Children and Family Violence

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Statistics Canada recently released disturbing figures regarding family violence in Canada.  Family violence is defined as violence between persons related through blood, marriage, co-habitation (common-law), foster care, or adoption.  Family violence accounts for about 25% of all violent crime in Canada and the victims are overwhelmingly the female spouse. 

After falling for a decade, rates of domestic violence have now flat-lined.  According to police-reported data for 2010, almost 99,000 Canadians were targets of family violence.  There were over 102,000 reports of intimate partner violence which is defined as violence between legally married, separated, or divorced partners, common-law or dating partners, including present and previous partners.  The primary targets of intimate partner violence, over 80%, are females, young, and in dating relationships.  On average, every six days a woman in Canada is killed by her intimate partner.

The terminology used in these reports can be misleading.  When using the term family or domestic violence it may be perceived that everyone in the family is behaving violently when in fact the statistics not only confirm that females are the primary targets of the violence but that the nature and consequences of the violence are much more severe for women than for men.  Similarly, when using the term intimate partner violence it may be perceived that the violence is perpetrated equally by both partners.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Although some men are abused by their partners, the overwhelming majority of abuse victims are female.

The term “violence” can also be misleading.  When using that word many people may understand or conclude that this refers to physical violence.  Many women living in abusive relationships do recognize it as such if there is no physical violence.  The reality is that in too many families and intimate relationships men are being abusive verbally, emotionally, physically, and sexually.  Abuse can also be perpetrated by men controlling the woman’s finances, social contact, and threatening to harm her family, pets, and friends.

Although the numbers are significant we must keep in mind that these figures are for “reported” incidents.  From a statistical profile of family violence in Canada published in 2011 we learn that a majority of women do not typically report first, second, or third incidents. Sometimes as many as ten incidents have occurred before a woman contacts the police.  If we take this into consideration, the statistics would be staggering.

The women who stay in abusive relationships do so for of a variety of reasons.  The partner may have threatened to kill the woman if she leaves.  She may hold strong values about keeping a family together.  Sometimes relatives or in-laws blame the woman for the violence and insist she stay.  When the abuser threatens to harm the children or pets a woman may decide to stay to protect them.  The most dangerous time for an abused woman is when she attempts to leave.  In one study, half of all women who were murdered by their spouses were killed within two months of leaving the relationship.

Then there is the impact of family violence on the innocent bystanders – the children.  Experiencing or witnessing family violence affects brain development, the ability to learn, and can lead to a wide range of behavioural and/or emotional issues such as anxiety, aggression, bullying, phobias, and insomnia.  Children who live with family violence are more likely to become abusers and/or targets.  Children who witness violence in the home have twice the rate of psychiatric disorders as children from non-violent homes.   

Family Enrichment is a member of a community networking to end violence against women (Fredericton Regional Resource Network).  Together we can make the abuse of women in our society a thing of the past!

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