Linda MacDonald and fellow registered nurse Jeanne Sarson say adding domestic torture to the Criminal Code would encourage more victims to come forward and receive the help they need.
They told their story to CBC Investigates.
MacDonald and Sarson founded the Persons Against NST (Non-State Torture), a human rights organization based in Truro.
Over the past 20 years, Sarson and MacDonald estimate they've dealt with 3,000 victims of domestic torture around the globe, including about a dozen in Nova Scotia.
Sarson says the existing law doesn't address this kind of crime.
For victims of domestic torture, such as Elizabeth Gordon, recognition in law is an important validation.
Gordon, 57, made contact with Sarson and MacDonald four years ago. She sought help after a childhood of "extreme violence."
"I would like people to know that torture happens in the home and it can be your parents. I think that's really hard for people sometimes to hear," she says.
When cases do come to the attention of police, Sarson says, their only options are to charge perpetrators with human trafficking or assault.
Peter MacKay rejects call for new law
A few countries and states have passed laws recognizing domestic torture, including Australia, France, Michigan and California.
Justice Minister Peter MacKay says the federal government has no plan to include domestic torture as a criminal offence.
"The reality is that there has not been to date a pressing case to amend the Criminal Code to expand sections that would encompass further coverage of torture. We have sections now that do that quite adequately," he says.
MacDonald disagrees. She and Sarson will continue to lobby for change.
"We just made a commitment to expanding this work and raising awareness about it and doing activism and committing to the children that are still trapped in these groups and families," she said.
"When we die, hopefully it will be a much more visible crime and they'll have more help than the children who are in these families now, because it is primarily a family issue."