Department of Justice     


10. Public Education

(a) Discussion

Time and again focus group participants spoke of the need for increased public education on intimate partner violence. While the Framework for Action focuses on the response of the justice system once such violence has occurred, many focus group participants emphasized the need for prevention. It was felt that one step toward prevention would be a substantial, ongoing public education initiative, to send the message that violence within intimate relationships will not be tolerated. The analogy frequently used here was that of changed public perceptions of driving while under the influence of alcohol. While "drunk driving" has not been eliminated, its social acceptability (and presumably, therefore, the incidence of it) has been reduced significantly through a combination of public education and stiffer penalties for those who are convicted of driving offences involving alcohol.

Taken together, focus group comments suggested that a comprehensive public education program should be multi-faceted both in terms of the groups targeted, and the methods of delivering such information. Children who had witnessed one parent abusing the other need to be taught that non-violent relationships are possible.(1) Victims and potential victims were seen to be in need of information which would allow them to identify abusive behaviours, including emotional and psychological abuse which could well be forerunners of physical violence. One victim stated that, looking back, she can see that the ill-treatment started early in her relationship, but at the time she was not able to identify her partner's treatment of her abusive; nor did she realize that it was likely to escalate into physical harm. Public education could also inform victims and their families of services available to them. Perpetrators and potential perpetrators need to know that any physical violence, if reported, will be dealt with seriously by the justice system, and need to learn the difference between intimidation and abuse on the one hand and ordinary persuasion on the other. One focus group participant spoke of reading her teenage son a list of coercive behaviours from a publication on intimate partner violence. His response was that these were just "normal" ways of getting what you wanted in a relationship.

Public education materials and multi-media campaigns are undertaken by other jurisdictions to varying degrees. For example, British Columbia has a provincial "Violence Prevention Pipeline" on its web site and Alberta has sponsored a Family Violence Prevention Month for 14 years. Other jurisdictions also observe a Family Violence Prevention Month (often in November or February). Web sites, poster campaigns, and the like are also used in public education efforts. In New Brunswick, public education on intimate partner violence has been undertaken by a Provincial Caring Partnerships initiative sponsored by the Muriel McQueen Fergusson Foundation. The federal government, through its National Clearinghouse on Family Violence, Alberta's Office for the Prevention of Family Violence, and Nova Scotia's former Family Violence Prevention Initiative are the only governments to have maintained a resource centre/lending library and publications arm.

A number of Canadian jurisdictions have also incorporated information regarding intimate partner violence into school curricula. The focus of school-based initiatives is on teaching the elements of healthy relationships and the ability to distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour to both adolescent boys and girls as they begin to date.

Certainly some public education on intimate partner violence has already been undertaken in Nova Scotia. The introduction of the Framework for Action sent a message not only to those who work within the justice system, but more generally:

There is no doubt that there has been an increased awareness of family violence as a crime and a serious social problem. The publicity surrounding the implementation of the Framework for Action and the ongoing efforts of the FVPI ha[ve] served to heighten public awareness. It is likely that this has been a factor in influencing family members or support persons of victims to encourage them to report incidents of family violence to the police.(2)

Furthermore, Nova Scotia's annual Family Violence Prevention Week campaign is highly regarded as a national model. A range of publications and other educational items have been produced in conjunction with the campaign. As noted above, Nova Scotia's former Family Violence Prevention Initiative produced materials on intimate partner violence, and maintained a resource and lending library. The Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women has also assisted in public education: the Council maintains a 1-800 line where the public can request general information, and its resource centre produced a publication called "Making Changes." Approximately 24,000 copies of this have been distributed, and it has been posted on the Council's website. Their website also provides a statistical fact sheet on intimate partner violence. Finally, information on healthy relationships is part of the curriculum in at least some junior high schools in Nova Scotia.

(b) Conclusions and Recommendations Regarding Public Education

Given that the ultimate goals of any policy on intimate partner violence must encompass not only efforts to provide an effective justice response, but also efforts to prevent such violence in the first place, public education must be seen as an important component of the province's policy.

It is therefore recommended that Nova Scotia maintain and expand its initiatives in public education.

Such initiatives should assist in identifying behaviours that are abusive, providing information on services available to victims and their families, and increasing public understanding of the fact that intimate partner violence will not be tolerated. Components of the public education message would need to be tailored, both in terms of the specific content and the medium used to convey it, in order to reach various groups within society, including those already in, or at risk of entering, abusive relationships.

1. Supra at 127.

2. Supra note 14 at vii.


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