Note from the Editors
For some, it has taken a pandemic to bring to light the fact that many people are not “safe at home”. FDRIO has always been a leading advocate for the need to take gender-based violence and risk seriously in the FDR context, and in that context, welcome to this month’s newsletter.
It has been almost 40 years since the members of the House of Commons laughed at MP Margaret Mitchell’s assertion that one in 10 Canadian men beat their wives regularly. While MPs might not laugh at the same comment today, effective responses still elude us. In many ways, our tolerance of gender-based violence is more insidious in 2020: we say the right things, but we don’t do them.
For this issue, our editorial team is joined by Pamela Cross, a Canadian feminist lawyer and expert in legal advocacy and training in the areas of gender-based violence (GBV), intimate partner violence (IPV) and domestic violence (DV).
As family professionals, we regularly see violence and other types of abuse in families as well as the first and second-hand effects. Repeated patterns of abuse may leave us with a sense of fatigue and despair.
Sometimes, the police and media can increase our feelings of helplessness, calling these deaths “senseless” or assuring us that “the public is not at risk”, when we know these deaths are highly predictable and preventable. Women and children who die in their homes aremembers of the public, and as Nova Scotia’s recent mass murder shows us, we are all at risk, not just the intimate partner and children. Effective screening can let you know when your client (and you) require protection, but what next? This edition of the Newsletter offers some programs, approaches and best practices that FDR professionals can use to connect clients to services that can help at an individual level.
But what about the big picture? These types of violence permeate across cultures and across the globe. What does it take for a country or culture to reduce its acceptance of intimate partner violence, domestic violence and sexual assault and then reduce its incidence?
First, see the connection – did you ask yourself why sexual assault was included in the last paragraph? Because power imbalances – differences in physical, social and financial capital – and abusive behaviour go hand in hand. We must make the connection between violence and inequality. We now know that a mandatory police charge is not enough. Sometimes, it is the right thing, but not always. Sometimes it’s a hammer that shatters a marginally coping family and leaves them financially and emotionally distraught. Sometimes it’s a lonely and desperately isolating trial for the victim. Canada can and must do better.
It is important to understand that an abuser can manipulate family law proceedings – whether that is litigation or ADR – as part of their attempt to continue to intimidate and control their partner. There is no “one size fits all” approach to resolving family law disputes when one partner is afraid of the other; where there has been a history of coercive and controlling behaviour by one partner towards the other. Survivors of family violence need to be offered choices and supported in whatever decisions they make. Systems must be prepared to build plans to maximize the physical and emotional safety of those survivors and to stop the process if it is clear it is not working.
The Centers for Disease Control has an excellent technical policy manual called “Preventing Intimate Partner Violence Across the Lifespan” This research-rich resource confirms the link between IPV and other forms of violence (p.8) and early life experiences (p.9), and perpetration and victimization. It offers comprehensive, community based solutions, the most important theme of which is collaboration.
As FDR professionals we work with families and we can make a difference. We can:
- Attend (and encourage our colleagues to attend) professional training about gender-based violence and abuse and how it plays out in the family law context;
- Advocate for mandatory training for all professionals who may become involved with families where abuse and violence have been or are an issue, including lawyers, assessors and court staff;
- Apply that training to screen and support our clients;
- Build a comprehensive resource of GBV services and supports in our communities so we can make meaningful referrals for clients whose needs go beyond our areas of expertise, professional responsibility or personal comfort;
- Speak out for adequate funding for services for GBV survivors, including shelters, the Family Court Support Worker Program and sexual assault centres;
- Make sure that,as a political issue,your support is clear to all political parties;
- Engage with GBV services in our own communities: organize and/or participate in lunch and learn sessions, attend organizations’ AGMs, offer pro bono professional services to clients of these agencies;
- Challenge whenever we hear or see words, behaviours or actions that are sexist, harassing, abusive or violent, even if it is uncomfortable for us to do so.
Improvements have been incremental, but we can help to reach a tipping point to create a world and families where everyone can be safe at home.
Anne Marie Predko and Pamela Cross
FDRIO Newsletter Editors