Every four days in Canada, a woman dies at the hands of a family member. And every single day, there are over 230 reported victims of domestic violence. Family violence is a serious health issue that affects many Canadians. Even more startling is that this abuse is also very under-reported. Reports estimate that only 30% of people report domestic abuse.
Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer’s Report on the State of Public Healthy in Canada (2016) shows the urgent need to make prevention of and support for domestic violence a major issue. While this type of abuse affects Canadians from all backgrounds, 70% of reported cases involve girls and women. Other groups are also more at risk of experiencing family violence as well as its effects, including Indigenous persons, people with disabilities, and those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. And children are also especially at risk. Just under 9 million Canadians reported that they had experienced abuse before the age of 15 years.
Women, who are more likely than men to experience sexual abuse and partner violence, are also more likely to experience health effects from this abuse. With so many Canadians having experienced or experiencing family violence, it’s become obvious that this is also a major public health issue.
Why is family violence a health issue?
The impacts of domestic violence extend way beyond any immediate injury. And, injuries are not always visible either. Abuse comes in many different forms: physical, verbal, emotional, sexual, financial, and neglect.
It’s not always easy to tell if someone is being abused, but the impacts and effects are often long-lasting.
Direct impacts are devastating: physical and brain injuries, stress, malnutrition, STDs and unwanted pregnancies. Many victims of family violence also have to deal with health issues resulting from the abuse, and family violence increases the risk for many health conditions. This abuse strongly affects mental health. Post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, cancer and heart disease are some of the common ailments that affect victims of domestic abuse.
Since family violence normally happens early in a child’s life, the impacts are long-lasting and can drastically not only their overall development, but their physical and mental health as well.
The chronic stress and mental and psychological disorders that often come with this abuse make the victims much more prone to risky behaviour, like drug and alcohol use, smoking, unhealthy eating, aggression or violence, and unprotected sex. The stress also increases the risk of developing certain diseases like cancer or arthritis, since many studies show that chronic stress affects the body’s immune system and its ability to function properly.
How Can We Help?
Neighbours, friends and family can make a big difference.
Many studies have shown that neighbourhoods have lower rates of family violence when the neighbourhood is supportive and united and there are community members who are willing to intervene.
There are definitely gaps in knowledge on how to address these factors that can help prevent family violence though, which is why educating everyone on the signs and ways to help are so important.
Thankfully, there is some positive news amongst all of this. Although family violence statistics can be hard to gather since it is so underreported, evidence shows that severe forms of family violence seem to be decreasing in Canada.
It’s also very possible to prevent, reverse or reduce the impacts of family violence, and communities have the ability to play a large part in this. But, we need to make changes. We need to be open. We need to continue to talk about family violence, even if it is painful. Offering support and helping in any way possible can make a world of difference. We need to be honest, and we need to be supportive. It’s the only way we can change our society and ensure a safe and happy upbringing and life for every person and family in Canada.