Sonia Andhi Billkhu

I have just finished reading “Making Sense of a Global Pandemic: Relationship Violence & Working Together Towards a Violence Free Society”, authored by Dr Balbir Gurm and her team from NEVR (Network to Eliminate Violence in relationships). It is a compendium of resources, terminology and understanding of relationship violence. As a social worker, family counsellor and community organizer, I cannot say enough about how valuable this is for all practitioners, be it child protection workers, law enforcement, physicians, nurses, teachers and the general public.

This book is also a comprehensive resource with the latest research and statistics that can be utilized for community projects and initiatives. When you see the following numbers on paper, they offer a stark reminder of the cost of relationship violence and the need for early intervention. “… in a report for Justice Canada, estimates of the economic cost of relationship violence against adults may be as high as $15 billion. This estimate does not include “cumulative, compounding, long-term institutional costs—educational, workplace-related, medical and mental health, drug and alcohol therapeutic, legal— when we fail to intervene early and effectively in RV cases (Neilson, 2013). The Canadian Department of Justice (2012) estimated the financial cost of spousal violence in 2009 to be $7.4 billion.”

This is a thoroughly researched book that provides the most current understanding of relationship violence. It offers clear and unbiased descriptions of various forms of relationship violence, whether it is spousal, against children, in the workplace or against older adults. I was particularly impressed by the approach that Dr. Gurm has taken to address the difficult subject of violence against women and its positioning in contrast with violence against men, as there is growing concern about the incidence of men experiencing violence in relationships and how the same issues of stigma, fear of retaliation and consequences prevent the victims from coming forth. She also encourages the reader to ensure there is “Fair representation of gender violence and critical interpretation of the statistics and numbers reported”.

While most front line workers in this field are aware of services and protocol, this book is a detailed source for knowing exactly what to expect from the time you make a crisis call to making a court appearance or exploring other avenues of remediation. (Chapter 10- Navigating the System). It is an easy to read book with sufficient references and links to enrich our learning and understanding of violence in relationships. This book is so rich in information that as I was reading it, I was taking notes and highlighting areas for my own practice and thinking of how each chapter would make an informative presentation in itself.

This is a living document, not only in terms of the extensive list of the most current services being provided but also as a testament to the work of NEVR and its members as a collaborative community effort to end violence in relationships. “At NEVR meetings the facilitator ensures each individual at the meeting is respected and provided an equal opportunity to voice their opinion and the decisions are made from an inclusion perspective.” I have seen this practiced by Dr. Gurm at NEVR meetings and it is a reminder for us to translate theory into practice by creating true safety and respect for all. The book is also an invitation for practitioners to see how equity, cultural safety, AI (Appreciative Inquiry) and PAR (Participatory Action Research) can be incorporated into all our roles. I appreciated how the role of the service provider was acknowledged as essential to reducing relationship violence and also how the needs and vicarious trauma of the service provider have to be acknowledged. “

From the cultural safety perspective when working with survivors, one of the goals of NEVR is to ensure no harm is done to the service provider, and their specific current situation and any historical oppressions are considered. Although originally developed to work with individuals, cultural safety applies to work between groups, organizations, and communities. Emphasis is placed on the desires of the service provider, and where they are positioned in terms of family, workplace, and community roles and dynamics. This is respectful and empowering to the service providers who may also face their own institutional or political challenges and oppression. It is recommended that this approach also be carried out with survivors and offenders.”

There are countless nuggets in this book. Two that particularly stood out for me were:

“There are many reasons for not reporting. It is time to switch the question from why do victims not leave to why do people abuse? And why does society continue to normalize and accept relationship violence? Society still continues to blame the victim and question their behaviour.” (Chapter 8).

“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” (Chapter 25).

The book has been masterfully created by Dr. Gurm and other respected contributors so that while dealing with the heavy topic of relationship violence, you are left with a sense of inspiration and hope that you can seek solutions through self-reflection, collaboration, advocacy and action.

I would highly recommend that this resource becomes a part of all front line workers’, academics’, policy makers’ and community groups’ toolkit for effective work in the area of relationship violence.

Sonia Andhi Bilkhu

Social Worker, Fraser Health Authority and Project Parent Fraser South

Founder and President Shakti Society