I want our society to develop similar approaches to domestic violence:
- How do we prevent it?
- How do we give the best care possible to minimize the suffering?
- How do we help people heal so that domestic violence doesn’t repeat itself?
I believe the answers to these questions start with the willingness of our society to completely change our understanding of family violence. We must shift our attitudes to understand these things:
- Family violence is a common problem.
- It is a root cause of difficulties which can span generations.
- That violence has an enormous cost to our society in respect to addictions, mental health issues and chronic diseases.
The stories of women I encounter are also supported by medical and scientific evidence. In 1995, Dr. Robert Anda, a prominent American public health physician with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published the results of a study on what are known in the medical world as “adverse childhood experiences.” His study demonstrated the impact of child abuse on women, children and men throughout American society. Anda has described his research this way:
“Stumbling on the gravest and most costly public health issue in the United States … Eradicating abuse of children in society would reduce the overall rate of depression by half, alcoholism by two-thirds and suicide, drug use and domestic violence by three-quarters. It would also dramatically improve workplace performance and vastly decrease the need for incarceration.”
In Alberta, almost 10,000 women and children were accommodated by shelters in 2016-17. More than 22,000 were turned away in the same period. The World Health Organization estimates that one in four women in Canada will experience intimate partner violence or sexual violence in her lifetime. As a basis for comparison, consider that one in eight Canadian women will be affected by breast cancer in her lifetime. So women are twice as likely to experience intimate partner or sexual violence as they are to experience breast cancer.
Take a moment to reflect on that – and then reflect on how well resourced our public health campaigns are to screen for and diagnose breast cancer. Every doctor’s office provides information about mammograms, and we have high-profile campaigns and plenty of fundraising for research to treat breast cancer. The work to prevent and cure cancer is hugely important. I want it to continue. But I also want us to understand how we are neglecting the public health implications of domestic violence.