or other factors that influenced your violence) to address violent patterns of thinking and behaviour

I’ve apologized for using violence — doesn’t that mean something?

An apology might seem like an obvious choice, but depending on the situation and the needs of the person or people you hurt, some apologies may be unhelpful. Many people who have abused their partners may have apologized for their violence in the past, only to later repeat those abusive choices. In these cases, another apology might not mean much to the person they hurt. Some people who have used violence feel it’s important that they first do the work to change their behaviour before making an apology. Once they’re consistently making non-violent and respectful choices in their relationships, they might ask the person they hurt if an apology would be helpful.

An unwanted apology can do more harm than good. For this reason, it can often be wise to consult with the person you hurt to find out what would be helpful, or what might bring a sense of closure. If the person you hurt does not want contact with you, you might consider sharing an apology with a friend or loved one instead, or writing a letter of apology that you do not send. You might even like to keep your letter of apology in a special place to remember this moment in your process of taking responsibility.

Some apologies can be more meaningful than others. Many people who have experienced violence need to hear more than the words “I’m sorry.” For example, some people find it healing to hear the person who hurt them frankly acknowledge specific violent choices and the harm these choices caused, without minimization or excuses. Others would like to hear the person who hurt them outline the steps they’re taking to prevent causing future harm. These kinds of apologies are not always easy to deliver. Personal work (such as consultation or even practising with a therapist, support group, elder, or trusted loved ones) may be necessary to emotionally prepare to provide this kind of apology.

How can I get my partner/children/others to forgive me?

Taking responsibility for the harm caused by our abuse strengthens our ability to build trust and intimacy in relationships. However, it does not guarantee forgiveness. In some cases, people who experienced violence may no longer feel safe being in a relationship (or being in contact at all) with the person who hurt them. For others who choose to remain in the relationship, forgiveness may come slowly. Pressuring your partner to forgive you may have the effect of controlling your partner’s feelings and behaviour. Check in with your motivations from time to time, and seek support from outside the relationship if you feel that your partner, children, or other community members “owe” you forgiveness or love as compensation for your efforts to change.

Taking responsibility for abuse requires courage and hard work, but ultimately encourages greater intimacy in relationships with partners and also with children, friends, parents, and other loved ones. It’s a journey worth taking for the people we care about and for ourselves.

References and further reading:

9 ways to be accountable when you’ve been abusive (Free)

By: Everyday Feminism (Author: Kai Cheng-Tom)

Choosing to Change: A Handbook for Men Concerned About their Abusive Behaviours Toward Those They Love (Free)

By: Calgary Women’s Shelter

The Peak Magazine, Transformative justice issue (Free)

By: The Peak Magazine (various authors)

Recommended articles: “Relationship tools” (Erica Horechka, pp. 23-26); “On accountability: The role of choice” (Micah Hobbes-Frazier, pp. 27-28).

Unclenching Our Fists: Abusive Men on the Journey to Non-Violence ($9.99 E-book)

By: Sara Elinoff Acker

Do I want the person who hurt me to do/say something to take responsibility for their violence? If so, do I feel ready to discuss this with them? Do I feel that they are ready?

In A Better Man, Attiya found healing through honest conversations with the person who abused her about how his violence harmed her. As she watched him begin to take responsibility for the abuse he inflicted on her, a weight started to lift. The person who had once denied her reality by minimizing, justifying, or blaming her for his violent behaviour began to hear her and acknowledge the truth of his actions and their consequences for her. For Attiya, this was life-changing. For other people who have experienced violence, this kind of discussion (whether face-to-face or through video, letters, email, or some other means) may have similar, positive impact. For others, it may be harmful, undesirable, or even impossible.

Each situation and person is different, and Attiya’s pathway is not prescriptive. Let your inner voice guide you. In some cases, your inner voice might say loudly and clearly, “No, this would not be helpful for me.” In other cases, the answer may not be so obvious. If you’re considering whether to have a conversation about the violence with the person who hurt you, you may want to look for the following signs:

  • Evidence that the abuse has stopped
  • No longer feeling afraid of the person who hurt you
  • Feeling clear on what you want this person to do or say to address the impacts of their violence
  • Evidence that the person who hurt you is no longer in a state of desperation and is willing to respect your boundaries
  • Evidence that the person who hurt you is open to hearing about the effects of their abuse, and is capable of responding without anger or manipulation

While some people may feel comfortable deciding whether the person who hurt them is ready for this kind of discussion, it may be more challenging for others. Trained facilitators, therapists, community elders, and alternative justice practitioners may have helpful experience and perspective. If these resources are not available or accessible, sometimes a trusted friend or loved one can offer insight as to whether the person who hurt you might be able to participate constructively in such a conversation.

