Peter Jaffe says public awareness of domestic violence improving

Despite improved awareness, more work needed on helping domestic violence victims

By Terrence McEachern, CBC News Posted: Jun 13, 2016 10:00 PM AT Last Updated: Jun 13, 2016 10:00 PM AT

Psychologist Peter Jaffe says public awareness about domestic violence has improved, but more needs to be done to help victims.

"They're afraid to confront someone. They may be hesitant to call the police or call child protection. So, we really have to move public awareness from just knowing it's a problem to actually doing something about it," said Peter Jaffe, a psychologist and professor at the University of Western Ontario, Monday on CBC PEI's Mainstreet.

'Ashamed, embarrassed'

Jaffe, also the academic director of the Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children at UWO, estimated that more than 100 children, women and men in Canada are killed annually from family violence, adding that on average 32 children annually are killed by a parent.

"It's a difficult topic to address. So, it's not the kind of thing people want to talk about or share. Often victims live in silence. They're ashamed, embarrassed."

Jaffe noted that 80 per cent of cases have warning signs, or "well-known risk markers" that are known to family members, friends or coworkers.

'It's not their business'

But people still have the position that "it's not their business," said Jaffe. 

He explained that people need to get more engaged when they are aware of family violence and have "more difficult conversations" with those involved. 

One of the more difficult aspects of family violence is men opening up to other men about what is happening and encouraging them to get help, he said.

In terms of domestic homicides, Jaffe noted these are often preceded by a history of family violence, a recent separation, emotional and psychological abuse as well as men feeling hopeless, depressed and acting out. Addictions and mental health issues also can play a role.

Abuse against children can lead them to be quiet and withdrawn or to act out, and in some cases, become bullies at school, Jaffe said.

Public awareness improving

In particular, public awareness has improved in Ontario through the work of the provincial Domestic Violence Death Review Committee. The committee has also led to improved policies and practices.

Jaffe recalled a case involving the murder of Lori Dupont, a nurse, in 2005. Dupont was killed by her abusive ex-boyfriend Marc Daniel, a doctor who worked in the same hospital as Dupont in Windsor, Ont. Daniel killed Dupont and then took his own life.

Jaffe noted that incident led to changes in workplace legislation, which now includes domestic violence as a health and safety issue.

"So, to me, that's symbolic of how far we've come. That we're not just waiting for things to happen, we're also raising awareness that everybody has a role to play."

That theme, that everyone has a role to play in domestic violence, was the topic of Jaffe's public presentation at Holland College, Monday night.

​Listen to Mainstreet weekdays on CBC Radio with host Karen Mair.

With files from Mainstreet