Relationship violence is a global pandemic that is a violation of human rights with grave consequences for health and well-being. Yet, it does not get the resources and attention that are given to other pandemics (e.g., COVID-19). The majority of resources directed at RV are to support women survivors of abuse in heterosexual relationships, however, this further invisiblizes the experience of other survivors and as such these groups LGBTQ2SIA+; men; Indigenous; immigrant (to name just a few) receive not just less attention but also fewer resources. RV services also primarily focus on IPV and not on other practices such as honour killings and genital mutilation. We believe it is essential to address all relationship violence. How do we tackle this issue? How do we create a violence-free society?
As a global pandemic, RV is very complex and requires citizens, all levels of government, academics, non-profit, public and private sector agencies to work together. It is a severe social health challenge, a pandemic that requires an intersectional and global response. Although the World Health Organization (WHO), unions and non-profit organizations have called for societal responses, there is no unified response such as that which occurs with other pandemics. Is it because relationship violence is seen as more prevalent in females and vulnerable populations and is seen as an issue for women or those specific populations that are considered not privileged? Is it because those in power (mainly men) lack the will to change the status quo, or is it just ingrained in our society? It is most likely a combination of all these factors.
Since RV can impact anyone, anywhere, we postulate that RV is a result of internalized cultural norms (understandings) of power and privilege and relationships that are perpetuated through complex societal systems. Drawing on the work of Foucault (1977), there is an interplay between what is considered true or knowledge, and power and privilege. Quite often those with power and privilege decide what is truth and perpetuate that truth. Then, this truth is internalized and reproduced by all of society (including legislation) at which point it becomes an accepted fact.
…this power is not exercised simply as an obligation or a prohibition on those who ‘do not have it’; it invests them, is transmitted by them and through them; it exerts pressure upon them, just as they themselves, in their struggle against it, resist the grip it has on them. This means that these relations go right down into the depths of society, that they are not localized in the relations between the state and its citizens or on the frontier between classes and that they do not merely reproduce, at the level of individuals, bodies, gestures and behaviour, the general form of the law or government; that, although there is continuity, they are indeed articulated on this form through a whole series of complex mechanisms (Foucault, 1977, p. 27).
Relationship violence is entangled in power and privilege that is embedded in every aspect of society. If there is a relationship between power and knowledge, then how can we address this issue? Many who have experienced racism and witnessed RV and tried to address it over decades believe it will not be eliminated for centuries to come (Gurm, 2018). This belief stems from the fact that RV is woven into every fabric of our society, and therefore, a global will and global action on changing society from one of power and privilege to equal power will be required. What is needed is for everyone to value each other’s knowledge and come to understand each other, what Gadamer (2004) called a “fusion of horizons” (p. 304). From a Gadamerian hermeneutic perspective, a horizon is an understanding a person is trying to have, to see better, to look beyond at the context within a larger society. We need to understand our own historical consciousness (and unconscious bias) and that of the other (Gadamer, 1989, p. 304). We need to try to constantly understand and see the prejudices that are in our society. If there is a societal will, and we do this for generations, we can work toward eliminating relationship violence from our structures, beliefs and our language.
Since this solution is very long term, for the short term, we need to use the socio-environmental model of health through intersectionality theory and cultural safety (see chapter 6) to address primary, secondary and tertiary prevention.
We brought together a common understanding of relationship violence across the lifespan and resources/links on one site. There are hundreds of thousands of publications and multimedia resources that are available through the internet in journals, books, organizations and government literature, so not all material could be included. We believe that we need to work with our technology experts to comb the sites and analyze the findings. There is good work being done in Canada to address RV, and we need to continue and do more. A few examples are:
Promoting Relationships and Eliminating Violence Network Canada’s collaboration site for bullying at Queens University. It is an example of an organization that has members from diverse academic fields and organizations. It has excellent information. This information needs a communication path for all organizations involved in the RV sector.
National Collaboration Centre for Indigenous Health is funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada. It is located at the University of Northern British Columbia. It brings together a multi-disciplinary team and Indigenous community to create resources to improve health outcomes. This is a good example of working across disciplines with communities.
