Speaking Up About Family Violence

“Every year at least a billion children are exposed to violence. This epidemic of violence can no longer be tolerated or ignored. The burden of violence is grave and long-lasting.” Dr. Susan Bissell, UNICEF International

An important public health issue that impacts a growing number of women and young children in Canada is domestic violence and child maltreatment.gbv_infobite_600x300_english_dec6

November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, marked the beginning of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence, which ends on International Human Rights Day on Dec. 10. This includes December 6 as the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women in Canada. Established in 1991 by the Parliament of Canada, this day marks the anniversary of the murders in 1989 of 14 young women at l’École Polytechnique de Montréal. They died because they were women. The 16 Days of Activism is a time to reflect both on violence against women and to take action to end it.

A few weeks ago, I had an opportunity to attend a national conference focused on this topic with the executive director of the Kawartha Sexual Assault Centre.  The conference called Collaborating Across Systems: Preventing and Responding to Domestic Violence and Child Abuse was hosted by the Ministry of Children and Family Development; The Child Welfare League of Canada; and the Provincial Office of Domestic Violence. The event brought together child welfare and domestic violence experts from across the country and included a key note presentation from Dr. Susan Bissell of UNICEF International.

The presenters were insightful, engaging and experts in their field. A key learning was that when it comes to domestic violence, appearances are deceiving and the impacts are far-reaching.  The impacts go beyond direct physical injury, are widespread and long-lasting and can be severe, particularly for mental health. Even less severe forms of family violence can affect health.

Some Canadian families are experiencing unhealthy conflict, abuse and violence that have the potential to affect their health. Known collectively as family violence, it takes many forms, ranges in severity and includes neglect as well as physical, sexual, emotional and financial abuse. People who experience family violence need to be supported while people who are abusive or violent need to be accountable.

The issue of family violence is so significant that Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer’s 2016 Report on the State of Public Health in Canada is focused on Family Violence in this country.

“Families are the building blocks of our society and a safe haven to nurture children and intimate relationships. Yet some families are in crisis,” Dr. Gregory Taylor, Chief Public Health Officer notes in the report’s introductory letter, adding: “Family violence impacts health beyond just immediate physical injury, and increases the risk for a number of conditions, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as high blood pressure, cancer and heart disease.”

“Despite the work of many researchers, health care professionals, organizations and communities, we still do not have a good understanding of why family violence happens, nor do we know how to be intervene,” he adds.

The report is difficult and disturbing to read, but sheds a light on a topic that is hard to talk about but should be discussed and addressed. Consider the following statistics:

  • An average of 172 homicides is committed every year by a family member
  • For approximately 85,000 victims of violent crimes, the person responsible for the crime was a family member
  • Just under 9 million or about one in three Canadians said they had experienced abuse before the age of 15 years
  • Just under 760,000 Canadians said they had experienced unhealthy spousal conflict, abuse or violence in the previous five years
  • More than 766,000 older Canadians said they had experienced abuse or neglect in the previous year.
  • Women are more likely than men to be killed by an intimate partner and more likely to experience sexual abuse, more severe and chronic forms of intimate family violence, particularly forms that include threats and force to gain control. Women are also more likely to experience health impacts.

People are reluctant to talk about family violence, so it often goes unreported perhaps because of fear, concerns about safety, stigma and not being believed. Approaches to prevention include changing beliefs and attitudes, building safe and supportive communities, supporting our youth, healthy families and relationships and promoting good health and well-being.

That’s why this report and conferences like Collaborating Across Systems are important for discussion, sharing of best practices, and finding solutions.

“Working together, we can unravel why, when, where, how and to whom family violence happens and to improve our efforts to support healthy Canadian families,” concludes Dr. Taylor.

The good news is that research is evolving to better identify opportunities and challenges to address family violence. Evidence also suggests that it is possible to prevent, reverse or reduce the impacts of family violence and that some people are resilient to its effects. Building resilience by working with horses as natural coaches to support those who have experienced family violence is an opportunity we’re ready to explore.

img_2911About the Author: Jennifer Garland is the Owner/Program Director of The Mane Intent, offering Health and Wellness Workshops and Individual and Team Effectiveness Coaching. Working with horses as natural coaches, The Mane Intent offers people a way to reduce stress, improve their wellness and effectiveness at work, while ultimately gaining coping skills for a healthy life. These are memorable, one-of-a-kind events with our gentle herd presented in a beautiful natural setting. Jennifer has over 25 years of leadership experience in communications, cause-related marketing and change management. As a strategist, facilitator and effectiveness coach, Jennifer has provided counsel and support to senior leaders from all walks of life to build productive relationships, facilitate learning and to embrace change. She is a ‘socialpreneur’ who values the art of living life fully with intent.

The Mane Intent

November 30, 2016

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