Welcome to the July column. This month, we have invited the contribution of Lana Wells, the Brenda Strafford Chair in the Prevention of Domestic Violence, housed at the University of Calgary Faculty of Social Work. Lana is also a Fellow at the School of Public Policy and has held leadership positions in numerous non-profit organizations, including the United Way of Calgary and Area. Her areas of expertise include family violence, gender, social justice, and the non-profit sector.
It is my pleasure to share this piece with ACCPA members, who span sectors integral to ending and preventing domestic violence – a pattern of behaviour which involves the abuse by one partner against another including physical aggression or assault, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, passive/covert abuse (neglect) and economic deprivation. I wanted to focus this contribution on the role of primary prevention in ending domestic violence in Alberta.
Alberta has the 5th highest rate of police reported intimate partner violence and the 2nd highest rate of self-reported spousal violence in Canada. This violence has ongoing and intergenerational impacts that are devastating to victims and their families, and society as a whole.
A recent study estimates that over the past five years, domestic violence has been costing Albertans over $600 million in basic health and non-health supports. As with other crime prevention measures, quality initiatives can effectively reduce negative social impacts while providing cost-savings, returning as much as $20 for every dollar invested.
Introducing SHIFT: The Project to End Domestic Violence
In my role as the Brenda Strafford Chair, I initiated SHIFT: The Project to End Domestic Violence. SHIFT is an innovative initiative aimed at transformational change using a primary prevention approach to stop first-time victimization and perpetration of domestic violence. Using accessible research and working collaboratively with a diverse range of stakeholders, SHIFT aims at ultimately ending domestic violence in our province.
Over the past two decades, Alberta has introduced legislation at the forefront of violence protection measures both nationally and internationally. Two ground-breaking acts, the Protection Against Family Violence Act (PAFVA) and the Children, Youth, and Family Enhancement Act (CYFEA), have dramatically improved police and judicial responses to all aspects of domestic violence and enhance protection. They also send strong messages that abuse will not be tolerated in this province. PAFVA has dramatically improved victims’ access to protection orders in emergency situations, while the CYFEA addresses children’s exposure to domestic violence.
Despite significant gains in developing a solid crisis-response model, the negative social, health and economic impacts of domestic violence are far too great to limit our focus to intervening after violence has occurred. An equally robust model for the prevention of domestic violence is required.
The primary prevention of domestic violence is challenging, but not impossible. Advances in prevention science identified the factors that place people at risk of perpetrating and/or experiencing domestic violence and highlight promising approaches to mitigate or eliminate these.
SHIFT‘s research identifies two key levers for the primary prevention of domestic violence:
1. Children, youth and young adults.
Studies, unequivocally, show that the precursors of domestic violence occur in childhood and adolescence. Children and youth learn relationship skills and social behaviours from their parents and other family members. A high proportion of children who witness or experience violent relationships in childhood go on to perpetuate these patterns in adulthood. Therefore, we must focus on children, youth and at-risk young adults, especially those who are, or may, soon to become parents.
2. Socio-cultural norms and environments.
Socio-cultural norms determine our sense of appropriate and inappropriate behaviours. Research shows a strong association between the socio-cultural acceptance of violence and increased risk for all types of interpersonal violence. Primary prevention approaches that influence our norms, behaviours and environment can be enhanced through provincial policy, legislation, leadership and resource allocation.
The Call for Provincial Leadership
Because of the scale and complexity of domestic violence, prevention requires a multi-faceted, comprehensive and long-term effort, as well as the commitment of resources, people and leadership across all sectors, particularly at the provincial level.
SHIFT has identified a number of evidence-based levers for change where the Government of Alberta can play a pivotal role in ending domestic violence. We recommend the following strategies be applied in tandem in order to significantly reduce the rates of violence in Alberta:
- preventing violence against children in the home;
- supporting the development of healthy relationship skills among young people;
- supporting the development of healthy community norms;
- supporting the development of healthy, non-violent environments;
- enacting legislation and policy that places a strong emphasis on prevention; and
- developing robust mechanisms for data collection, monitoring, accountability and continuous improvement.
By targeting these areas, the Government of Alberta can help to end domestic violence, laying the foundation for a safer, more just Alberta. This is the work of the 21st century, and Alberta is poised to lead the way.
Moving SHIFT and ACCPA Agendas Forward
I see the potential for a strong alliance between the ACCPA and SHIFT: The Project to End Domestic Violence. Both organizations tackle complex social issues using evidence informed research with the conviction that a prevention approach is the most socially and economically efficient means of addressing harm in our society.
I believe a common research and policy agenda, along with collaboration on public education and awareness initiatives, will further both our aims. Together, we can leverage our work to affect systemic change and improve the quality of lives of all Albertans, particularly the most vulnerable.
For more information on SHIFT, please visit us at: www.preventdomesticviolence.ca
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