It may be the era of the #MeToo movement and Women’s March, but while a reinvigorated push for gender equality may seem like progress for the cause, a look behind closed doors tells a much different story as far as domestic violence goes.
Twenty-nine per cent of Canadian women will experience intimate partner violence in their lifetime. That’s almost one-third of our country’s entire adult female population. Domestic violence is so ubiquitous it’s an epidemic. It affects more women than breast cancer and depression. Some might be thinking, “Still? In 2019?”
Why are rates so high? Part of the problem is this: the magnitude of the issue is so underappreciated by public and policy-makers alike that support for victims of domestic violence and for the sector trying to help is far from enough to put a dent in the statistics.
Another part of the problem is our apparent tolerance of domestic violence in an age when it should be absolutely intolerable. Alberta maintains the third-highest rate in the country and yet no serious strides have been made to curb the trend.
In 2017, intimate partner violence represented about 30 per cent of all police-reported crime in Canada. The same year, police services reported more than 10,000 victims of intimate partner violence in Alberta. When you consider that 70 per cent of spousal abuse goes unreported, the prevalence of domestic violence becomes staggering.
That doesn’t even account for the most vulnerable in these situations: the thousands of children in our province who are the silent victims of violence in the home, and who also happen to be the key to ending domestic violence.
Research shows that children who are exposed to violence at a young age are more likely to become victims or perpetrators of abuse later in life. But the adverse effects of trauma caused by domestic violence can also be mitigated if caught and addressed early on.
The operative word here is “if.” In order to have an effect — a real effect — we need comprehensive preventive programming, and for that we need resources.
In 2017, Alberta shelters turned away 10,497 children due to lack of space, denying them not only safe refuge but also the critical interventions they need to break the pattern of abuse. It is no wonder this issue isn’t getting any better.
Set aside the irrefutable argument that no woman or child should be subjected to violence in the home, or even the ethical obligation we have to do something about domestic violence because we can — there is a powerful economic case to make for prevention as well.
In the past five years alone, domestic violence is estimated to have cost Alberta taxpayers more than $500 million. And it’s only going to get more expensive with incidences on the rise.
The good news is that investment in quality domestic violence prevention initiatives can be very cost effective, returning as much as $20 for every dollar spent.
Unfortunately, the sector’s resources are already tapped and additional funding for prevention work is a hard case to make where policy-makers are concerned. It might be true that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure — and in the case of domestic violence, we know it is — but if no one is investing, then it’s worth nothing at all.
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