It’s helpful to shine a light on some of our most unsavoury activities
SEXUAL HARASSMENT, DISCRIMINATION, BULLYING and a host of other social ills long swept under the rug are now topics of discussion, in large part due to high-profile cases. While we’d rather not talk about these kinds of issues – you can add stigmatized matters such as mental illness and addictions to the list, as well – we’re much better off if they’re out in the open.
Chances are each of us knows someone with experience with one or more of these issues. Chances are some of us have experienced them directly. That’s especially true of matters that fall under the mantle of family violence, as domestic abuse in its varied forms hits home in far too many places.
Statistics show that 50 per cent of women, for instance, will be physically or sexually abused in their lifetimes. As with many of these blights on our collective humanity, such assaults pay no heed to geography – they can and do occur in small communities such as those found in the townships.
The problem is more widespread than most people care to admit, one of the reasons Woolwich Community Services offers a family violence prevention program, which is front and center just now given that November is family violence prevention month.
Even concerned, wellmeaning people have misconceptions about family violence that aren’t helpful in efforts to eliminate the problem.
Questions such as “why does she stay?” and “why do women go back?,” even when asked in a nonjudgmental way, add to the impression that women – the targets of most domestic abuse – are somehow responsible for their predicament.
Education and public awareness are two important tools in attempting to reduce incidents. Often, victims are afraid to come forward. Vigilance by others can help identify problems.
Along with helping those in immediate need with support services, the WCS program focuses on prevention and education – a staffer provides outreach programs to every area school, looking to teach kids that violence is not the answer to any problem.
Breaking the cycle of violence is the key to prevention. Children raised in abusive homes are more likely to be abusive when they grow up. Even those in abusive relationships – often women being physically or mentally abused by their spouses – find it hard to get out of their situations.
On average, a woman will leave eight times before making it permanent. Throughout the process, the WCS program provides support.
For those in abusive relationships, the program provides a range of immediate services, informing the women – the clients are predominantly female – that they have real options and acting as a liaison to social services: shelters, food banks, subsidized housing, welfare, employment counselling and the like.
Federal statistics paint a troubling picture. For instance, family violence accounted for approximately 25 per cent of all policereported crime in Canada. Some 32 per cent of adults in Canada have reported having experienced some form of maltreatment as a child, including exposure to intimate partner violence (34%), neglect (34%), physical abuse (20%) and sexual abuse (3%).
Breaking down the numbers, you find family violence comes in many forms – physical, sexual, emotional and even financial – and applies to contexts beyond what we might think of initially, intimate partner violence and child abuse/neglect, but extends to the likes of elder abuse, “honour” killings or related violence, and the likes of forced marriages.
Family violence is a serious public health issue that can cause a range of shortterm or long-term health problems, and can even result in death. The impacts of family violence can be physical, mental, cognitive and behavioural.
Family violence can also affect people’s social or economic situations. The experience of family violence can contribute to living in poverty, dropping out of school or having limited options for safe and affordable housing, for example.
Research shows that the longer and more severe the abuse, the worse the health and social impacts are.
Such violence also comes with a price tag, though the economic impacts can be tough to gauge thoroughly. In a 2012 study, however, the nationwide cost was estimated at $7.4 billion. Of that, some $6 billion was costs associated with victims seeking medical attention, lost wages, damaged or destroyed property and the intangibles of pain and suffering and loss of life. There was an additional $890 million in third-party costs, including social service operating costs, losses to employers, the negative impact on children exposed to spousal violence, and other government expenditures. And costs were rounded out by the $545 million borne by the criminal justice system (i.e., police, court, prosecution, legal aid and correctional services) and civil justice system (i.e., civil protection orders, divorces and separations and child protection systems).
Given the costs, the adage about an ounce of prevention seems more than a little applicable.
Preventative measures include each of us being vigilant, watching for signs that a friend, neighbour or even family member may be in an abusive relationship.
An abused woman: shows guilt, ambivalence and fear over living conditions; feels isolated and untrusting of others; is emotionally and economically dependent; may wear clothing to try to hide bruises.
An abusive man: puts down or humiliates his partner in front of others; shows severe mood swings; shows extreme jealousy and wants to keep the
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That others need to watch for signs is underscored by the fact less than a quarter of spousal violence victims reported the violence to police.
According to police-reported data, some 100,000 victims of family violence in Canada who reported incidents account for onequarter of all victims of police-reported violent crime. Of these, almost half (49 per cent) were victims of spousal and ex-spousal violence while the other half (51 per cent) were children, siblings or extended family members.
We humans do many bad things. Hiding them away doesn’t change that. In fact, it only serves to encourage more of it. Bringing these issues into the light may be uncomfortable, but much less so than is the case for those left in the dark to become victims of violence.