What are the risks involved, and how could I manage them?

Attiya’s sense of physical and emotional safety was crucial in her decision to speak with Steve. There is some level of risk inherent in any conversation like this, even if the violence has been over for a long time, as in Attiya and Steve’s case, but the level of risk will vary for each person and relationship. In some cases, it may be worthwhile to prepare a safety plan. You will be the best person to determine whether that is necessary for your situation. Safety plans can address both physical and emotional safety. Elements of a safety plan might include:

  • Make a list of people who help you feel safe, and engage some or all of them to offer support before, during, or after the conversation
  • Brainstorm possible manipulative or belligerent responses from the person who hurt you, and role-play how to respond
  • Secure a safe place to stay and to store important items and documents outside your home or office
  • Speak with your boss, union rep, human resources office, front desk personnel, or trusted colleagues so they are aware of the situation and ready to support you at work (e.g. screening calls, accompaniment to parking lot)
  • For more suggestions on safety planning, check out the Neighbours, Friends and Families project

How can I feel a sense of control in this conversation?

A discussion with the person who hurt you is most likely to be fulfilling for you if it takes place on your own terms. It can therefore be helpful to consider what terms or conditions will help you feel safe and free to express yourself. If you’re working with a facilitator, they will be helpful in mapping out ground rules. While no set of terms can afford you complete control over the conversation, ground rules can at least help to keep everyone on the same page. Ground rules might cover topics such as:

  • How the dialogue takes place (in person, letters, emails, videos, live videoconference, via a trusted surrogate, etc.)
  • Who shares their thoughts first/last
  • The discussion’s agenda and whether certain topics are considered off-limits
  • Scheduling time to digest each other’s comments before responding
  • Any other guidelines that feel helpful

What if I’m still not sure?

For some people, there are no conditions that will make a conversation with the person who hurt them feel productive or safe. The fact that this framework supported Attiya in her own healing journey doesn’t mean it will have the same effect for others. Nobody who has experienced violence owes it to the person who hurt them (or anyone else) to discuss the abuse or to share what taking responsibility would look like to them. Even if the person who used violence has professed an interest in changing and has asked you to be part of this journey, their choices and personal growth are their own responsibility.

The healing impact of Attiya’s conversations with Steve stemmed in part from the fact that she initiated those conversations on her own terms. Only you can decide what feels right for you, and your needs are what matter most.

What do I hope to get out of a conversation with the person who hurt me? What would “justice” look and feel like to me?

In summer 2016, the team at A Better Man used the #ShareMyVoice campaign to ask people who have experienced gender-based violence what they might wish to express to, or hear from, the person who hurt them. The range of responses was as diverse as the people who have experienced violence are themselves.

Some wanted to tell the person who hurt them how well they’re doing now, without that person in their lives. Others wanted to express the depths of lasting pain and trauma the violence inflicted upon them and the challenges they’ve faced in healing. Some wanted to cry with the person who hurt them in mourning of the good aspects of their relationship that were destroyed by violence. Others wanted to express anger about how strategic and calculating the person was in their use of violence. Some wanted answers as to how the person felt justified in using violence and to ask whether they now understand and regret the harm they caused. Still others wanted to hear nothing at all from the person who hurt them, knowing that they could never again trust a word that person says.

Deciding what you might want to express to or hear from the person who hurt you is deeply personal. You could consider possible outcomes of the dialogue that might feel especially healing or constructive. This is another area in which a facilitator, support group, elder, or loved one (or even a journal) can offer support or act as a sounding board. You may appreciate some of the following actions on the part of the person who hurt you:

  • Money for physical and mental health care, childcare, housing, groceries, or other things necessary to attain safety and heal from violence; either donated to you directly for your personal care, or donated to an organization that matters to you
  • Voluntary labour to support you (e.g. repairing items in your home damaged by the violence) or community service to support ending gender-based violence or another related cause (e.g. migrant rights)
  • An agreement to not attend the same parties, gatherings, or other community events as you
  • A formal apology (public, semi-public, or private)
  • Commitment to engage in personal work (e.g. counselling, group support, art therapy) and/or learning (e.g. a reading list on harmful masculinities, racism, colonialism, childhood trauma, transphobia, or other factors that influenced their violence) to address violent patterns of thinking and behaviour 

Where can I find support?

