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Abusive relationships can be difficult to identify, as they often start off subtly and escalate over time. Abusers can come from all walks of life and may exhibit a range of behaviours, but some common traits are often present.

One key characteristic of an abuser is a need for control. Abusers may use a variety of tactics to exert control over their partner, such as isolating them from friends and family, controlling their finances, or monitoring their activities. This can make the victim feel trapped and powerless, leading to feelings of anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem.

Jealousy and possessiveness are also common traits of abusers. They may become jealous or suspicious of their partner’s activities, often accusing them of cheating or flirting with others. This can lead to a sense of isolation for the victim, as they may begin to feel like they have to limit their social interactions to avoid upsetting their partner.

Abusers may also engage in blame-shifting, a tactic where they shift the responsibility for their abusive behaviour onto their partner. This can make the victim feel guilty and responsible for the abuse, which can further reinforce the abuser’s control over them.

Question their own reality or sanity

Emotional manipulation is another common tactic used by abusers. This can take many forms, such as gaslighting, which involves making the victim question their own reality or sanity. Abusers may also use threats or physical intimidation to maintain control over their partner, creating a constant state of fear and anxiety for the victim.

Isolation is another tactic used by abusers. They may limit their partner’s access to communication or transportation, making it difficult for them to leave or seek help. This can create a sense of dependence on the abuser, making it difficult for the victim to leave the relationship.

Finally, abusers may feel entitled to their partner’s attention, time, or resources, and may become angry or violent if their demands are not met. This can create a sense of obligation in the victim, leading them to feel like they have to comply with the abuser’s wishes in order to avoid conflict.

It’s important to remember that not all abusers exhibit all of these characteristics, and that abusive behaviour can take many different forms. If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, it’s important to seek help and support from trained professionals.

Abuse in the academic environment

In the academic environment, a student-professor relationship can start as one of mentorship but may slip over the line into one of intimacy and manipulation, placing someone in an uncomfortable power dynamic, says Toronto family lawyer Inna Tsinman.

Failing to understand the potential ramifications of such relationships can have far-reaching effects on one’s personal and financial future, says Tsinman, founder and principal of Tsinman Law.

“If you find yourself in this kind of relationship, you have to know what the implications are. Understanding what your rights are and what steps you can take is very important,” she tells

Economic coercion

Tsinman, who often works on family law cases involving economic coercion, says students should understand what they can do to protect themselves, including seeking legal advice if they feel at risk.

“Women, in particular, feel compelled to stay with the person because they may have a financial hold on them, or they are influential in terms of their reputation, career, or other personal success,” she says.

Last fall, a former University of British Columbia student called for a ban on student-teacher relationships. The woman indicated in a letter to the school that current policies didn’t go far enough to address the issue. Her lawyer wrote a letter stating: “Students should not be put in the position of proving this obvious imbalance of power in sexual relations with professors on a case-by-case basis.”

A recent Global News story covered an Ontario case in which two University of Windsor law students alleged a professor sexually harassed them.

“The way I see it, there is not enough outrage around these kinds of relationships,” says Tsinman.

Abusive Relationships for Good

Policies in place to address sexual violence

Many U.S. universities, including Yale and Stanford, have banned relationships between faculty members and undergraduate students and students that faculty members supervise. Several Canadian provinces — Quebec, Ontario, British Columbia and Manitoba — have passed legislation requiring post-secondary institutions to have policies in place to address sexual violence. Tsinman says all Canadian universities should completely ban these “romantic” and often sexual relationships.

“Two adult individuals can wait until the academic program is over and the possibility of exploitation of power no longer exists to ignite their romance if there is actually something real between the two,” she says. “Obviously there is not enough education out there for women to know that they don’t have to succumb to such relationships.”

Tsinman explains that economic coercion is not as apparent in an academic environment but, in the extreme, it can have adverse implications on a student’s ability to advance in their career, land a job or secure grant money for research or study.

