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Going over the edge.

Family violence is a serious social and criminal problem. It can involve killing, physical, and sexual assault. It also involves other forms of harmful behaviour, such as emotional abuse, financial exploitation, and neglect. Family violence has long-lasting psychological effects on its victims who are primarily women, children, and seniors. In most cases the offenders are male.

According to 1993 Statistics Canada figures, one out of every four women is being assaulted by a husband or live-in partner.

It is estimated that:

* family violence accounts for more than 60% of female homicides;

* 25% of girls and 10% of boys are sexually abused before age 16;

* at least 4% of elderly persons are victims of some form of significant abuse.

Research also indicates that people with disabilities, especially women and girls, are frequently victims of abuse; 40% of respondents in a survey of adult women with disabilities reported being abused sometime in their lives.

The results of family violence are severe and far-reaching. Family violence experienced during childhood may be linked to alcohol and drug abuse, delinquency, suicide, juvenile prostitution, running away from home, mental health problems, and violent crime later in life. Studies have shown that men who abuse their wives were often themselves abused as children or witnessed the abuse of other family members. Similarly, women who are victims of wife assault often report that they were abused as children or witnessed other family members being abused.

It seems to be a never-ending cycle with tragic results. An Ottawa study in 1991 and 1992 chronicles intentional injuries to children who were treated at three urban hospitals in different provinces. It uncovered 951 cases of children treated for intentional injury, including neglect, physical abuse, and sexual abuse, over the two years.

In 1996, Children's Aid Societies (CAS) in Ontario alone provided services to about 90,000 families and care for more than 19,000 children on a temporary or permanent basis. About 40% of families voluntarily approach the CAS for help when family and/or economic stress affects their- parenting ability.

The Ontario Association of Children's Aid Societies says the most vulnerable children are those under five, since they are most invisible to the community. It believes the government should be more committed to the healthy development of children with protective services that are connected to a broad network of community support. But, government cutbacks are eating away at such services.

In 1996, for example, Ontario reduced spending on emergency shelters for battered women -- and their children -- by 5%, eliminated funding entirely for support programs in shelters providing temporary housing, reduced legal-aid budgets, and cut welfare benefits by 21.6%. The province also cut funding for programs aimed at preventing violence against women.

Those who help battered women say such cutbacks are making it impossible for many victims of violence to flee abuse. Abused women across the province say they are staying in or returning to violent relationships because they feel they cannot survive independently.

And, if this paints a bleak picture in general, it's worse for Native people.

In a survey of aboriginal communities in Ontario, 80% of Native women respondents said they had experienced family violence. The survey also found that 40% of children in these communities had been physically abused by a family member.

The Northwest Territories is by far the most violent society in Canada. It has a homicide and violent-crime rate six times the national average and a sexual-assault rate five times the national average and climbing. Most assaults against women in the North take place in the home and are committed by someone known by and often close to the victim.

Some activists say the justice system is partly to blame, because it often doles out tiny sentences for vicious crimes. A man with a history of violent crime, for instance, was sentenced to 20 months in jail in 1997 after he sliced the throat of his common-law wife while she played cards. Another was given 100 days in jail after he ignored a restraining order and allegedly assaulted a woman for the third time in less than a year.

Northwest Territories Leader Nellie Cournoyea believes widespread domestic violence in the North is also a result of the end of a way life. She says the high school dropout rate of 77% in the North is more than twice the national average and that reliance on social assistance among adults is widespread and increasing. The traditional economy does not sustain people as it used to, and there are limited opportunities in tiny northern communities to participate in the mainstream economy.

This leaves many with little to do and plenty of time to do it. Drinking and drug use often fill the empty hours. Combined with a "dramatic shortage of housing and... some serious overcrowding," it's a recipe for violence.


1. In 1996, the B.C. government created a new Ministry for Children and families to co-ordinate services previously provided by five ministries and to provide one-stop program accessibility in the community as well as upgrade social workers' training with emphasis on child protection. Find out how effective the new ministry is in protecting children from family violence.

2. Invite a social worker to class to discuss ways of dealing with violence in the home.


Physical abuse of children occurs largely within an identifiable population. Those most likely to be physically abused -- and sometimes killed -- are the sole or youngest offspring of young, badly educated, unemployed, isolated parents, who are poor. Additional risk factors are alcohol or drug abusers and parents with mental illnesses

In 1996, a Toronto couple was convicted of second-degree murder in the death of their six-month-old daughter She died from pneumonia triggered by massive internal injuries. The injuries were inflicted by her two crack cocaine addicted parents. They were believed to be the first Canadian couple ever convicted of murder in the death of one of their children. Child abuse cases usually involve charges of manslaughter or criminal negligence causing death.
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Title Annotation:family violence
Publication:Canada and the World Backgrounder
Date:Mar 1, 1997
Previous Article:Unequal sharing.
Next Article:Behind the times: families have reinvented themselves during the last three decades, but many of the government programs aimed at supporting families...

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