November is Domestic Violence Prevention Month. But I wonder: do we as a society simply accept and manage this violence? Could we not work to really prevent domestic violence?
First, let’s acknowledge the problem. Information is readily available from sources like the Manitoba Association of Women’s Shelters and the Manitoba government.
One in 10 women in Canada every year is physically harmed by her partner. Domestic violence occurs across our society: in every racial, ethnic, social, economic and age group. And domestic violence affects more than those directly involved. It imposes a social and financial burden on all citizens.
Aboriginal women are much more likely than non-aboriginals to be victims of domestic violence. Partners of aboriginal women are much more likely to sexually assault them. And these partners are also much more likely to inflict the most severe and potentially life-threatening forms of violence.
Interestingly, perpetrators of domestic violence are not usually violent outside their own homes. They are violent at home because they feel entitled to exert power over their partners.
Women affected by violence can turn to a number of resources for help. These include websites, crisis phone lines, counselling services and emergency shelters.
The Manitoba government advises women living in violent homes to create a protection plan. One step is for the woman to become familiar with how her partner behaves during the time before he attacks her. Another step is to list all possible escape routes in case she needs to quickly flee her home.
But, again, do we as a society just accept this ongoing domestic violence? What about actual prevention?
Simply put, we have two things going on here. First, we have some men behaving badly. Second, we have women getting into relationships with these men.
Of course, there is a responsibility for men to change. And we have seen great long-term social change since the 1970s — when domestic violence was first recognized as an issue. But women can’t wait for the long-term. Right now, the onus must be on women to not get into violent relationships in the first place.
Because after a relationship is established, it can be very difficult for a woman to leave. She may be economically or emotionally dependent on her partner. Children may be involved. But by then the situation can be really dangerous. A man often becomes even more violent after his partner has left.
An innovative program in the U.S. deserves attention. In Maryland, a simple set of questions is used to determine when domestic violence is likely to escalate to homicide.
For example, a man hitting his partner indicates he will probably hit her again. But a man choking his partner indicates he is five times more likely to eventually kill her.
This questionnaire has had dramatic results. More than any other state, Maryland has greatly reduced domestic homicides.
Could we in Manitoba create a program inspired by the Maryland questionnaire? Could we use a questionnaire as a tool to prevent domestic violence before it even starts?
The key would be to have this new questionnaire widely available and used before relationships develop. A chance for a woman to consider options: after she is first meeting a man, but before she is running for her life.
The questionnaire could start by asking about previous relationships. Has there been violence before? If so, there is an urgent need for information and counselling to help stop this pattern. Very important here is to help a woman understand when a man who appears to be lovingly attentive is in fact dangerously controlling.
Then there could be questions all women should ask about the suitability of any man as a potential partner. For example, does he:
• Control his anger?
• Treat women respectfully?
• Use alcohol with care?
The questionnaire could also address the specific concerns of aboriginal women. Why are aboriginal women much more likely to get into relationships where they are attacked by their partners? And attacked not only much more frequently, but also much more violently?
Of course, human relationships are complicated. But we must learn how to help women detect and not excuse bad behaviour in men. We must help women — before they get too involved — to recognize and back away from disrespectful, angry, violent men.
Let’s not just accept the status quo. Let’s really prevent domestic violence.
» David McConkey is an active citizen. Contact him and read previous columns.