“When I speak to people about this they will sometimes say, ‘Well she consented so what’s the problem?’

“Often these relationships don’t work out, and women should know that they don’t have to do this in order to advance in their career,” says Tsinman. “While they may be struggling to obtain limited spots in graduate school etc., women do not need to succumb to these kinds of relationships.”

Stand Against Abusive Relationships

If a student finds themselves in a situation with a faculty member, they need to know where to seek advice and in what order. The first step should not always involve a visit to a faculty head’s office.

“I always recommend that women obtain legal advice on their own to manoeuvre through this,” says Tsinman.

“A lawyer would be able to give her a sense of how to deal with the faculty, what is available to her, and what steps not to take. Telling her to go to the school administration is not the right step. The administration has its own mandate and resource pressures which dictate how much they can help.”

Canada is joining other countries in recognizing that domestic abuse includes economic control, but further steps must be taken to ensure the abused spouse is protected, says Inna Tsinman.

“We need to stop this kind of oppression and recognize economic control is widespread,” she tells

A BBC article reports that England and Wales have a draft bill that defines economic abuse as “behaviours that control a person’s ability to acquire, use and maintain economic resources.” It can also include controlling someone’s food, transportation and housing.

Examples of economic abuse

Tsinman says examples of economic abuse that she has encountered include restricting a partner’s access to bank accounts, credit cards and employment, registering assets in only one name or piling up debt under the partner’s name.

“The better you are at scheming, the more ideas you will have to control and limit a person’s access to finances,” she says. “One partner may say, ‘Let’s sell the house’ and then hide the profit in a place the other partner can’t access or even find. At that point, the abuser may announce they want to separate.”

Tsinman says proposed changes to Canada’s Divorce Act in Bill C-78 also include recognizing financial abuse.

However, the British bill is more elaborate in this area because it aims to provide assistance to the victim, she says.

The proposed British legislation would introduce new protection orders and establish a domestic abuse commissioner, Tsinman says.

“In Canada, you can define it, but now you need to figure out how you’re going to help those who are suffering from it,” she says. “I hope that the definition in the new legislation will give the courts more power to acknowledge it.”

Examples of economic abuse

Financial dependency in relationships

Tsinman is pushing for the development of a new tort of economic coercion to protect women in relationships of financial dependency.

“In other torts I have dealt with, it can take many years and much academic work for judges to start incorporating it in their decisions,” she says. “Now that financial abuse is defined, counsel needs to be creative in how to include it in their practice and use it before the courts.”

Tsinman says along with financial abuse, many spouses suffer from economic coercion, which she says is more subtle than financial abuse.

“It is like a virus within the fabric of society. It’s not just that a partner is noticeably abusive, people may not even realize they are being coerced by either entering into marriage or a sexual act with the notion that if one won’t enter such relationships, some economic benefits will be taken away from them,” Tsinman says. “Such abuse is particularly dangerous as it violates one’s human dignity.”

Stand Against Abusive Relationships

If someone marries a powerful figure, there can be certain expectations because of influence and income disparities, she says.

That sets up the possibility that sexual consent is never really freely given in circumstances of power inequity, Tsinman says, noting that such dynamics also frequently occur in the workplace.

An example would be an employee who is not able to succeed based on ability alone and who may be under the thumb of a manipulative boss, she says.

“Economic coercion is a global phenomenon, and I hope that this subtle form of abuse will be eradicated in the next generation,” Tsinman says.

Stand against abusive relationships with Advocate Daily!

Five ways to Stand Against Abusive Relationships

If you suspect that someone you know is in an abusive relationship, let them know that you are there for them and encourage them to seek help.

Learn the warning signs of an abusive relationship so that you can identify them and help someone in need.

Donate to or volunteer for organizations that support victims of domestic violence or abuse.

Use social media or other platforms to raise awareness about the issue of abusive relationships and the resources available for victims.

Stand up against abusive behaviour and attitudes in your own life and community by speaking out and taking action to prevent harm.