Given how challenging and volatile these conversations can be, you may feel most comfortable seeking the support of an experienced facilitator or group. While not accessible to all people experiencing violence, these groups and individuals have the experience to ensure both parties are prepared for the discussion, and assess whether it is likely to be productive and helpful. Visit our Resource List section below to learn about programs and organizations across Canada that may be able to support your conversation.

Intimate partner violence can lead to isolation and alienation from the people we care about. To feel supported, some people who have experienced violence include friends, family, colleagues, or other community members in conversations with the person who hurt them. This is common in restorative and transformative justice processes. When facilitation services aren’t accessible, sometimes friends and family can be the anchor needed to feel safe and supported in the conversation.

How could my loved ones help?

The presence of loved ones can help validate your experiences, and express the domino effects of the violence. You may also choose to enlist the friends and family of the person who hurt you to help that person manage difficult feelings such as shame or guilt. Roles that loved ones can play include:

  • Being present for the discussion, in either a speaking or non-speaking role
  • Being a sounding board before, during, or after the dialogue
  • Participating in the dialogue as a surrogate on your behalf, if you do not want to be present
  • Staying in touch with the person who hurt you to keep abreast of their efforts to take responsibility, reporting back to you if you wish
  • Providing resources or labour to support the conversation (e.g. physical space, childcare, food/drink, rides, note-taking)
  • Researching programs, services, and learning materials that could provide emotional, logistical, social, and/or spiritual support to the dialogue or any of the parties involved (e.g. restorative justice programs, therapists, support groups, sweat lodges, books) – see our Resource List section below to get started

While it can be helpful to build a community of support, not every loved one will be equipped to participate in the dialogue. Anyone who minimizes the violence, questions or undermines you (such as a parent or sibling with whom you have a complicated relationship) may not be able to contribute constructively. Some loved ones may also have experienced violence themselves. While in many cases this history may make them an ideal support, in other cases, participating may re-traumatize them. It helps to stay mindful of boundaries and the specific dynamics of each relationship when determining how best to involve loved ones.

How can I make sure this conversation leads to change?

Attiya and Steve’s discussion transformed both of their lives, but it was also only the beginning of what continues to be a process of healing for each of them. In other words, even the most productive exchanges are unlikely to bring about total resolution. However, Attiya and Steve’s conversations opened up possibilities for closure and personal justice that might have otherwise eluded them.

With the right support, some people who have used violence can stop hurting the people they love and find ways to take responsibility for the harm they caused. It is a deeply rewarding but difficult journey that cannot be forced — they must want to change and choose to change, and continue making that choice every day. Those who begin that journey often get their first push from an external source such as a health crisis, trouble with the authorities, loss of a job, or an ultimatum from their partner. However, staying committed to non-violence in the long-term generally requires that they internalize that motivation, and come to healthy new conclusions about the kind of person they want to be.

If it feels safe and nourishing to do so, people who have experienced violence can try to participate in that process by talking about the violence with the person who hurt them. But ultimately, the person who used violence is the only one who has the power to change the trajectory of their choices. Your only responsibility is to tend to your own health, safety, and wellbeing in whatever way feels right for you.

People are asking me what I want or how they can help, but I don’t know. How do I answer them? 

It’s not your responsibility to prescribe the steps required to make things right. It can be hard work to make these kinds of decisions and express them to the person who hurt you or to others concerned about the violence. While your needs and wishes are central, this does not mean that it should be your job to design an “accountability curriculum” and hand the person who hurt you or your community a plan. Some people feel that the person who used violence will only be taking responsibility if they do so of their own accord, without relying on the person they hurt for guidance.

Perhaps there are no clear answers when you ask yourself, “What would feel like justice to me?” After all, how does one make up for the profound harm caused by abuse? Is “justice” even possible? These are big questions. It is no one person’s responsibility to come up with definitive answers, either for their own situation or for intimate partner violence writ large. Our only responsibility is to ourselves: to say and do what feels most safe and right for us.

References and further reading:

The Peak Magazine, Transformative Justice issue (Free)

By: The Peak Magazine (various authors)

Recommended articles: “On safety” (Micah Hobbes-Frazier, pp. 4-6); “Where abolition meets action: A history of women organizing against gender violence” (Vikki Law, pp. 15-17); “Keeping our sisters safe” (Naomi Sayers, pp. 21-22).

