Abusive relationships hurt every Canadian

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by Nevil Hunt

Health, legal and social services for women faced with abusive relationships cost taxpayers billions of dollars a year. But there’s an even better reason to invest in prevention: it’s the right thing to do.

Partner violence hurts. It hurts women and their children, and it hurts all of us indirectly.
How we react to this kind of abuse says a lot about our humanity.
If you think you’re not affected, you need to see a study printed in Canadian Public Policy. Researchers at the University of British Columbia looked at all the costs associated with “intimate partner violence” and found each woman who needs help requires more than $13,000 annually in public and private spending.
The researchers then looked at the incidence of abuse and came up with a national price tag: $6.9 billion a year.

The lead researcher, Colleen Varcoe, called for Canada to do “a better job of prevention, early detection and support for women at risk to violence.”
The cost to each individual woman affected is immeasurable. We can only try and quantify things with dollar signs.
Even someone cold-blooded enough to think only in dollars and cents can see that prevention pays. But beyond that issue, beyond taxes and spending, preventing the next case of abuse is the right thing for us to do.
The study runs through all sorts of costs for services that could make you sick if you think too long about the need for them.
There are the X-rays required after someone has bones broken. Child protection workers are needed to care for the kids when mom is in the hospital or off at another doctor’s appointment. Dentistry is needed for teeth smashed during attacks.
Prescriptions for chronic pain medication are written to help deal with aches that never really go away. Counselling is needed to try and get over trauma that victim’s minds must deal with.
The victims add to the demands on our health care system and our legal system, although they’d surely prefer not to need help at all. Food banks may be needed if jobs are lost or a woman is unemployed.
The study says response to partner violence needs more collaboration between services. Hospitals, social services and the justice system need to be in synch so they can act together to help victims faster, and as the study shows, with less cost if possible.
Some part of our government or a private foundation needs to step up and invest some money to improve the situation across Canada. Somewhere out there – in this country or somewhere else in the world – must have developed an integrated system to make sure victims of violence have a sort of one-stop shop to turn to.
Identifying what works best and spreading that system across the country might save pain, suffering and death. Were this another subject, such as cancer treatment or heart disease, the public would insist that best practices be adopted quickly.
Maybe partner violence has been left without a national strategy because of our perception of the problem. If we have never felt the physical and emotional effects of domestic violence, we are left guessing at how it would affect us. We may even feel we’re immune; it couldn’t happen to us. But we all fear cancer, knowing it could strike us someday, and so we quite sensibly support efforts to fight it.
Partner abuse is also easy to oversimplify, especially if we don’t have personal experience. Ask a few friends about it and someone is sure to suggest that the victims are at fault because they could leave the abusive relationship at any time.
That victims often don’t leave suggests there’s something more to the issue; that they need more of our help, not less.
Should Canada have a national strategy to help end domestic violence? Do you think investing in prevention could save money in the long run?

 

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