There are many forms of violence, including physical, sexual, emotional and financial abuse.
The term ‘family violence’ can cover a range of abuse – intimate partner violence, child abuse and neglect, elder abuse, violence based on so-called “honour” and forced marriage among them – and extend beyond the physical to sexual, emotional and financial abuse. Likewise, the problem is not contained by gender or age.
Still, the term is most often associated with assaults on women and girls, particularly with spousal abuse.
Even concerned, well-meaning 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.
Statistics that show 50 per cent of women will be physically or sexually abused in their lifetimes pay no mind to geography – such assaults 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 during Family Violence Prevention Month.
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 keep the cycle going 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 police-reported 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%).
Family violence is a serious public health issue that can cause a range of short-term 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 2012, however, the nationwide cost was estimated at $7.4 billion.
Given the costs, the adage about an ounce of prevention seems more than a little applicable.