StatsCan numbers tell far too many sad stories

Posted on October 10, 2008 in Child & Family Debates – living – StatsCan numbers tell far too many sad stories
Antonia Zerbisias. October 10, 2008

One can only imagine the sad stories behind the cold, hard numbers laid out yesterday by Statistics Canada in its latest report on family violence – some 38,000 incidents – in 2006.

The “highlights” don’t reveal much.

Was it drink? Drugs? Depression? Dire financial straits?

So much goes on behind closed doors, and in isolation.

How many immigrant women who speak no English and have nowhere to turn, suffer in silence? How many men are too ashamed to admit their wives conked them with a bottle? How many children lie to outsiders about their bruises?

Sixty children – that’s six-zero – under the age of 18 were killed by family members in 2006, with fathers far more likely to be the perpetrators.

Of course, it comes as no surprise that women are usually on the receiving end.

“In every province and territory, about eight in 10 victims of spousal violence were women in 2006,” says the report.

What’s more, averaged over the three previous decades, women are up to five times more likely to be killed by their partners than men – although there was an inexplicable bump, from 12 to 22, in how many men were killed in 2006 compared with previous years.

Men were also proportionately more likely to victims of “major assault” – which usually involves a weapon – than women, who are more prone to get beaten, stalked or threatened. But still, the absolute numbers of female victims is much greater, three times greater, 4,047 to 1,508.

“One possible explanation for this difference,” the report notes, ” is that while male perpetrators are more likely to use physical force in cases of spousal violence, females tend to rely on weapons.”

Yes, well, firing a gun or wielding a carving knife is more likely to attract attention than a fist to the jaw.

But that’s not to excuse, either.

There’s no question that there is violence against men, although it is not as brutal or as fatal. (Some of it is in self-defence, true.) And yet men are more likely to be charged when they’re the perpetrators. Meanwhile, when they’re the victims, they get less sympathy and less help.

The major tragedy is that things are really horrible in our aboriginal communities, on which too many of us turn our backs and blind eyes.

That’s apparent from the fact that fully 20 per cent of all violent crime in Nunavut reported to police was spousal violence, although Quebec saw the same percentage.

That said, Quebecers tend to go for more non-physical forms of violence – verbal abuse and stalking, for example – than actual battering and murder. Manitoba and Saskatchewan rank higher on the physical violence scale.

StatsCan also posits that, since domestic violence tends to be more prevalent among younger people and in common-law relationships, it could explain the difference between Quebec (where people tend to hook up more freely) and the other provinces.

The other possible explanation is that – and this is key – Quebecers tend to have a keener awareness of domestic violence.

Feminists there are highly organized and very influential, and so incidents are more likely to be reported.

Which brings us to the good news: Police-reported spousal homicide is trending downward, and steeply at that.

For example, in 1977, when records were first compiled, the femicide rate per million spouses was 13.6 per million. In 2006, that dropped to 6.3.

Why? Well, violent crime overall is down.

But, more important, the trend correlates with women’s increasing choices.

A woman who is not financially dependent on her partner is more likely to stand up for herself, have resources, and/or get out.

Women kept behind closed doors don’t have those options.

It’s not a coincidence.

Antonia Zerbisias is a Living section columnist. She blogs at

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