Unclenching Our Fists: Abusive Men on the Journey to Non-Violence ($9.99 E-book)

By: Sara Elinoff Acker

Creative Interventions Toolkit: A Practical Guide to Stop Interpersonal Violence (Free)

By: Creative Interventions

Glossary Cards

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Resource List

Shelter Safe

Directory of emergency and transitional shelter and housing services across Canada for women experiencing gender-based violence.

Note: Shelters vary in their degrees of inclusivity for transgender women, and many are not accessible at all to gender non-conforming and non-binary people. Shelter workers interested in creating safer, more welcoming spaces for LGBTQ2S clients may wish to review the following resources, which are designed for youth shelters but aspects of which can also be applied at shelters for those experiencing intimate partner violence:

Making LGBTQ2S shelter spaces safe, inclusive and affirming (Homeless Hub)
LGBTQ2S toolkit (National Learning Community on Youth Homelessness)

Bridges Institute

Selected list of services for men who have used violence, including intervention and counseling programs across Canada to help men create just outcomes for the partners or ex-partners they have abused.

Moosehide Campaign

List of community programs to support men in making non-violent choices in relationships, with a focus on services for Indigenous men.

Act to End Violence Against Women

List of hotlines, programs and support services across Canada for women who have experienced gender-based violence.

Toronto Distress Centre

(416) 408-4357
Support hotline for people experiencing emotional distress or in need of crisis intervention and suicide prevention (including people who have used and/or experienced violence, or anyone else in distress).

Gerstein Crisis Centre

(416) 929-5200
Support by hotline for people experiencing a mental health crisis and/or at risk of suicide (including people who have used and/or experienced violence, or anyone else in crisis).

Assaulted Women’s Helpline

1 (866) 863-0511
Toll-free support hotline for women who have experienced gender-based violence.

Fem’aide Hotline

1 (877) 336-2433
Toll-free support hotline for Francophone women who have experienced gender-based violence.

Kids Help Phone

1 (800) 668-6868
General distress hotline for children and youth, including those who may be experiencing or using violence.

Ontario Women’s Justice Network

Extensive and diverse list of counseling, legal and support services for women across Ontario, including those experiencing gender-based violence.

Aboriginal Justice Strategy Programs – Canada

Directory of a range of alternative justice programs for Indigenous communities across Canada, including peacemaking circles, restorative justice programs, and courts with Indigenous judges, Crown attorneys and other key personnel.

Canadian Restorative Justice Consortium

Directory of restorative justice programs and organizations across Canada.

Surviving the system handbook: Advice on using the legal system if you are a survivor of sexual violence (Free)

By: Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children
Great for: People who have experienced violence and want to know what to expect if they seek justice through the legal system (criminal, civil or administrative). The guide targets sexual violence but much of the information is also relevant for those who have experienced other forms of gender-based violence such as intimate partner violence (IPV).

9 ways to be accountable when you’ve been abusive (Free)

By: Everyday Feminism (Author: Kai Cheng-Thom)
Great for: People who have used violence and wish to learn how they might be able to take responsibility for the harm they have caused.

Neighbours, Friends and Families (Free)

By: Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children, Western University
Great for: People whose friends, family or community members are experiencing or using violence. Includes tips on safety planning, identifying and supporting those who may be experiencing violence, and speaking with those who are using violence.

Creative Interventions Toolkit: A Practical Guide to Stop Interpersonal Violence (Free)

By: Creative Interventions
Great for: People who wish to develop in-depth understanding of how to intervene constructively at the individual and community level in instances of interpersonal violence (including IPV). A comprehensive, accessibly written and practical resource with chapters that stand well independently if reading the full toolkit is not possible.

Choosing to Change: A Handbook for Men Concerned About their Abusive Behaviours Toward Those They Love (Free, PDF)

By: Calgary Women’s Shelter
Great for: Men who have used violence against a partner and would like a starting point for changing these patterns and making healthy, caring and respectful choices in their relationships.

Unclenching Our Fists: Abusive Men on the Journey to Non-Violence ($9.99 E-book)

By: Sara Elinoff Acker
Great for: Men who have abused a partner and would benefit from hearing first-person stories from real men who have used violence, sharing in their own words their personal paths to non-violence and how these journeys have changed them.

6 ways to confront your friend who’s abusing their partner (Free)

By: Everyday Feminism (Author: Kai Cheng-Thom)
Great for: People who wish to speak with a friend or loved one about their abusive choices. This article’s approach affirms the humanity of the person using violence as well as the person experiencing it, and holds space for complicated feelings.

