Are Ontarians apathetic to domestic violence?
New study by Interval House shows 24% blame the victim and only 58% would intervene if abuse disclosed.
TORONTO - The highly publicized celebrity abuse cases in late 2014 resulted in an unprecedented public interest in the dialogue about ending violence against women and many believed it was a tipping point in changing attitudes. However, the spotlight has shifted and a new study commissioned by Interval House, Canada's first shelter for abused women, shows that we still have a very long way to go.
The recent poll, hosted on the Angus Reid Forum, revealed that nearly a quarter (24%) of Ontarians believe that it is possible for someone to bring abuse upon themselves. This belief is higher among men (34.3%) than among women (14.1%). Victim-blaming accounts for why many women have trouble leaving an abusive relationship because they fear they will be blamed, not believed or have internalized that it is somehow their fault. "Abuse is always the responsibility of the abuser" says Renee Weekes, Chair of the Board of Directors at Interval House. "There is no action or choice by a victim that can justify abuse. Women who experience violence need to know that abuse is never their fault and that there are resources in the community to support them."
The Interval House study also showed that only 58.3% of Ontarians would consider intervening in an abusive situation if someone told them that their spouse or partner was abusive. Domestic violence is still largely kept behind closed doors and many people may still think that what happens in a relationship is not their business. "It's shocking for us to see that only 58.3% of our neighbours would consider helping if someone in their life came forward and disclosed abuse," says Weekes, "Our community must begin to move to an attitude of zero tolerance for violence and empathy for victims if we ever want to see an end to the private hell experienced by so many women."
Other findings in the study revealed:
• Only 55.8% would intervene in an abusive situation if they saw bruises or injures and suspected the spouse was the cause but 75.8% would intervene if they personally witnessed abuse.
• 17.1% of Ontarians don't believe it's ever their place to interfere if they suspect abusive behaviour is going on.
• A third (33.5%) of Ontarians would not know what to do if they suspected abuse.
As International Women's Day approaches, it's time for change and for the conversation to continue so we can all put an end to violence against women. Just like we've collectively altered public and private attitudes about smoking, seat belt wearing and drunk driving, we can raise our voices to change attitudes about the acceptability and responsibility of abuse. This week Interval House launched the #StopVAW social media campaign encouraging everyone to use the #StopVAW hashtag while posting a selfie with a stop sign to reignite the conversation and raise awareness.