Canada's Top Doctor Shines Light on Family Violence. 21/10/2016

Published by TIMESCOLONIST

 TORONTO - Physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse and murder —
family violence is a pervasive but often hidden reality within Canadian
society, says the country's top doctor, who calls the scope of the
problem "staggering."

"This is a serious public health issue in Canada, one that can have
long-lasting and widespread effects on the health of individuals,
families and communities," said Dr. Gregory Taylor, who on Friday
released a 60-page report focusing on family violence.

"The health impacts of family violence extend far beyond physical
injuries and include poor mental health, psychological and emotional
distress, suicide, and increased risk of chronic diseases and conditions
such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes."

In 2014, the latest year for which statistics are available, almost
58,000 girls and women were victims of family violence, said Taylor,
Canada's chief public health officer.

Every four days, one woman in Canada was killed by a family member;
every six days, a woman was killed by an intimate partner; while a man
was murdered by a partner every 23 days.

"There's no question that women bear the brunt of the most severe forms
of family violence," he said. "But men and boys are certainly victims
as well."

Some other findings in the report:

— Every day, about 230 Canadians reported being victims of family violence.

— Between 2004 and 2014, half of the child victims of family-related homicide were under age four.

— About 760,000 Canadians reported experiencing unhealthy spousal conflict, abuse or violence in the previous five years.

— Every day, eight seniors were subject to family violence. More than
766,000 Canadians over age 55 said they had experienced abuse or neglect
in the previous year.

"When I started to research this report, I really had no idea how big
the impact was," Taylor said in an interview Friday from Ottawa.

"The estimates are that fully 70 per cent of family violence is unreported, so we're just seeing the tip of the iceberg."

Nora Spinks, CEO of the Vanier Institute of the Family, said domestic
and family violence has always existed, so the issue isn't new.

"What is new is that we're documenting it more, we're aware of it more
and we're talking about it more," said Spinks, speculating that family
stress is likely one of the causes behind acts of domestic abuse.

"Families are under enormous financial stress these days. Families are
under stress because of the precariousness of our employment, because of
demands related to caregiving, not being able to find a support for the
family," she said from Ottawa.

"It may also be related to an inability to communicate: we can't find the words, so we express ourselves in different ways."

No matter the statistics, for those who are victims of violence or
witnesses to violence, "it doesn't matter if you're one in a hundred or
one in a million. You're the one," said Spinks.

"And it's going to impact you immediately. You're going to feel the
pain and it's going to impact you over time — the trauma, the residual
impacts of the violent episode."

Taylor's report found that familial violence is particularly rife among
Canada's aboriginal peoples, whose multigenerational experiences of
colonization, assimilation and racism have led to widespread substance
abuse, poverty and despair in many communities.

In 2014, indigenous Canadians were murdered at a rate six times higher
than that of non-indigenous Canadians. Native women were three times
more likely to report spousal abuse than non-native women.

Taylor said 40 per cent of indigenous Canadians reported some form of
abuse before age 15, compared to about 30 per cent of non-indigenous
Canadians. Fourteen per cent of native women and five per cent of native
men said they had been victims of physical and sexual abuse in
childhood.

Nine per cent of aboriginal people said they had experienced unhealthy
conflict, abuse or violence committed by a spouse or common-law partner
in the previous five years, compared to four per cent in the rest of the
population. For women alone, the figures were 10 per cent and three per
cent, respectively.

People with physical disabilities or mental health conditions, as well
as members of the LGBTQ community, also experience higher rates of
familial and partner violence, the report found.

Beyond its significant social, legal and health consequences, family
violence also represents a major economic burden. Health-care costs
associated with spousal violence alone are gauged at about $200 million a
year, while the annual price tag for pain, suffering and loss of life
related to family violence overall is estimated at $5.5 billion.

But identifying the root causes of family violence is difficult, said Taylor, because the issue is "highly complex."

"We really don't understand this," he admitted. "And consequently, we
don't really understand what are the best interventions in trying to
deal with that."

Taylor believes a huge barrier to addressing family violence is that
many victims keep silent, perhaps out of fear for their safety or the
safety of their children, from feelings of shame or denial, or concern
that they or their family will be judged or shunned by others.

"We don't talk about it perhaps because of stigma," he said, suggesting
that the first step toward reducing family violence is to break down
the wall of silence surrounding the issue.

"We need to really bring this out in the open. We need to talk about
this. And I think we need to make it unacceptable in our society."

Spinks agreed, saying that family violence should be on everyone's radar.

 

"It's not just the perpetrator or the victim of violence or the family
or the extended family. Violence impacts all of us and we all have a
collective responsibility to figure this out."