One in three Canadians
will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime. It’s time to get REAL.

REAL Talk is a guide to help us understand and talk openly about domestic abuse. It isn’t fancy or complicated, it’s just a moment between two people.



Recognizing domestic abuse isn’t black and white, there isn’t a clear list of signs to look for. People experience abuse on a spectrum through many different forms of power and control.


Empathizing is important when supporting someone experiencing abuse. When someone confides in or shares an experience with you, check in with your gut feeling and believe that person. Your response will affect how that person seeks help again in the future.


Ask questions that give you a better sense of the situation and how best to support the person experiencing the abuse. You aren’t the expert, try to build a shared understanding.


Listening means creating space for someone to define their own experience without judgement. Remember it’s not about you.

There isn’t a checklist.

Recognizing domestic abuse isn’t about looking for a list of things, but about recognizing if a pattern of behaviours doesn’t seem to fit for someone, if people are acting different than they usually are, if they are afraid or fearful. 

Forget your assumptions.

Recognizing is about checking in on our assumptions about people and their relationships. If something feels off, there’s a chance something is going on. 

Show gratitude.

When someone chooses to open up to you, let them know you appreciate them sharing and acknowledge that it might have been hard to do so.

Recognize their perspective

Empathy means taking the perspective of another person, to acknowledge how they feel. Try not to sugar coat it or put a silver lining around what they’re going through, because you can’t fix it. Sometimes the best you can do is to recognize that what that person is going through is painful and difficult. 

I’m sorry you are going through this.
Wow, that really sucks.
I hate that this happened.
That must be hard.
I can see how that would be difficult.

Remove judgement

Remember this conversation isn’t about you or your experience, but the connection between you and another person. You don’t have to understand or agree. Empathy is about being willing to connect within yourself to better understand something within another person.

Wow, I don’t know what to say.
I can’t imagine what you must be going through.
My heart hurts for you.
It makes me really sad to hear this happened.

Show gratitude

Many people struggle with vulnerability because they’ve been hurt before. When someone chooses to open up to you, let them know you appreciate them sharing and acknowledge that it might have been hard to do so. 

Thank you for telling me.
I’m glad you told me.
Thank you for trusting me with this.
This must be hard to talk about.
You’re not alone.

Be curious.

Ask questions that give you a better sense of the situation and how best to support the person impacted by the abuse. Be curious and seek to understand the perspective of that person. It’s not about you or your experience.

Be encouraging.

When someone we care about is experiencing a bad time, we often want to “fix” it even though we can’t. That doesn’t mean you can’t be encouraging. Instead of saying, “it will get better” or “here’s what I would do,” tell them you love them and that they are strong.

Lose the ego.

Remember you are not the expert in this situation. Instead of looking for answers, look for a shared understanding. Asking questions is about the other person’s perspective, not what you want or need.

Acknowledge the abuse.

When someone is talking to you about their experiences of abuse, it’s important to acknowledge the abuse and the impact that is having for them.

Remove blame.

Many people experiencing violence receive messages suggesting it’s their fault their partner is abusive to them. When we listen, we’re showing that person we don’t blame them for what is happening.

Honour their experience.

As listeners it’s important to acknowledge and honour all that a person has done to resist violence, to try and protect themselves and/or their children and to stand up for their own dignity and integrity. 

Honour their choice.

People tend to resist abuse, which sometimes means staying in an unhealthy relationship.  Leaving doesn’t always make the abuse stop, so staying is a choice too.

The Facts on Abuse

Domestic abuse is at an epidemic level in Canada, which means you already know or are close to someone impacted. Get the facts.

  • Only 25% of people experiencing domestic abuse will contact the police, and yet the Calgary Police responds to 2 domestic abuse related calls every hour (Calgary Police Service, 2018).
  • 80% of people who experience domestic abuse experience it in the workplace (Canadian Labour Congress Survey, 2014).
  • Domestic abuse is a leading contributor to homelessness (National Coalition of Homelessness, 2009).
  • Children who witness abuse in the home have twice the rate of psychiatric disorders as children from non-abusive homes (Canadian Women’s Foundation, 2019).
  • Statistics Canada found that 60 to 80 per cent of abuse reported to services involve non-physically abusive tactics (Statistics Canada, 2014). In one study, over 95 per cent of victims of domestic abuse reported experiencing coercive control (Myhill, 2017).  Relationships with coercive control result in greater injury to the victim and are characterized by more frequent and severe violence which is less likely to desist (Myhill, 2015). The Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability reports coercive control was a common precursor to domestic homicide (Dawson et al., 2019).

Read more here.


1 in 3 Canadians

One in three Canadians reported experiencing abuse abuse in a 2014 survey.¹

Across Canada, domestic and sexual abuse rates increased by up to 30 percent through the COVID pandemic.² Alberta saw a 50 percent increase in the use of specialized crisis lines for IPV and a 17 percent increase in Emergency Protection Orders, which is a court order that helps protect individuals from family violence.³ 

1: Wathen, MacGregor and MacQuarrie, 2014   2: Government of Canada, reported by the CBC, 2020.  3. Legal Aid Alberta, reported by CTV news, 2022.


Eighty percent of people experiencing domestic abuse tell someone in their social networks first.¹

Further, most people experiencing abuse never access formal supports. For example, about 36 percent² of spousal violence victims contacted or used formal victims’ services, including counsellors, psychologists and social workers (the most popular), helplines or support groups. Men were less likely to seek out support (20%) than women (56%). 

1: Barrett & St.Pierre, 2011; StatsCan, 2013   2: StatsCan, Family violence in Canada: A statistical profile, 2014

One conversation

Studies show that one positive conversation is likely to lead someone to seek further help.¹ Positive conversations can also help buffer some of the negative mental health affects of abuse² and lower self-blame.³

1: Evans & Feder, 2014; Women’s Health West, 2015   2: Belknap et al., 2009; Goodman & Smyth, 2011; Gregory, Feder, Taket,& Williamson, 2017; Sylaska & Edwards, 2014   3: Latta & Goodman, 2011

REAL Talk Workshops in Your Community

We partner with local communities, organizations, businesses and individuals to ensure everyone has access to to facts, tools and support networks working to end domestic abuse, coercive control and sexual exploitation. We can work with you to deliver a REAL Talk for your group and to customize the content to your audience. We’re delivered REAL Talk in government offices, retail stores, churches, community centres, festivals and more. 

Contact our team at to book a workshop in your community.