How can we put an end to family violence?

Family violence accounts for a third of violent crimes investigated by police in Canada. The prevalence of family violence is shocking in its own right, but the consequences extend far beyond the immediate physical and emotional damage: Family violence is one of the most potent risks for future social, physical and mental health problems.

“People underestimate not only the prevalence, but also the cost of family violence in Canadian society, says Katreena Scott, who researchers family violence prevention and intervention. “Recent Canadian estimates place the cost of domestic violence at $7.4 billion per year.”

That cost comes from many sources: Family violence typically manifests as ongoing, chronic trauma, which is associated with lower achievement and higher behaviour problems in school. It correlates with higher risk-taking behaviour such as drunk driving and promiscuous sexuality. With higher use of addictive substances, more criminality, increased rates of anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. With increased likelihood of violence in future relationships. And to top it off, family violence predicts higher rates of heart disease, diabetes, gastrointestinal problems and ultimately, earlier death.

“I examine how and why violence in family occurs, what can be done to change it,” says Scott. “I trace the pathways through childhood, adolescence and early adulthood that increase risk for violence. I also try to figure out how people overcome violence. How does a potentially violent person step off that pathway?”

Scott work’s to create programs that prevent and treat different forms of violence in relationships. She has developed programs aimed at everyone from new fathers to junior high school students. She tries to find out what kind of supports can prevent violence from being a part of the dynamic for couples and families.

She places a particular emphasis on reaching men.

“Many efforts to address relationship violence have focused on women and child victims,” she says. These are critically important initiatives, but we also need to figure out how better to engage men as partners in preventing violence.”

Currently, the names of victims and alleged perpetrators of domestic violence –Amanda Todd and Reteah Parsons, Jian Ghomeshi and Bill Cosby – dominate the news. Scott sees an opportunity to open new dialogues, and to highlight how Canada has become a significant source of innovation in family violence prevention and intervention.

Among other things, Scott hopes this renewed conversation will help better engage men and fathers in efforts to prevent and address family violence.

Katreena Scott

Katreena Scott

University of Toronto

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