It has been said that the only things that truly matter in life are your relationships with others.  But what if your relationships with your family and friends are marred by violence?  What if, the people who are supposed to protect you, don’t?

The Different Types of Violence

It is called many things…domestic violence, domestic abuse, spousal abuse, intimate partner violence, battering or family violence.  But whatever we decide to call it, the sad fact is that gender-based violence still exists.  And it affects us all. It destroys families, weakens the fabric of our society, and takes a heavy toll on our communities and our economy.

Sadly, Alberta continues to lead the pack when it comes to domestic violence figures.  A recent study by the Canadian Women’s Foundation reports that 74 percent of Albertans know a woman who has experienced physical or sexual abuse – compared to 67 percent of Canadians in general. Each year, over 40,000 arrests result from domestic violence, that’s about 12% of all violent crime in Canada. On any given day in Canada, more than 3,300 women along with their 3,000 children, are forced to sleep in emergency shelters to escape domestic violence. Every night, about 200 women are turned away because the shelters are full.

“Every hour, of every day, a woman in Alberta will undergo some form of interpersonal violence from an ex-partner or ex-spouse.”

Family violence creates a home environment where children live in constant fear. We know that boys who witness their mother’s abuse are more likely to batter their female partners as adults than boys raised in non-violent homes. Girls who witness their mother’s abuse may grow up to believe that threats and violence are the norm in relationships, and perhaps the most chilling of statistics, 63% of adolescent boys who commit homicide, kill their mother’s abuser.  Children who witness violence suffer the same consequences as those who are directly abused.  In other words, a child who witnesses spousal violence is experiencing a form of child abuse.

Studies, unequivocally, show that the precursors of domestic violence occur in childhood and adolescence. Children and youth learn relationship skills and social behaviours from their parents and other family members.  A high proportion of children who witness or experience violent relationships in childhood go on to perpetuate these patterns in adulthood.  A growing body of research shows that domestic violence is often preceded by dating violence in adolescence which is, in turn, often preceded by bullying and aggression in childhood and early adolescence. The lessons of power and bullying learned in the playground are often refined and intensified into domestic abuse as adults.

Violence Prevention

Violence prevention programs in junior and senior high have had extremely positive results. According to the Canadian Women’s Foundation:

  • Eighty-three percent of teens who participated in a violence prevention program said they learned how to recognize an abusive relationship and now know what to do if they or someone they know is being abused
  • Sixty percent used these new skills in their own dating relationships and credited the program with helping them to choose the right partner or leave an unhealthy relationship
  • Sixty percent of students in a high school with a violence prevention program noticed a decrease in violence and bullying in their school and in the broader community.

Domestic and gender violence are complex and intractable social problems that cannot be easily solved.  But the cycle of violence can be broken.  By helping our young people learn positive healthy relationship skills we can help end the cycle.

Shelley L Magnusson

The Alberta Teachers’ Association