Canada’s family violence rates are staggering, says new report

Family violence takes many forms, and is often hard to identify. Scott Olson/The Canadian Press

Family violence statistics in Canada are staggering, leaving some families in crisis, according to a new report from Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer on the complicated and often avoided topic.

The term family violence is applied to a range of behaviours including neglect, along with physical, sexual, emotional and financial abuse.

READ MORE: Why Canada still has a long way to go in tackling domestic abuse

The report takes a hard look at reported instances of family violence, and explores the challenging job of identifying, preventing or stopping the violence.

“For many, this report may be difficult and disturbing to read,” states the report’s introduction by Dr. Gregory Taylor, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer.

The effects of family violence can be long-lasting and often invisible to others.

“Family violence impacts health beyond just immediate physical injury, and increases the risk for a number of conditions, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as high blood pressure, cancer and heart disease,” Taylor writes.

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The report’s key findings are disturbing.

  • An average of 172 homicides are committed every year by a family member.
  • For approximately 85,000 victims of violent crimes, the person responsible for the crime was a family member.
  • Just under 9 million, or about one-in-three, Canadians said they had experienced abuse before the age of 15.
  • Just under 760,000 Canadians said they had experienced unhealthy spousal conflict, abuse or violence in the previous five years.
  • More than 766,000 older Canadians said they had experienced abuse or neglect in the previous year.
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In 2014, there were 516 homicides in Canada. A third of those, 131 victims, were killed by a family member. In infant or child deaths, a parent is usually accused of the crime. Women are more likely than men to be killed by their spouse or partner.

READ MORE: 73% of Canadian women and children who seek emergency shelter are turned away: survey

Also in 2014, 133,920 Canadians reported being the victim of dating or family violence, and the majority of victims were women.

Overall, women — particularly indigenous women — people with disabilities, and those who identify as LGBTQ are at higher risk for family violence.

It’s important to note that people are often hesitant to discuss family violence, and it often goes unreported. While it’s hard for some to believe a person would stay in an abusive situation there are many reasons why they do: out of fear for themselves or other family members, emotional or financial dependence on an abuser, or due to feelings of shame or denial.

“Despite the work of many researchers, health care professionals, organizations and communities, we still do not have a good understanding of why family violence happens, nor do we know how best to intervene,” Dr. Taylor writes.

Economic impact of family violence

There have been limited studies examining the economic impact of family violence, but older data indicates it costs Canadians billions every year.

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Data from 1998 showed that child abuse and neglect costs Canadians nearly $16 billion per year, the report states. Spousal violence costs Canadians almost $7.4 billion per year, according to data from 2009.

READ MORE: Why Canada still has a long way to go in tackling domestic abuse

The costs are related to lost earnings, judicial costs, health costs, and “intangible” costs, “an estimate of how much pain, suffering and loss of life that is caused by spousal violence costs Canadians.”

You can read the full report: State of Public Health in Canada 2016: A Focus on Family Violence in Canada, here.

Here are some resources for those in need:

Canadian Mental Health Association
Child Welfare League of Canada
Public Health Agency of Canada, Family Violence Prevention Team, Centre for Health Promotion & Family Violence Initiative
Neighbours Friends & Families

If you are in immediate danger, call 911

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