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Family Violence

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Family violence is usually related to an imbalance of power between the sexes. It affects all age and economic groups as well as all cultures and geographic regions.

Historically, violence against women by their husbands has been condoned. As an example, a man could beat his wife with a stick, provided it was no wider than his finger. this was known as "the rule of thumb." Sex was also a right of the husband. these ideas reflected the general view of society that the wife was subordinate to and the property of her husband. As a result, she was to be treated and punished as he saw fit.

In contrast, we are just beginning to hear about husband abuse. Some believe it is a reactionary problem, brought on by years of mental and physical abuse by the victim. Others feel it has something to do with inequalities in power, much in line with wife abuse theories. The difference, however, is that the wife has assumed the "traditional" dominant husband role.

The bottom line remains - family violence is a societal problem. It reflects such attitudes as sexism and the tolerance of violence. It is a problem that demands our concern and attention.


There is no stereotypical victim or abuser. The evidence, however, suggests that the risk of violence within the home is one thing women, regardless of their social position or race, have in common.

It is estimated that no fewer than 1 in 10 Canadian women are assaulted by their husband or partner. Family violence accounts for 60% of female homicides. What is even more alarming is that the statistics only touch the surface of the spousal assault problem. Marital violence continues to be a largely hidden and denied problem. In fact, by the time an assault is actually reported, it can be assumed that several assaults have already occurred.

There seems to be a general fear in the community that if we admit that family violence occurs, we are also challenging the very idea of what family means - mainly love, safety and security. For men, there is a further stigma attached to being abused. There is still a general belief that a man cannot be assaulted by his partner. Victims, as a result, are reluctant to report offences. Related reasons for not reporting are varied and can include: loyalty to spouse and family; guilt and shame; loss of economic support and perceived negative response of the police.

Men who abuse their wives were often abused as children or witnesses abuse of other family members. women, who are victims of family violence, will often report being abused as children or were witness to it too.

The consequences can be far-reaching. Research indicates that family violence may be linked to subsequent alcohol and/or drug abuse, delinquency and violence, mental health problems and suicide. If we accept that those individuals who abuse were abused as children or were witness to it, we can expect the circle to continue into the next generation.


The word "family suggests a place of safety and security where its members can find comfort from the pressures and difficulties of the outside world. It is thought to be a place where all can live in harmony. Recent studies indicate otherwise. A great deal of violence occurs in the home with most directed towards women.

At a basic level, SPOUSAL ABUSE may include: physical and sexual assault; emotional and psychological intimidation; degradation; deprivation and exploitation by a partner. Physical consequences are varied. There may be broken bones, bruises, disfigurement or death as a result of abuse. In many cases, the physical attack is accompanied by sexual violence.

Spousal abuse also leaves long-lasting emotional and psychological scars. Victims may suffer feelings of terror, depression, loss of self-esteem, hopelessness, shame and isolation.

The policy of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police defines SPOUSAL ASSAULT as a "criminal act of violence or series of acts which causes injury to a spousal or common-law partner."

The Criminal Code of Canada provides definitions pertaining to assault and sexual assault.

For example:


While alcohol is frequently assumed to be a cause of spousal abuse, this is only one contributing factor.

Women may think their actions have something to do with provoking the abuse. They may try to change their behaviour in order to avoid these situations. In reality, there is little or nothing they can do in this regard.

Some will remain in an abusive home out of concern for the children (i.e. they "need" a father). However, studies have shown that violence has a significant effect on them. As well, fear and guilt are common reactions of children. They may think they could have prevented the situation in some way or were responsible for it. The children may be emotionally damaged by witnessing ongoing violence. There is considerable evidence to support the "cycle of violence" theory - those individuals who were subject to or witnesses abuse as children may become abusers as adults.

Some women do, in fact, leave immediately. They often return though, in the hope that their husband has changed, the battering will stop and the marriage will continue. For many, the choice is between this life or a life of poverty and fear for not only herself but also, her children. If a woman is fortunate enough to have somewhere to go as well as the support of family and friends, she probably has little or no financial resources at her disposal. It is still a reality that there simply are not enough community options available to victims of family violence.


In recent years, the Criminal Code of Canada and the Canada Evidence Act have been amended to make spousal assault a criminal offence. It is in everyone's interest to be aware of the new legislation as well as our rights and responsibilities under the law. SPOUSAL ASSAULT IS A CRIME.

Law now exist that provide protection for victims as well as sanctions for batterers. This reflects the change in society that family violence will no longer be tolerated. Prosecution policies and guidelines are in place to ensure charges proceed in court. However, family violence is not simply a legal problem - it is a social one. Not only must attitudes towards women change but also, what our concept of "family" is.

Effective legal response, however, requires co-ordination by all levels of the criminal justice system. The police are usually the first and major contact in spousal assault cases, given the nature of the incident.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police introduced formal policy in 1984 specifically instructing its members to lay charges in all cases of spousal assault where there are "reasonable and probable grounds" an assault occurred. The assaultive partner may be charged under the assault sections of the Criminal Code of Canada. Not only does this highlight the criminal nature of the act, it takes the burden away from the victim to lay charges.

The police also have the power to arrest an offender if the other party has been injured or they believe the assaults may continue. Individuals can also apply for a peace bond or restraining order to prohibit their partners from threatening or harassing them further.


There are a number of programs in place covering public education, the training of front-line workers and the development of community resources to help victims. Many police departments operate victim support/crisis units which can be of assistance in both information and referrals.

Health and Welfare Canada and the National Clearinghouse on Family Violence can provide information and education on spousal assault. They also provide specific information for multicultural and ethnic populations. This recognizes that while wife abuse if universal, the "symptoms" may not necessarily be so.

In the correctional system, there are a number of programs which address the needs of inmates with a history of family violence. As examples, there are living skills' programs and support groups to assist offenders in stopping the violence. Victims of violence may participate in programs in an effort to overcome the trauma brought on by abuse. As well, they learn how to prevent or escape such situations in the future.

Many communities operate transition and "safe houses" in addition to emergency shelters. These provide temporary protection and support for women and children. They can also offer information on other resources which may be available in the community, including crisis lines and support groups.




Furthermore, we should ALL acknowledge that leaving an abusive situation is an act of considerable courage and strength.


Family violence is a complex problem that requires the involvement of us all. Assisting spousal assault victims cuts across many service systems and institutions and demands a co-ordinated response to a complex need. All of us can make a difference by acting when incidents of violence become known to us. We must also challenge the values and assumptions that underlie family violence.


For more information, please contact:

RCMP Headquarters
Community, Contract and Aboriginal Policing Directorate
1200 Vanier Parkway
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0R2
Tel: (613) 993-8443
E-mail: [email protected]

or your local RCMP Detachment

� RCMP- Community, Contract and Aboriginal Policing Services (1992).
ISBN 0-662-59169-0
Cat. # JS63-6/1-1992

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