While most children in Quebec grow up in a safe environment, for many, family violence is an unfortunate reality. Because violence has serious consequences, it’s important to talk about it so we can recognize the signs and learn to prevent it.
By Nathalie Vallerand
Family violence includes any form of abuse that children witness, hear, or experience in their family. The abuse may be carried out by a parent or another family member, such as a grandparent or uncle.
Some examples of family violence are emotional (a.k.a. psychological) abuse (yelling, swearing, or humiliating a child), physical punishment (smacking a child’s hands or legs, spanking, shaking a child over the age of 2), and severe physical violence (hitting a child with an object, kicking or slapping them, shaking a child under the age of 2). Sexual abuse committed by a relative is also considered family violence.
Neglect, too, is a form of violence. Neglect happens when parents fail to meet a child’s physical and psychological needs; these include food, hygiene, sleep, attention, and supervision.
Family violence also extends to intimate partner violence and children’s exposure to intimate partner violence. Intimate partner violence includes emotional, verbal, physical, sexual, and financial abuse (taking the other person’s money, running up debts in their name, or preventing them from working).
“Contrary to what many people believe, intimate partner violence does not result from a loss of control,” says Claudine Thibaudeau, head of training and clinical support at SOS violence conjugale. “It’s a way to establish and maintain control over the other person.”
Family violence: By the numbers
Violent parental behaviour appears to have declined in recent years, but it’s still a reality. According to a survey by the Institut de la statistique du Québec, in 2018, 42% of children aged 5 and under suffered repeated (three or more) instances of psychological abuse, 35% were physically punished at least once, and 2.6% suffered severe violence.
Children who are subjected to physical punishment are roughly 10 times more likely to experience severe physical violence.
Fortunately, neglect is less frequent. In 2018, close to 5% of children aged 5 and under lived in an environment where they were at risk of neglect, and less than 1% were reported to have experienced neglect.
In terms of intimate partner violence, 12% of women and men say they have experienced at least one form of it in their relationship, whether or not they have children. Women, however, are the victims of more severe acts of violence. They also comprise the majority of cases reported to the police. In 2018, 7% of children in Quebec were reportedly exposed to intimate partner violence.
Intimate partner violence often begins or escalates during pregnancy and in the first two years of a child’s life. In Quebec, nearly 1 in 10 women are abused by their partner during this period. “Every time a couple makes a commitment, such as moving in together or having a baby, it becomes more difficult for the victim to end the relationship,” Thibaudeau explains.
Most of the time, the violence continues after the baby is born and can extend to the child. Moreover, children exposed to intimate partner violence are more likely to become victims of psychological and physical abuse.
“Abusers are very good at manipulating their victims into believing they’re to blame for the situation,” says Thibaudeau. “They find excuses to justify their behaviour. But violence is never the victim’s fault, and there is no excuse for it.” No matter what form it takes, intimate partner violence is never acceptable or justified.