Department of Justice     


9. Gaps in the 1995 Framework for Action Against Family Violence

(a) Programs for Children Exposed to Family Violence

Research shows that children who grow up in violent homes are often just as harmed by witnessing abuse as are children who are directly abused, and that children who witness violence demonstrate the same emotional and behavioural difficulties as those who are abused. The 1993 VAWS done by Statistics Canada showed that approximately 29% of Canadian women who had ever been married or lived with a man in a common-law relationship had been assaulted by a marital partner.(1)

About 39% of women in violent marriages reported that their children witnessed violence against them.(2)

Furthermore, the 1993 VAWS indicated that witnessing violence in the home can establish a pattern of aggressive behaviour which perpetuates the cycle of abuse. The Survey revealed that boys who have witnessed their fathers abusing their mothers were three times more likely to become abusive, and that girls who have witnessed their fathers' abuse of their mothers were twice as likely to become abused in their own intimate relationships.(3)

Statistics Canada's third annual report, "Family Violence in Canada: A Statistical Profile 2000" indicated that in the 5 year period between 1994 and 1999, "[a]pproximately half a million children...heard or witnessed a parent being assaulted."(4)

In the United States, scholar Deborah Epstein speaks of

the harm inflicted on children through adult battering relationships. This battering starts early: national surveys report that seventeen percent of obstetrics patients are battered. Pregnant victims have an inflated risk of miscarriage and are four times more likely to deliver low birthweight babies. The damage continues after birth. Nearly half of all homeless women and children have been forced to flee violence in their homes. And children who witness violence between adults are at risk of physical harm when they are caught in the crossfire, either accidentally or (particularly with adolescent boys) while trying to intervene to protect their mothers. Approximately sixty-three percent of young men between the ages of eleven and twenty who are imprisoned for homicide have killed their mothers' batterers. These boys also have higher rates of suicide, violent assault, sexual assault, and alcohol and drug use.(5)

Given the well-documented intergenerational cycle of violence, it is clear that the consequences of domestic violence extend far beyond the abuser and the victim, and that eradicating domestic violence requires that steps be taken to assist children exposed to violence in order to stop the intergenerational cycle. In the focus groups conducted as part of the current review, victims of domestic violence expressed concern about their children and the impact the abuse had had and continued to have on them after separation. They identified the need for programs for their children to help them overcome the fear and trauma of witnessing violence.

The whole area of programs for children exposed to family violence is extremely under-funded. Yet there is increasing recognition that such programs are a key to preventing and reducing domestic violence. Some jurisdictions have begun to invest heavily in this area, providing counselling, either individually or in a group format or both. Complementary support programs are also provided for mothers who have been abused to learn parenting skills and techniques for coping with their children's behaviour, and to assist them in understanding and meeting their own and their children's needs.

In Nova Scotia there are no formal programs except as provided by transition houses on a limited basis. Programs are also very limited in Newfoundland, New Brunswick, Quebec, Prince Edward Island, the Northwest Territories and Nunuvat. Saskatchewan offers four programs for mothers and children exposed to family violence. Manitoba offers short- and long-term counselling for children who witness violence at home. Calgary has a number of services for children and youth who have either been exposed to domestic violence or who are exhibiting aggressive behaviours at home or school themselves. These community-based services are available to families using the services of the Domestic Violence Court. Ontario has 61 early intervention programs for children aged 4-16 who have been exposed to family violence, based on a psycho-educational model and has separate groups for mothers to assist with parenting issues. British Columbia also offers individual and group counselling for children exposed to violence in the home.

(b) Conclusions and Recommendations Regarding Children's Programs

The whole area of programs for children exposed to family violence is extremely under-funded. In Nova Scotia there are no formal programs. Yet there is increasing recognition that such programs are a key to preventing and reducing domestic violence. Some jurisdictions such as Ontario and British Columbia have begun to invest heavily in this area.

It is recommended that Nova Scotia invest in the development of programs for children exposed to family violence, involving both groups and individual counselling for children and youth to address recovering from trauma and learning new, non-violent conflict resolution skills, as well as to address the needs of those exhibiting aggressive behaviour themselves at home or in school.

These programs should be accompanied by a complementary program for mothers/non-violent parents to learn about the impact of the violence on their children, coping methods, and parenting skills which support what the children are learning, along with safety planning. These programs are perhaps our most promising chance to reduce family violence by preventing the intergenerational cycle of violent behaviour.

(c) Men's Intervention/Treatment Programs

As noted under the section on sentencing, the most common disposition in domestic violence cases in Nova Scotia is probation, and the use of conditions for referral to spousal abuse treatment programs has increased significantly since the implementation of the Framework.(6) Yet focus group participants underlined the fact that resources for men's intervention and treatment programs in Nova Scotia are inadequate. Probation Services has cut funding for treatment for abusive men and many men cannot afford to pay the cost themselves.

