Updated October 2022
Helping survivors of family violence is a life mission and true calling for many community support workers (CSWs). The programs and services they deliver at emergency shelters and youth organizations give hope to thousands of people across Canada.
From counselling to emotional support to practical help re-building lives, CSWs do really important front-line work with abuse victims.
Are you considering community support worker training with the goal of helping people escape and recover from abusive relationships?
This is definitely a challenging field, but it's also full of hope. Take a few moments to explore some of the latest facts and trends on family violence in Canada.
Get a glimpse of how CSW training will prepare you to serve and support this very vulnerable group in our society.
1. What is "family violence"?
There are some common misconceptions about what the term "family violence" actually means. For some, it means physical abuse between spouses or directed toward children. For others, it's about neglect, emotional abuse, betrayal, or any combination of the above.
Here's how the Government of Canada Department of Justice defines family violence:
"Family violence is any behaviour that is:
- violent, or
- threatening, or
- a pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour, or
- behaviour that causes a family member to fear for their safety or the safety of another person."
So, family violence is not restricted to married couples or traditional families. It can happen to people from all backgrounds and walks of life.
It can be a single incident or an ongoing pattern of behavior. The term family violence encompasses many different forms of abuse, including:
2. Women & children are common targets for family violence
If you plan to work at an emergency shelter or with at-risk youth after community support worker training, you'll quickly discover just how vulnerable women and children are to family violence.
New students are usually shocked to learn how common domestic abuse is in Canada, particularly in terms of how many women and children are impacted each year.
Have a look at the following statistics:
- 44% of Canadian women experience some form of abuse in their intimate relationships (Statistics Canada)
- 79% of all spousal abuse victims are women (Statistics Canada)
- On average, every 6 days a woman in Canada is killed by her intimate partner (Canadian Women's Foundation)
- Every year, as many as 362,000 children in Canada witness or experience family violence (UNICEF)
Community support workers play an absolutely crucial role in helping survivors of family violence get counselling, safe housing, job opportunities, and freedom from fear.
3. Child abuse is strongly linked to life-long mental illness
Did you know that abuse actually alters a child's brain? A study by a research team at Harvard University proved that adults who were abused as children have different brains than their peers who were not abused.
The very structure of their brains was transformed by the abuse, and the toll on their mental health was very clear:
- Overall, 25% of participants had suffered major depression at some point in their lives
- 7% had suffered from PTSD
- Out of those who had experienced three kinds of abuse (for instance: physical, sexual, and verbal), 53% had suffered from depression and 40% had PTSD
Anyone who works with child abuse victims has seen statistics like these play out in real life, time and time again. There is a very strong correlation between child abuse, psychological disorders, and addiction.
Understanding the connection between family violence and mental health is crucial for community support workers in any setting (not just those who work in shelters or foster care).
This is why quality CSW programs include courses on family dynamics, addictions, mental health, and developmental psychology.
4. Many instances of family violence go unreported
During your CSW career, you can expect to encounter many instances of family violence that have been covered up. And you'll find that women in particular may be unwilling to report their spouse/partner to the police—especially when it comes to certain kinds of abuse.
Statistics from the Government of Ontario tell us that:
- Only about 30% of abused women report the incident to police
- 19% said they feared further violence from their spouse
- 44% said they simply didn't want anyone to find out about the abuse
- Only 53% of domestic sexual abuse against women is reported
- Many women are victimized multiple times before they go to the police
- Only 15% of abused women obtain a restraining order, and 32% of them say the order is breached
There are many reasons women don't report abuse or are reluctant to leave their abuser. Shame and embarrassment play a key role. So does fear.
Research shows that abusers are more likely to kill their victims in the two weeks after they leave than at any other time. Plus, many women are financially dependent on their abuser and have children to support.
Community support workers play a key role in helping women escape violence at home, find safe places to live, and map out plans for financial independence. They offer emotional and practical support and provide opportunities for abuse survivors to become self-empowered and build brand-new lives.
5. Aboriginal women are at high risk for severe family violence
Aboriginal people are one of Canada's most at-risk populations. Due to generations of political abuse and disenfranchisement, many aboriginal communities are wracked by homelessness, addiction, violence, and mental illness.
Indigenous women, in particular, are very likely to become victims of family violence—often in its most severe forms.
The Canadian government has found that 60% of all indigenous women who report spousal abuse, also report physical injuries from the abuse (compared to 41% of non-indigenous women).
And half of the indigenous women reporting abuse have experienced the most severe forms of violence, including sexual assault, being beaten, choked, or threatened with a gun or knife.
There are a wide range of community support programs geared toward aboriginal men, women, and children. In fact, this is an area many students choose to specialize in after community support worker training.
In reality, these trends, facts, and stats are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the complexity of family violence in Canada.
We are seeing very disturbing spikes in domestic abuse within the LGBTQ community and among new immigrants to Canada. These are all issues you'll delve into more fully during CSW training—and encounter regularly out in the field.
Fortunately, we are also seeing a greater commitment to community services and programs aimed at serving these same populations all across Canada.
There are many opportunities for CSWs to do amazing work in their own communities—and truly help the most vulnerable populations in our society. Community support workers literally change and save lives every single day.
Do you feel a strong sense of social justice, and want to start a career in community service?
Your next step is to speak with admissions and learn more about training, job options, and how to begin.
Chat live with an admissions advisor right now. Or click below to explore Herzing's Community Support Worker program and request more information. We're here to help!