Violence is not somebody else’s problem, it is everyone’s. Violence permeates Canadian society, in the home, in the workplace, in sport, in schools, in religious institutions, and in the media. Each of us must take responsibility for the values, beliefs and institutions in our society that permit violence to happen. Individually and collectively, we must begin to eradicate violence in our society through public education and awareness, through a shift in power relationships, and through law enforcement and the criminal justice system. Power differential is a major factor in violence, and there are many groups and individuals who suffer from an imbalance of power. Women and children are two particularly vulnerable groups in society and therefore the primary victims of violence.
By violence we mean intentional action or inaction causing physical, sexual and psychological injury, including battering (defined as physical, psychological and sexual abuse and destruction of personal property), pornography, sexual assault, incest, child abuse and sexual harassment (including sexual exploitation of clients, students, employees, colleagues and co-workers). Men are the predominant perpetrators of violence. Women and children are its predominant victims. Many abusers have been victims of violence themselves. Treatment is necessary to break the cycle of violence.
Violence against women and children is a major mental health issue which affects all of society. Both women and men who have been subjected to violence as children are telling about the tragic impact of this experience on their lives. The psychological consequences of violence are severe and destructive and can last a lifetime. We are only beginning to recognize how widespread, dangerous and tragic violence is. The societal impact encompasses the need for treatment and care for victims at any time throughout their lives.
Given the extent of the problem, the Canadian Mental Health Association urges federal, provincial, and municipal governments, judges, crown attorneys, police, health care professionals, and all of society to support victims in the following ways:
- Enforce legislation to treat sexual assault and child abuse seriously and consistently.
- Consider sexual assault of children by a parent, relative or other person placed in a position of trust, as a more serious crime than assault by a stranger.
- Listen to, support, and protect child victims of sexual assault, particularly during legal proceedings.
- Listen to the victims and assume they are telling the truth. Corroborative evidence such as visible injuries to the victim and early reporting of the offense is not mandatory or essential in determining the veracity of the charge, and the absence of these elements should not be interpreted as supporting the innocence of an accused.
- Appeal inappropriate sentences imposed in cases of spousal sexual and physical assault. View such offences as serious crimes which deserve penalties equivalent to those imposed for other assaults.
- Recognize the priority for assessment and treatment of youth and adult sexual offenders.
- Recognize and be sensitive to the special needs of women and children who live in rural areas or in poverty, women and children of colour, aboriginal women and children, disabled women and children, immigrant women and children, and aged women, given their isolation and disadvantaged position within our society.
- Provide information about treatment and support to victims of violence and encourage them to make choices about available programs in order to initiate a healing process.
- Implement or expand women’s and children’s services that promote healing, respect, and safety, such as: sexual assault centres, battered women’s shelters, transition houses, and community counselling services.