(i) Men's Intervention Programs in Other Jurisdictions

All Canadian jurisdictions except the Northwest Territories and Nunuvat have men's intervention or assaultive partners programs and those jurisdictions with a renewed justice strategy are investing heavily in these programmes as a measure to stop the violence from recurring. Key elements of such programs include group counsellling, sometimes supplemented with individual counselling; a complementary counselling program for, or frequent contact with, partners of those charged or convicted of a domestic violence related offence; and a specialized curriculum designed to treat domestic violence. In the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, there is an attempt to meet treatment needs on an individual basis within correctional institutions. In jurisdictions with treatment programs, some programs are corrections-based, while others fall within the purview of either Departments of Health or Community Services. In general, however, programs are not sufficient to meet needs and lengthy waiting lists are common.

Alberta has a proposal for a Treatment Framework which will see an expansion and funding based on compliance with standards. Ontario is expanding the number of programs as part of its Domestic Violence Justice Strategy and specialized court approach. Indeed, men's treatment programs are an integral element in the Ontario model. Programs exist in approximately one-third of the court jurisdictions in Ontario now and, once the justice strategy is complete, all 59 areas will have programs. Offenders pay a portion of the cost to promote accountability and responsibility but this is done on an "ability to pay" basis. Prior to implementing this approach, Ontario reviewed the experience of other jurisdictions with these programs and their success rates. The effectiveness of the domestic violence partner abuse programs in Ontario is currently under evaluation.

The results of studies concerning the effectiveness of treatment are controversial due to a number of variables, including sample size, different modalities of treatment, the presence or absence of criminal sanctions, and whether treatment is undertaken voluntarily or pursuant to court order, to mention a few. However, there is substantial empirical evidence to suggest that treatment does reduce recidivism. In Canada, Dutton, a Vancouver psychologist, conducted a study in 1986 which found that men in a male batterers program in British Columbia had a 4% recidivism rate after 2.5 years compared to a 40% rate for men who did not participate in the programs.(7)

In Ontario, evaluations of 18 male batterer programs showed, at a three month follow-up, decreases in verbal, emotional, and physical abuse as well as a decrease in medical attention sought and injuries sustained by the victim. Eighty percent of victims reported feeling safer while their partner was in treatment, whereas this figure rose to 86% of victims feeling safer three months later.(8)

In Calgary, a study of a two-phase male group treatment program, consisting of 12 weekly sessions followed by 21 monthly sessions, found that no physical violence was used by 85% of the clients after two years.(9)

In the United States, an evaluation of the Duluth, Minnesota Domestic Abuse Intervention Project found that, even with a broad measure of recidivism (convictions for domestic assault, protection orders, and police contact for suspicion of domestic assault), 60% of the clients did not repeat the violence after 5 years. An evaluation of a treatment program comparing reports of psychological and physical recidivism by both batterer and partner immediately post-treatment, at 6 months, and 2 years, found decreased levels of violence were maintained at the 2 year mark.(10)

As well, in 1998 the National Institute of Justice reported that the majority of evaluations, which have been considered methodogically sound, have found statistically significant reductions in recidivism among men participating in batterer intervention.

Given the prevailing data on success rates of treatment, it would appear that referral to spousal abuse treatment programs is an appropriate condition of probation, at least where the offender has not already completed such a program. The 1999 Evaluation Report noted that access to programs was inconsistent, that 12 month waiting lists were not uncommon and that no provincial programs standards had been met.(11)

At the time there were six treatment programs funded by the Department of Community Services and other unfunded programs offering various levels of service. The 1999 Evaluation Report recommended that a Committee of representatives from the Departments of Health, Community Services, and Justice review service issues and funding models, and develop and implement a service delivery model to improve access to approved programs. This recommendation was subsequently referred to Community Services. At present there are groups being operated by Community Corrections in Truro and Dartmouth. It appears that the inadequacy of treatment services in Nova Scotia may be undermining the effectiveness of the Framework. Yet money spent on treatment programs may be money saved in other contexts, from the costs of medical treatment for victims and counselling of battered women and their children to courts costs, and the many other social costs that flow from the intergenerational cycle of abuse.

(d) Conclusions and Recommendations Regarding Men's Programs

The most common disposition in domestic violence cases in Nova Scotia is probation and the use of conditions for referral to spousal abuse treatment programs has increased significantly since the implementation of the Framework. There is substantial empirical evidence to suggest that treatment does reduce recidivism. Those Canadian jurisdictions with a renewed justice strategy are investing heavily in these programs. However, focus group participants emphasized that resources for men's intervention and treatment programs in Nova Scotia are inadequate.

