About one in five women leaving a residential facility for abuse victims return to live with their abuser, according to new data from Statistics Canada.

Researchers looked at numbers from April 18, 2018, chosen as a “snapshot day” for data on residential facilities for victims of abuse. On that day, an additional 36 per cent of women leaving those facilities didn’t know where they were going to live.

Of the more than 3,500 women living in shelters for victims of abuse on the snapshot day, 18 per cent went on to live with their friends or relatives, 11 per cent moved to another facility, and the remaining 14 per cent returned home or to a new home without their abuser.

The new data released on Wednesday was compiled from the Survey of Residential Facilities for Victims of Abuse for 2017 to 2018, which gathered responses from workers in Canadian residential facilities, which are mandated to help victims of spousal and interpersonal violence.

Barb MacQuarrie, the community director of Centre for Research and Education on Violence against Women and Children at Western University, said these stats are troubling but not surprising.

“We have a myth that … when someone gets hit, they go to a shelter and they leave. But there are many, many things that get in the way of that,” she told CTVNews.ca over the phone.

MacQuarrie said the lack of resources to leave and supportive social circles can be big reasons why victims often return to their abuser.

The majority of people living in these temporary facilities were women and their children. In total, there were 3,565 women, 3,137 children, and eight men living in long- or short-term facilities.

The primary reason most of the women (66 per cent) were in these facilities was because they were in a relationship with an abuser.

“We should not assume that not every woman in an abusive relationship wants to leave,” MacQuarrie said.

“Many of them want that relationship to improve … they don’t want to experience abuse or for their children to witness abuse but leaving would not be their first preference,’ she explained.


Indigenous women (First Nations, Metis and Inuit), non-permanent Canadian residents and all their children were overrepresented. MacQuarrie explained that victims in these groups often have part of their identity defined by their collective circle.

“Social norms in those communities really emphasize your place within an extended family structure,” she explained, adding that an unfortunate byproduct can be families pressuring victims to stay with their abuser.

For the Indigenous women, MacQuarrie said “nobody should be surprised” that the lasting effects of residential schools and colonization include increased rates of abuse.

This was in line with previous data. According to the separate General Social Survey on Canadians’ Safety, Indigenous women self-reported violent abuse at rates that were nearly triple that of non-Indigenous women.

As for non-permanent residents, they simply don’t have access to established social circles and financial resources to find an alternative residence away from an abuser, MacQuarrie said

“Often when they leave, they end up losing the support of their extended family and their community,” she said. “So they have to make this untenable choice.”

MacQuarrie said service providers have to do a better job at providing safety but also helping victims hold onto their broader circle.



Another troubling statistic is that one in three (36 per cent) short-term residential facilities were full on snapshot day, with 669 women, 236 accompanying children and six men turned away.

In fact, the overwhelming reason (82 per cent) women were rejected from a facility was because it had been full.

MacQuarrie said the reason for this happening was because there were not enough resources -- including shelter beds -- being provided at the provincial level.

“We are not spending enough money,” she said, explaining that beds are simply one piece of a puzzle which also included more services geared towards youth and prevention programs.

In 2018, there were 428 of these short-term facilities for abuse victims in Canada where people could stay less than three months.

Compared to other provinces, Saskatchewan’s short-term facilities were more likely to be full, at 47 per cent. Quebec had the second-highest likelihood of having full facilities, followed by British Columbia and Ontario -- which reported that 42 per cent of its facilities were full.

Compared to other provinces, Ontario and Manitoba’s short-term facilities reported more people on average staying longer three months. The biggest reasons for longer stays included a lack of affordable, appropriate long-term housing.

“Many women (and their children) who leave abusive relationships end up living in poverty,” MacQuarrie said.

MacQuarrie said that fixing this problem is difficult because provinces tend to legislate on four-year mandates which look at immediate results. “We’re going to have to do a lot more work looking at addressing this problem before it gets to that crisis point … people who go to residential services are in crisis – no one leaves their home easily.”