The Peak Magazine, Transformative justice issue (Free)

By: The Peak Magazine (various authors and contributors)
Great for: Anyone seeking an introduction to the principles of transformative justice. Includes many examples of how to put the principles into action, in settings ranging from prisons to schools to our own homes and personal relationships.

Restorative justice e-library (Free)

By: Restorative Justice for All
Great for: People who wish to learn more about the theory and practice of restorative justice through a searchable catalogue of multimedia resources.

Sexual Violence on Campus Fact Sheet

By: Canadian Federation of Students – Ontario
Great for: Post-secondary students, staff, faculty and those who care about students’ access to a safe learning environment.

Learning Tools for Service Providers:

Innovations in Interventions to Address Intimate Partner Violence: Research and Practice (Starting at $34.97)

By: Tod Augusta-Scott, Katreena Scott and Leslie M. Tutty (Eds.)
Great for: Service providers, policymakers, and others interested in the latest research and practice in intimate partner violence (IPV) intervention, with sections on legal and restorative approaches, how best to support people experiencing or using violence, and best practices in integrating IPV intervention across systems.

Coaching Boys Into Men Toolkit (Free)

By: Coaches Corner
Great for: Coaches, teachers and others who wish to model healthy and respectful relationship skills for boys, and equip them with the capacity to recognize and challenge harmful social norms that contribute to gender-based violence.

Evidence Brief: Intimate Partner Violence in LGBTQ Communities (Free, PDF)

By: Rainbow Health Ontario
Great for: Anyone who wishes to learn about the unique shapes IPV can take in relationships among queer, trans and two-spirit (2S) people. An essential read for service providers who wish to practice inclusivity.

Becoming Ethical: A Parallel, Political Journey with Men Who Have Abused (Starting at $45)

By: Alan Jenkins
Great for: Therapists, counselors and others who work with men who have used violence, and are seeking a practical and comprehensive guide to the author’s paradigm-shifting invitational approach to IPV intervention.

Domestic Violence and Restorative Justice: Advancing the Dialogue (Free, PDF)

By: Alan Edwards & Jennifer Haslett
Great for: Service providers who work in or adjacent to domestic violence and/or restorative justice. Briefly outlines key factors in domestic violence cases that should be considered when applying restorative justice to these cases.

Restorative Justice and Violence Against Women (Starting at $37)

By: James Ptacek (Ed.)
Great for: Service providers, policymakers and others interested in exploring the intersections of restorative justice and violence against women in depth, with examples of processes and practices used in Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand.

Domestic violence e-library (Free)

By: Sh!ft: The project to end domestic violence
Great for: Service providers, policymakers and others who work in fields adjacent to the issue of domestic violence and would like to stay abreast of key research relating to primary violence prevention.

Restorative justice e-library (Free)

By: Restorative Justice for All
Great for: People who wish to learn more about the theory and practice of restorative justice through a searchable catalogue of multimedia resources.

Developing a response to sexual violence: A resource guide for Ontario’s Colleges and Universities

By: Ontario Women’s Directorate and Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities
Great for: School administrators, faculty and students who wish to improve their own institution’s response to sexual violence on campus.

Futures Without Violence: Campus Leadership Program

Program for post-secondary students who want to get involved in the movement to end gender-based violence on their campuses. 

It Starts With You

Online campaign by White Ribbon Canada, the Ontario Government and COPA to encourage men to model healthy and respectful relationships for the boys in their lives.

MANifest Change

Public awareness campaign encouraging men and boys to take a stand against gender-based violence.

Kizhaay Anishinaabe Niin (I Am A Kind Man)

Engaging Indigenous men in working to end violence against women by drawing upon traditional community values and teachings.

Moosehide Campaign

Advocacy to inspire men to challenge violence against Indigenous women and girls.

The Mask You Live In

Documentary examining the varied impacts of modern masculinity norms on boys and men.

Private Violence

Documentary exploring domestic abuse and the common question “Why didn’t she just leave?” through the eyes of two women who have experienced violence.

No Place to Hide: The Rehtaeh Parsons Story

Documentary on the sexual violence and harassment that led to Nova Scotia teenager Rehtaeh Parsons’ death, and her parents’ struggle to find justice.

National Film Board collection on violence against women

Assortment of short and feature length films produced by the National Film Board that tackle the issue of violence against women.

TVO’s The Agenda: Combating Domestic Violence

August 2016 episode of TVO’s flagship current affairs program on domestic abuse and breaking the cycle of violence.