It is therefore recommended that Nova Scotia invest in the expansion of programs for assaultive partners to provide intervention/treatment based on a set of common standards as a measure to prevent the violence from recurring.

(e) Outreach Services for those living in Aboriginal Communities and for Visible Minority Women

The 1999 Evaluation Report noted that concerns had been expressed by justice workers regarding the reluctance of Aboriginal victims to become involved in the justice system.(12)

The 1999 Evaluation Report recommended that the Province enhance outreach services to those living in Aboriginal communities and to visible minorities to support victims and to increase reporting of spousal/partner violence. Again during the current review, focus group participants noted that women in Aboriginal communities and visible minority victims are less inclined to call police, "because of the history of disrespect of police in dealing with people from these communities." As a result, Aboriginal women and women from visible minorities are looking for alternative means to deal with these problems.

In the United States studies show that an alarmingly high proportion of African American men are involved with the justice system. In some states, the rate is as high as 50%.(13)

Victims whose batterers are African American may be reluctant to add to this statistic,(14)

especially if they regard the justice system as oppressive or racist.(15)

Following the 1999 review, the need for enhanced outreach services to women in Aboriginal communities and to visible minorities was referred to a Tripartite Committee (consisting of representatives of the Mi'kmaq people and representatives from the federal and provincial Departments of Justice) and to a Black Task Force for a province-wide perspective. As well, consultations were conducted with the Aboriginal community to improve accessibility to Victims' Services. However, it is unclear what progress was made as a result of these referrals and consultations.

(f) Conclusions and Recommendations Regarding Aboriginal and Visible Minority Victims

The reluctance of victims living in Aboriginal communities and from visible minorities to report spousal or partner violence was noted in the 1999 Evaluation Report and again by focus group participants during the current review. It is important for justice workers to be aware of this reluctance and of the reasons for it.

It is therefore recommended that this issue be addressed in the training program developed for justice workers.

As well, the concerns of victims of perpetrators from Aboriginal communities and racial minorities, that reporting their batterers to police is a breach of loyalty to the community and will contribute to racial/cultural stereotyping, may be alleviated by increased reliance on evidence other than victim testimony.(16)

It is recommended that this be done wherever possible. As well, insofar as evidence suggests that advocacy services can assist victims in finding the strength to escape domestic violence on their own and can help to amplify their voices to enable prosecution policies to be applied in a way that meets the needs of particular victims,(17) it is recommended that Nova Scotia invest in expansion of support services for abused women, including advocacy services to provide outreach and support for women from Aboriginal communities and visible minorities.

215 Supra note 24 at 18.

216 Supra note 24 at 19-20.

1. 1Statistics Canada, supra note 1.

2. 2Statistics Canada, supra note 1.

3. 3K. Rodgers, "The Generational Cycle of Violence," ("Violence in the Family," Amsterdam, 13-15 October 1994).

4. Statistics Canada, supra note 1 at 5.

5. Supra note 24 at 8.

6. 6See supra at 81.

7. 7D.G. Dutton, "The Outcome of Court-Mandated Treatment for Wife Assault: a Quasi-experimental Evaluation" (1986) 1 Violence and Victims 163-175.

8. 8ABT Associates, 1990, cited in Domestic Violence Justice Strategy - Partner Assault (PAR) Programs: an Overview (July, 2000).

9. 9Brown and Chatto, 1992, cited in Domestic Violence Justice Strategy - Partner Assault (PAR) Programs: an Overview (July, 2000).

10. 10Petriek, Gildersleeve-High, McAllistren and Subotnik (1994), cited in Domestic Violence Justice Strategy - Partner Assault (PAR) Programs: an Overview (July, 2000).

11. 11Supra note 14 at 39.

12. 12Supra note 14 at 36.

13. 13A report entitled "Young Blacks Entangled in the Legal System" puts the Washington, D.C. rate at 50% of men age 18 - 3: The Washington Post (26 August 1997) B1, cited in L. Bennett, L. Goodman & M.A. Dutton, "Systemic Obstacles to The Criminal Prosecution of a Battering Partner: A Victim Perspective" (1999) 14:7 Journal of Interpersonal Violence 6, online: Proquest <> (date accessed: 14 February 2001). Page references are to the electronic version.

14. 14B. Richie, "Battered Black Women: A Challenge for the Black Community" (1985) 16:2 Black Scholar 40-44, cited in Bennett, Goodman & Dutton, ibid. at 6.

15. 15J. Meier, "Domestic Violence, Character and Social Change in the Welfare Reform Debate," cited in Bennett, Goodman & Dutton, ibid. at 6; see also K. Crenshaw, "Mapping the Margins: Intersectional, Identity, Politics and Violence Against Women of Color" (1991) 43 Stan. L. Rev. 1241 at 1257.

16. 16Supra note 24 at 18.

17. 17Supra note 24 at 19-20.


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