Shift– is a centre to prevent domestic violence at the University of Calgary. It has a multi-disciplinary team that researches to create prevention initiatives; an excellent example of working across disciplines
The Canadian Domestic Homicide Prevention Initiative brings together the provinces to look at homicides. It is also an excellent resource and example of provinces working together.
Viergever et al. (2018) suggest that healthcare can take the lead and identify, support and refer individuals. They suggest that healthcare professionals answer two questions about the situation. “1) Is there a suspicion of VANE (V=violence, A=abuse, N=neglect, E=exploitation) and 2) is there acute or structural unsafety” (p. 2)? Not only should healthcare professionals ask these two questions, but all service providers should, and all should follow the decision tree below. If you answer no, there is no further action needed. If you answer yes to acute or structural unsafety, you need to report it to someone who can help or you need to gather further evidence and gather support yourself that the persons involved are willing to accept. See figure 25.1 for the steps.
Figure 25.1 Decision tree for RV from Viergever et al., (2018).
In the above figure, VANE is used where we have consistently used the term RV. These are the five steps that should be used by all service providers. They are based on the Netherlands but are applicable to our Canadian context and, like the Netherlands, we have mandatory reporting for children and for adults if there is imminent danger.
Crooks et al. (2020) agree that we need to collaborate. The various centres for relationship violence need to collaborate among themselves and ensure there is membership from multiple disciplines. Not only do we need to collaborate across disciplines, but we also need to collaborate with service providers, survivors and offenders. We need committees, like NEVR, but with resources and supports because it is difficult to get consistent attendance from service providers. Quite often, they are too busy providing services and can not fit one more thing into their busy day. As well, centres need to be linked to provincial, territorial and federal networks to ensure the development of effective, and resourced, policies.
We need to use technology to create a plan that analyzes the different resources and helps us identify best practices. Technology companies and experts can be strong allies and help create these programs to assist agencies and committees on the ground. This will help all stakeholders to be virtually connected with provinces, territories and countries and globally to address relationship violence. We need primary prevention programs for high risk pregnant moms and their families. As well, we need screening to identify and refer clients, and campaigns/media to promote healthy relationships and anti-violence programs until we have a violence-free society.
Looking back at the last decade we (society in general) have made progress in creating awareness about relationship violence, more specifically gender-based violence and its impacts on society. We have seen increased collaboration between diverse stakeholders and much more diversity among allies. There is a great deal more that needs to be done and we believe together we can create a society where everyone is respected and there is inclusion of diverse ideas and perspectives to create legislation, policies and multi-disciplinary interventions. This will lead to a violence-free and just society where human rights are respected.
We ask all of you to join us in these efforts. Together, we can make a difference.
Crooks, C., Jaffe, P., Dunlop. C., Kerry, A., Houston, B., Exner-Corten, D., & Wells, L. (2020). Primary prevention of violence against women and girls current knowledge about program effectiveness. Women and Gender Equality Canada. http://www.learningtoendabuse.ca/our-work/pdfs/Report-Crooks_Jaffe-Primary_Prevention_VAW_Update.pdf
Foucault, M. (1977). Discipline and punish: The birth of the prison. https://monoskop.org/images/4/43/Foucault_Michel_Discipline_and_Punish_The_Birth_of_the_Prison_1977_1995.pdf
Gadamer, H. G., Weinsheimer, J., & Marshall, D. G. (1989). EPZ truth and method. Translation revised by Weinsheimer, J., & Marshall, D.G. Continuum Publishing Group. https://mvlindsey.files.wordpress.com/2015/08/truth-and-method-gadamer-2004.pdf
Gurm, B. (2018). Healthy families: Services and solutions. Welcome address 8th annual NEVR Conference. Kwantlen Polytechnic University.
Viergever, R. F., Thorogood, N., Wolf, J. R., & Durand, M. A. (2018). Supporting ALL victims of violence, abuse, neglect or exploitation: Guidance for health providers. BMC Int Health Hum Rights 18, 39 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12914-018-0178-y