According to the statistics in the Canada Family Violence Report (2009), out of all victims accounted for in family violence, 87% are females; and the highest rates of harassment are in the age group between 25 – 34 years. Aboriginal people were three times more likely to be victims of family violence than were those who were non-Aboriginal.
What is Family Violence? According to the BC Family Law Act, family violence includes physical or sexual abuse of a family member, an attempt to physically or sexually abuse a family member, or psychological/emotional abuse. In the case of a child, it can be direct or indirect exposure to family violence. The financial exploitation of a family member is also considered as abuse.
Most of the victims of family violence do not disclose or report the incidents of violence to anyone. It is very difficult for a victim to walk out of an abusive relationship. The abused person may deny the violence, consider it to be normal, or they are blaming him or herself for the abuse. If and when the abused person tries to seek help, the friends and family may not be supportive. There are chances that the abused person may leave and return several times to the abusive relationship.
Many reasons can affect the decision of a victim to leave an abusive relationship. It can be low self-esteem, fear of the partner, financial dependence, blaming own self, trying to keep the family together, trying to help the partner on promises to change, family pressure or pressure from children, cultural factors, fear of court, or the stigma in society. Many victims may not want to walk out of the relationship because they still love their partners. Immigrant and refugee women often experience additional problems like insecurity in a new country, fear of deportation, language barriers, etc.
A harassing conduct by an abuser, including unwanted attention, threats or actions, which make the victim afraid of their safety, is a criminal offence in Canada. It includes contacting repeatedly- directly or indirectly, making phone calls and leaving threatening messages, stalking, threatening to destroy property or pets, or making rude or obscene gestures.
The common characteristics of abusers is their need to control others, displacing anger onto others, their unrealistic expectations of the spouse, lack of empathy towards the victim, substance abuse may be involved, previously experienced or witnessed violence, low self-esteem, the inability to trust people, excessively possessive or dependant on victim, or being extremely jealous. The abusers often try to justify their actions by denial or trying to minimize blame when confronted.
The children involved in these situations have a long term impact on them, whether the abuse is direct or indirect. The children can have behavioural, emotional, physical, cognitive or social impacts on them. Section 37 of the BC Family Law Act includes as a part of the best interests of child determination, the impact of family violence on a child’s safety, security or well-being. It is also determination of the capacity of the abuser to appropriately care for the child and other safety risks while determining parenting arrangements.
The victims of abuse must make a safety plan for their own protection as well as the protection of their loved ones. The plan should include what to do and where to meet in case the victim and the children have to leave in a hurry; and emergency bag; photocopies of important documents; some money; extra set of keys etc. The victims should keep a diary and records of all the abuse and harassment. If the harassment or abuse continues, the police should be informed.
The victims can restrict the contact by the abuser by seeking court orders available in various forms, such as probation orders, conditional sentence order, restraining order or peace bond. These orders are pronounced when criminal charges are laid against the abuser.
A victim or any other family member on behalf of the victim can apply for protection orders under the Family Law Act. These orders specifically address safety concerns due to family violence. It is an effort to prevent family violence, and can be enforced criminally under the Criminal Code of Canada. There can be conditions on the use of alcohol or drugs, possession of firearms or a requirement to report to a probation officer or police. The court can also order the abuser to attend counselling sessions and programs.
If you or your children or any other family member is witnessing family violence in any form, you need to identify its impacts and contact a support person for help. The support person can be a lawyer. Our firm offers a free initial half hour consult, where we can guide you to your available options.