Reframing the discussion about domestic violence

We all need to take responsibility in addressing this societal issue

According to the Ending Violence Association of BC (EVA), based on numbers compiled from Statistics Canada, over half of women in this province have experienced physical or sexual violence since they turned 16 years of age.

Every year there are over 60,000 physical or sexual assaults against women in B.C. That’s more than 1,100 per week.

In 2006, 12 per cent of all prosecutions in B.C. courts were domestic violence cases, not including those returning to court on breaches of orders as a result of prosecution for domestic violence – that’s one in every eight cases seen by a judge – and only about a quarter of domestic abuse cases are reported.

The overwhelming majority of these abuses and assaults are perpetrated by men.

“This is not a women’s issue. This is a men’s issue,” says Gloria Jackson, Coordinator of Community Based Victim Services for the Campbell River Family Services Society.

“Most men aren’t violent,” Jackson says. “We know that. It’s only a small proportion of men (who are). The other good men have to start standing up and saying to their buddies, their sons, their peers, ‘hey, that’s not okay,’ or ‘what you just said isn’t funny,’” when they see attitudes of sexism or denigration happening.

One of the main issues in addressing this societal problem, according to Jackson, is that we just don’t have a good understanding of what “violence” actually is.

“Lots of people think about it as that woman with the black eye or the broken arm,” Jackson says. “The reality is that as much as I see that kind of abuse, some of the women that I really see damaged in my office are the ones who have been putting up with emotional abuse for years – the ones who have been called down and had somebody control them. That’s what violence is about.

“It’s about power and control.”

Allan Campbell, Manager of the Mental Health and Addictions Program with KDC Health, and facilitator of various relationship violence groups, agrees with Jackson in regards to the power dynamic being the main driver in violent behaviour.

“The core of this issue is that the perpetrator of violence is seeking to place themselves in a dominant role,” he says. Campbell understands the “it’s a men’s issue,” argument – considering that the overwhelming majority of the perpetrators are men – but feels the argument should be framed differently.

“We need to change it from a ‘him’ or ‘her’ issue to an ‘us’ or ‘we’ point of view,” Campbell says. “Relationships are interactions between people. They’re not a ‘one side or the other’ situation, so it’s not the responsibility of one side or the other to fix it.”

He feels that, although we’re making progress on this issue as a society, the major shift won’t happen until we change the cultural attitude towards these relationship power dynamics.

The foundation of violence lies not only in the aspect of one person pursuing dominance over another, he says, but in why that attitude exists in the first place.

“As a society, we have these long-standing distorted beliefs and value systems,” Campbell says. These belief systems preserve a sense of entitlement by some – mainly men – and create a regularly-portrayed understanding that we can resolve issues by dominating other people.

“Those messages, however subtle they might be, are passed to our children,” he says. “We need to make a conscious effort to teach our kids the right things about respect and communication, and examine how these other damaging messages are perpetuated.”

The one thing that is clear is that violence against women is not a women’s issue.

It’s a societal issue and we all need to be a part of the solution.