It’s helpful to shine a light on some of our most un­savoury ac­tiv­i­ties

The Woolwich Observer - - COMMENT - / STEVE KANNON

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

“A re­spon­si­ble home-grown de­vel­oper would cre­ate this project with as lit­tle im­pact on ex­ist­ing neigh­bour­hoods as pos­si­ble.” Steve Racey | 8

woman iso­lated.

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.

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