Trevor Hancock: Peace on Earth — and especially at home

Christmas is supposed to be a time of peace — “Peace on Earth and goodwill to all mankind.” Indeed, 101 years ago, in the early days of the First World War, peace did break out briefly in the famous Christmas Truce. Sadly, it did not last, and the nations soon returned to resolving their differences through violence.

But the tendency to resort to violence is not just restricted to war; it occurs throughout society. Indeed, in a 2014 report, the World Health Organization estimated almost half a million people died from homicide in 2012 and reported that: “Five times as many people die from homicide each year as from war-related injury.”

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The WHO has identified a variety of forms of violence other than war, “including child abuse and neglect, youth violence, intimate-partner violence, sexual violence, elder abuse, self-directed violence and collective violence.” So in this season of peace, we need to think about the prevention of all forms of violence; we need peace domestically as well as internationally.

But deaths are themselves only a small part of the overall picture of violence; there are many more who are injured. In Canada, there were 516 homicides and 617 cases of attempted murder in 2014, but 212,923 assaults reported to police, as well as 20,735 sexual assaults. Similarly, a 2013 report from Statistics Canada on spousal violence noted that there were 65 spousal homicides in Canada in 2009 but “46,918 incidents of spousal violence were reported to police.”

However, the real picture is worse, as many assaults go unreported. The 2013 report also stated: “In 2009, 335,697 Canadians were victims of spousal-violence incidents.” Of these, almost two-thirds were common assault, which, it notes, is rated as of low severity.

On top of this are the impacts of violence on mental and social well-being. The WHO notes that episodes of domestic violence such as child maltreatment, intimate-partner violence and sexual violence “contribute significantly to depression, sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies, while also increasing the likelihood of engaging in risky behaviours, such as smoking and the harmful use of alcohol and drugs.”

All this comes at a massive economic cost. The 2013 Statistics Canada report gave overall costs in 2009 of $7.4 billion for spousal violence alone. Of these costs, almost 75 per cent are intangible, which “include emotional costs to victims and the family.” Of the remaining $1.7 billion of tangible costs, most (64 per cent) was paid by the state, mainly for justice-system and health-care costs. And this is only for spousal assault.

We also need to keep in mind that men make up a significant proportion of victims of violence. Globally, WHO reports that men are the victims in four-fifths of homicides. A 2008 report on police-reported violent crime in Canada noted that “the rate of violent victimization for female and male victims was comparable.” However, the type of violence they experience is different: “Males, for example, are more likely to be the victims of physical assault and homicide, while sexual-assault victims are overwhelmingly female.”

In Canada, we also need to recognize that aboriginal people are more often both the victims and the perpetrators of violent crime. Just last month, Statistics Canada reported: “In 2014, aboriginal people were victims of homicide at a rate which was about six times higher than that of non-aboriginal people” and at the same time, “aboriginal people [were] accused of homicide at a rate 10 times higher than non-aboriginal people.”

Some of the underlying reasons for this became very clear in the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Canada was responsible for a state-sanctioned form of repression of aboriginal people that the commission characterized as “cultural genocide … the destruction of those structures and practices that allow the group to continue as a group.” In particular, the commission noted, “families are disrupted.”

Not surprisingly, this disruption of family, community and culture can lead to violence, mainly turned inward on the family and the community.

So we need to focus not only on the international situation but on the prevention of domestic violence, and repairing the ravages of Canada’s policy of cultural genocide against aboriginal people. Good things to ponder in this season of peace.

Dr. Trevor Hancock is a professor and senior scholar at the University of Victoria’s school of public health and social policy.

thancock@uvic.ca

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