Awareness and Remembrance, Emerging Issues

Family Violence Is Drastically Harming Canadians’ Health

November 16, 2016

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 wanted 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?

Coworkers can make a big difference.

In Canada, over 50% of people who experienced partner violence said the violence also occurred at their workplace or near where they worked. As well, women were more likely than men to experience violence at work. This shows us that there is a lot that the workplace can do to help prevent incidents as well as assist those employees who are experiencing it.

There are definitely gaps in knowledge on how to address domestic violence in the workplace though, and beginning with educating everyone at work on the signs of domestic violence and ways to help is a great starting point.

Among some of the typical signs, people who are dealing with intimate partner violence might be frequently late for work or even miss a lot of days, they might be less productive, or they may have trouble concentrating.

Since having a job and being financially independent is an important pathway out of abuse, it’s crucial that we are providing the proper support networks for victims at work. This financial stability is often the main factor when it comes to a person’s decision whether or not to leave an abusive relationship. Having a stable job and income can make all the difference allowing someone being abused to end or leave the violent relationship.

Ensuring employers and co-workers are aware of what to do should any incidents occur at work will help protect everyone in the work setting, including the victim. Co-workers can also be affected by people experiencing this type of abuse since they can be stressed or upset about the situation.

A group of women working together. Text reads: ensuring employers and co-workers are aware of what to do should any incidents occur at work will help protect everyone in the work setting, including the victim

Every workplace should have a domestic violence workplace policy in place. The policies can help to not only prevent domestic abuse but will also properly support victims and their co-workers. While current rates do show that domestic violence hopefully appears to be decreasing in Canada, we need to work harder to protect everyone. Let’s work together to help end domestic violence.