What violence?

This article was first published in the New Brunswick Telegraph Journal on December 8, 2015.

Violence in relationships is highest among young couples. So don’t tell me the next generation will make the problem disappear.

New Brunswick holds or has recently held the Canadian record for domestic violence and for deaths related to domestic violence notably in murder-suicides. So don’t tell me we have stellar programs on violence prevention, that we are doing all we can.

Services for victims of relationship violence are to prevention what emergency rooms are to safety belts, Prevention is to services for victims of relationship violence what  vaccinations are to infectious diseases, what car or bicycle safety laws are to emergency rooms. So don’t tell me donating to the local transition house is solving this.

Show me one crime that has been reduced by wearing a coloured ribbon.

Show me one problem, one disease, one issue that has been eradicated simply by treating its victims.

Show me why we plough so many millions into this problem and don’t even worry about results.

New Brunswick women brought out the issue of violence to the public agenda in the mid-seventies. I remember politicians’ and media asking us about whether we thought it really existed here or was it not mostly in the big cities. I remember being told I was breaking up families by helping battered women. I remember calling priests and police officers to suggest they should have told her something other than to go back to him and try harder.

Someone needs to call the government to suggest they do something other than light candles, wear ribbons and help victims, because those activities are not preventing violence. Those activities are comfortable and easy, but, since that’s all that is being done, they are likely perpetuating the problem by pretending to address it.

In the last few decades, the effort to eradicate violence against women – which was the actual goal of women’s groups in the seventies, not just provide services to victims – was coopted and neutered by politics. In 2002, the government measured New Brunswickers’ attitude to violence against women with the stated goal of then taking action to change attitudes in order to reduce that violence. The opinions expressed were certainly horrific but nothing was done, no campaigns to confront those attitudes were ever approved. However, another attitudinal survey was done seven years later, which found even worse attitudes in several areas. Were attitudes expected to change improve “naturally”?

Why are we willing to live with the high rates of violence and murder of women from relationships? We know relationship violence is preventable. We know other jurisdictions are doing better than we are.

Why are we so little concerned about reducing violence? Are we too comfortable with the status quo? With women as victims? Pretending that we can only help victims as they come along, as if they were victims of an unpreventable illness, is certainly less controversial and confrontational than challenging the forces that create the bullies that assault those victims.

Relationship violence is preventable.

One of the main drivers of violence against women in relationships today is men being stuck in gendered roles and expectations. Not much has been done to educate men about gender, and not much has changed in society’s disrespect of women. As The Physician’s Guide To Intimate Partner Violence and Abuse says, « It’s unreasonable to expect that people will change their behaviour easily when so many forces in the social, cultural and physical environment conspire against such change. »

It takes a society to raise violent boys and men and we do it.

To reduce violence in relationships, we need sustained mutually reinforcing actions that challenge gender roles and create real equality between the sexes in society. That would mean public awareness campaigns and curriculum initiatives on the « norms” that contribute to violence such as the objectification of women, the acceptance of violence, take action to ensure more women are in non-traditional positions including decision-making public positions, challenge the glorification of violence in public and private life.

It should also include some measures that are post-violence since we could certainly be spending our money and effort more wisely helping victims: we should set up a proper domestic violence death review committee, instead of the pretense we currently have, to see what we could do better to prevent some murders. We could stop hushing up familial murder-suicides. We should expand the successful “pilot projects” New Brunswick has had but never expanded, such as family violence courts and mental health courts.

It would also mean measuring impact and expecting results for all the effort and millions spent on violence. When that begins to happen, we’ll know the issue is being taken seriously.



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