The Colour Purple:
Learning about Family Violence Prevention Month
This month, I have been thinking about families and family violence because November is Family Violence Prevention Month. It is difficult for those of us who have been privileged to grow up in relatively happy and functional families, where abuse and violence did not occur (often or much) to understand the experience of dysfunctional families. As Tolstoy wrote in Anna Karenina, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” This is very true. As we observe Family Violence Protection Month, let’s put away our preconceptions and stereotypes about family violence, learn that family violence is much more than spousal abuse, and equip ourselves to respond.
As lawyers, many of us are specialized and we may think that we are unlikely to encounter family violence if we don’t practice family or criminal law. I practiced in a narrow niche for many years, corporate human resources law—advising clients on all aspects of their employment relationships. But family violence still seeped into my narrow practice area, particularly family violence situations.
We called these situations “domestic spillover” and they arose when an employee was experiencing family violence. Sometimes an employee would advise their supervisor or manager that they had obtained a restraining order against a spouse or former spouse and wanted support in case the abuser tried to approach them at work. Or sometimes the employer had no knowledge of a domestic violence issue until an angry spouse arrived at the workplace and caused a scene. Our occupational health and safety legislation now requires employers to have workplace violence policies so that plans are in place for these types of issues. However, we do not know what percentage of employers have implemented these policies. There is still work to be done.
You may practice in an area where you don’t think you will experience family violence spillover. However, family violence can impact wills and estates matters, commercial transactions (where family members own a business), residential real estate deals, immigration matters and a variety ofP litigation files.
So, today’s blog features a short quiz about abuse within family relationships which you might encounter as a lawyer or as members of a community.
1. Most spousal abuse in the heterosexual community is physical violence by men against women. True or False
2. Intimate partner abuse is rare in the LGBTQ+ community because LGBTQ+ people do not abuse or sexually assault their lovers. True or False
3. Family abuse is about control. True or False.
4.Partner abuse is linked to gender and having masculine rather than female traits. True or False
5. Older people can experience physical, emotional, financial, sexual, or medical abuse. True or False
6. Family abuse is often an isolated incident. True or False
7. People with disabilities are more vulnerable to family abuse. True or False
8. Canadians whose partners are heavy drinkers (more than five or more drinks, five or more times per month) are six times more likely to experience spousal violence than those whose partners never drank more than five drinks. True or False
9. A child taking on adult responsibilities may be a sign that the child is experiencing abuse. True or False
10. The killing of an intimate partner accounts for 10 % of all homicides. True or False
Bonus question: what colour ribbons are associated with family violence prevention?
Let’s see how we did:
1. Most spousal abuse in the heterosexual community is physical violence by men against women. True
It is true that there are more reports of violence against women than men in heterosexual relationships. However, about 6% of Canadian men (500,000 individuals) have experienced abuse or violence from a female partner. Learn more about men abused by women.
Family violence frequently involves a pattern of attempting to control a partner and it can take many forms—physical violence are just two manifestations.
2. Intimate partner abuse is rare in the LGBTQ+ community because LGBTQ+ people do not abuse or sexually assault their lovers. False
This is a myth that can be used by abusers to dissuade partners from reporting abuse, that no one will believe them because LGBTQ+ people just don’t do this. In fact, between one-quarter and one-third of people in LGBTQ+ relationships have experienced abuse from partners or on dates. Learn more here.
3. Family abuse is about control and power. True
Family abuse can take many forms—physical, emotional, sexual, financial, emotional, spiritual—but is based in abuse of power.
4. Partner abuse is linked to gender and having masculine rather than female traits. False
Abuse of partners is not limited to being male or having masculine traits. It is also not determined or by age, ethnicity, income level, marital status, or religion.
5. Older people can experience physical, emotional, financial, sexual, or medical abuse. True
Older adults can experience a range of types of abuse, and they are less likely to report abuse to police. There are patterns of abuse within the category of abuse of older individuals. Older women are more likely to be abused by their spouses, while older men are more likely to be abused by adult children.
6. Family abuse is often an isolated incident. False
While people outside of a family may believe that an abuse incident is isolated, family abuse often occurs over months and years and generally becomes more serious and more frequent over time.
7. People with disabilities are more vulnerable to family abuse. True
People with disabilities, whether physical, mental, or emotional, are about 50% more likely to experience abuse. They may be at greater risk because of isolation, myths about disabilities and dependency on the abuser. Learn more.
8. Canadians whose partners are heavy drinkers (more than 5 or more drinks 5 or more times per month) are six times more likely to experience spousal violence than those whose partners never drank more than 5 drinks. True
Partners of heavy drinkers are more likely to experience violence. Learn more here. Children in homes where violence and substance abuse occur are more likely to have learning and behavioural problems at school, self-esteem issues, and physical and mental health issues.
9. A child taking on adult responsibilities may be a sign that the child is experiencing abuse. True
Children who experience abuse may take on responsibilities like taking care of younger children and household tasks and may take on “looking after” a parent. Learn more about signs that a child may be in an abusive environment.
10. The killing of an intimate partner accounts for 10 % of all homicides. False
Intimate partner homicides account for one in five homicides—20 %.
Bonus question: the colour associated with Family Violence Protection Month is purple. Please wear purple in support of this awareness campaign.
This year, please join me in learning more about family violence in Alberta. The information in this blog post comes from Alberta government websites. Understanding what family violence is and all the ways it can manifest itself is the first step in prevention.
Today, twenty Assist supporters attended an information session with Sagesse, an Alberta not-for-profit that empowers Alberta communities to break the cycle of domestic violence, using REALTalk, Recognizing, Empathizing, Asking and Listening. Please visit Sagesse’s website and consider whether your workplace would benefit from REALTalk training.
Here are some more ways you can learn more and encourage others to learn more:
- Visit the Government of Alberta website, or the Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters website, to see a list of available supports such as Family Violence Info Line (online) chat, emergency shelters, and more.
- A few shelters of note:
- The government of Alberta provides a toll-free Family Violence Info Line. Call 310-1818 to get help 24/7 in over 170 languages.
- LESA is holding a program Understanding Domestic Violence and Coercive Control for Family Lawyers offered in collaboration with the Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters (ACWS) in Edmonton, as well as virtually for the rest of the province.
- Watch or listen to the ACWS Legal Matters Podcast: Changes to the Divorce Act discussing recent changes to the Divorce Act and what legal professionals working in family law need to know about coercive controlling violence.
- Consider posting to social media using the hashtags #GoPurpleAB and #WhereToTurn with shareable social media graphics.
- Search Twitter with the hashtag #WhereToTurn for additional supports and resources throughout the province.
- Learn about campaigns in Alberta communities:
- St. Albert - Paint the Town Purple campaign for SAiF families.
- Support the Sonshine Centre with a barre class on November 20th at KinFit
- Free Seminar at the YMCA - Taking Care: Physical and Mental Well-Being For Families During Separation And Divorce
- Calgary Women's Emergency Shelter's Men&, a digital resource for the complex challenges of men’s mental and relational health.
- Morinville – Light in the Window Campaign for the Jessica Martel Memorial Foundation on November 30.
If you encounter a family violence situation, please help:
- If a person is in immediate danger, call 911
- If you believe that a child is being abused, call 1-800-387-KIDS (5437)
- If you believe that an older adult or any other person is being abused, call 310-1818 (the Family Violence Info Line) for help 24/7 in over 170 languages
Finally, please learn the hand signal indicating that someone is a victim of family violence and needs help:
Thank you for reading this—this was a long post. But by learning more and being aware, we can make a difference in people’s lives.