A new study indicates that only 28 percent of domestic abuse victims call the police for help, and that men are only half as likely to report the abuse they receive than women.
Based on incidents that occurred between 1995 and 2004, the Statistics Canada report found that spousal abuse that is brought to the attention of the police is less likely to escalate to more serious forms of violence.
This is the first time that Statscan and the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics used police reports to analyze the patterns and characteristics of spousal offenders. Released last Thursday, the report also took into account data from a 2004 General Social Survey on victimization.
The report found that victims of spousal abuse tend to seek help more often if the violence is witnessed by children, and that Aboriginals are more likely to involve the police than their non-Aboriginal counterparts. Statscan also said that victims of abuse aged 35 and older were less likely to call the police than those aged 15 to 24.
Ellen Campbell, founder and Executive Director of the Canadian Centre for Abuse Awareness, says there are many reasons why people remain in abusive relationships, including an inability to act due to low self-esteem, a lack of financial resources, a reluctance to uproot children—or they're simply afraid to leave. She says many victims tend to have been abused as children, which leaves them with a much higher level of tolerance for abuse as adults.
"When they finally do leave there's tremendous guilt and fear, and unless they really get a strong support system in place, and unless they get some real good therapeutic help, they'll lots of times go back," says Campbell. The study also showed that women are twice as likely to report spousal abuse than men, something Earl Silverman, Program Coordinator with the Calgary-based Family of Men, calls the "John Wayne persona"—men are strong, and should be able to deal with abuse.
Silverman says another reason men report domestic abuse less than women do is because the police often misunderstand the situation and end up arresting the man—the victim of the abuse. He says he's heard from male victims of domestic violence who have been told by the police that if they call again they'll be arrested for causing a nuisance.
"The perception of the police is that men are bigger and stronger, so the man should be able to handle it and not rely on the police to come to the rescue," says Silverman.
The report says that while women are more likely to experience more serious forms of spousal violence than men, both sexes were equally likely to contact the police when the violence became very serious. He also notes that alcohol or drugs are involved in 80 percent of domestic violence in which the police are called.
While Silverman has been trying for 15 years—without much success—to persuade the Alberta government to provide funding for a shelter for male victims of domestic abuse, Campbell doesn't see that happening in Canada any time soon. But she is hopeful that more funding will be made available for men's support groups, because the prevalence of abuse by women against men is rising, and "there are no services for men at all."
The report found that while 50 percent of abuse involved physical force, weapons were used in only 12 percent of incidents. Of the 52 percent that sustained an injury in violent domestic altercations, over 90 percent were minor injuries. Four percent incurred major injuries and less than 1 percent of the injuries resulted in death.
A related 2005 Statscan report said that Aboriginal women were three times more likely to experience spousal violence than non-Aboriginals. Beverly Jacobs, President of the Native Women's Association of Canada, says that one of the many reasons Aboriginal women may be reluctant to leave an abusive relationship is that women living on reserves lose their right to the home if the couple separates, because provincial matrimonial laws don't apply on reserves.
Jacobs says that in the case of Aboriginal women, there are "a lot of layers of violence at every level" for various reasons, which have an impact on personal relationships. She said those fleeing abusive relationships often end up moving to urban centres where they live in poverty and continue in a cycle of violent relationships. As far as victim support services on reserves goes, Jacobs says it varies based on the "health of the community."
"We're actively wanting to deal with the issue of violence so that our communities are healthy," says Jacobs. "Because in most of our communities Aboriginal women are the backbone of our communities, and if they're healthy and they're teaching their children about their roles and responsibilities, then the children will be healthy. That's the cycle we want to see, and the strength that comes from that."