The Need for a Healthcare Response to Violence in Canada

Interpersonal violence is often approached from different facets such as criminal, economic and health yet rarely are the actual health implications looked into, other than the immediate physical damage caused by violence. Yet, as the Global Status Report on Violence Prevention 2014 has found, the non-fatal consequences of violence are the greatest part of the social and health burden arising from violence and this burden is generally carried by women, elderly people and children throughout the world. This can include negative behavioural, cognitive, mental health, sexual and reproductive health problems, chronic diseases and social effects that all outweigh the physical injuries sustained from the violence.

It has been found that violence against women and children contributes disproportionately to the health burden, particularly child maltreatment and women who have experienced intimate partner and sexual violence have more health problems, incur considerably higher healthcare costs, make more visits to healthcare providers over their lives and have more hospital stays (including longer durations) than those who have not experienced violence.

This violence has also been linked to other adverse health reactions such as afflictions of the brain and nervous system, gastrointestinal and genitourinary systems, and immune and endocrine function. For the women going through or having survived intimate partner violence and other forms for violence associated with that, there are also sexual health implications, as chances for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (such as syphilis), unwanted pregnancies and other reproductive problems skyrocket with experience of violence. This can include having low birth weight babies (16% higher risk) and chances twice as high of an induced abortion.

Evidently this violence also affects the behaviours of the victims and thus being exposed to violence is linked to high-risk behaviours such as alcohol and drug abuse, as well as smoking, which all increase the risks of several leading causes of death (i.e., cancer, chronic lung disease, liver disease, etc.). This can affect young victims as well, either as a learned behaviour or as backlash to their suffering, which becomes very dangerous.

There are also repercussions on victims’ mental health. The risk for anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicidal behaviour is also heightened, not to mention that exposure to violence and men’s perpetration of violence against women have been shown to be associated with high-risk sexual behaviours. This can tie in with the aforementioned sexual health risks.

Unmistakably, with all of the health menaces associated with violence there are also a wide range of indirect costs, such as spells of unemployment, absenteeism and other health problems that can affect the victim’s job performance. There are also indirect costs that relate to lost productivity because of things such as premature death, long-term disability, the provision of places of safety for children and women, and disruptions to daily life for fear regarding personal safety. Obviously these indirect costs affect people at varying degrees and those with a less stable income to begin with, from poorer social economic classes are disproportionally affected. Those without proper social support (i.e. family/friends) can also be disproportionately affected.

Relatedly and just as importantly, there is the issue of other violent crimes like homicide and non-domestic assault, both of which can have long-term implications on health. The hazards associated with being victimized by violent crime also include engaging in negative coping mechanisms, such as substance abuse and said victims are at a much higher risk to turn to such behaviour versus the general public. Anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder also pose as huge perils. Furthermore, all of the aforementioned health risks have an impact and contribute to problems in regards to unemployment, loss of productivity and disruptions to normal, daily life.

Sadly, Canada does not take a public health stance towards victimization as a result of interpersonal violence or other forms of violent crime. We have chosen to instead focus on the causes of violence, over the impacts. Research done on restorative justice programs shows the positive impact RJ seems to have on the improvement of the psychiatric and physical health of victims. This is possibly because such programs focus on the harm (caused and suffered) versus justice processes. In Canada, many of the short and long-term health needs of victims and survivors alike go untreated as a result of this focus on justice. With violent crime being sudden and unpredictable, victims and survivors are at the highest risk for severe impacts from victimization, yet they have very few low-cost or free mental health supports or other healthcare services at their disposal. The CRCVC believes we must move toward a healthcare response to violence, without linking the services offered to offenders or perpetrators, in order to more fully address the impacts of violence on survivors.


How one young man turned shock and fear into forgiveness

By: Kurtis Herrington

On the morning of Monday, April 24, 2000, Art and Marjorie arrived at their daughter Cory’s Winnipeg apartment, only to find their three-year-old grandson alone, peacefully asleep. It didn’t take them long to realize that their daughter was nowhere to be found, and that something was clearly not right. Soon after, Art and Marjorie contacted the authorities, and what ensued is undoubtedly the worst day of their lives.

The little boy’s name is Owen, and on the day before his grandparents found him, his mother was brutally murdered in his presence by her estranged boyfriend. Over the following day investigators were able to connect the dots, which lead to the apprehension of the perpetrator. A thorough investigation resulted in the offender confessing to the murder, and leading them to where he concealed Cory’s body under his grandmother’s cottage. He was charged with second-degree murder, and sentenced to life in prison with parole eligibility after ten years served. Although a seemingly proportionate sentence, it serves as little reparation for the inconceivable loss experienced by Owen, Art and Marjorie, for the murder of their beloved family member.

Owen has had a tough road; navigating his childhood and adolescence without the guidance and love of his biological mother. In addition to the impact this left on Owen’s emotional wellbeing, he has also had to deal with psychological repercussions, including an ongoing diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder during his elementary school years. This seems to have been kept in check since Owen has taken many steps for self-care. While his loving and capable grandparents Art and Marjorie assumed custody of their grandson, Owen was still left with an unimaginable void in his life due to the irrational, hateful, and brutal acts of the offender.

At the age of nineteen, Owen has had to endure more hardships than most will have to within their entire lives. In turn, he has had no choice but to grow up fast, leading to the mature, assured, and spiritual man he is today. During his recent four-month Bible school semester in Costa Rica, Owen was able to take considerable time to reflect on his life through prayer, and try and make meaningful interpretations of the events that he has experienced. It was on this trip that Owen came to a startling conclusion; he wanted to confront the offender in a face-to-face meeting with the hopes of better understanding why he murdered his mother, and potentially offer forgiveness for the heinous acts he committed.  He felt he needed to let go of the past.

In August of 2016, Owen made the difficult trip to British Columbia, where his mother’s killer is currently imprisoned. On the 26th of August, Owen sat across from the offender, with the accompaniment of a mediator and a support person. The meeting was long, lasting two hours in the morning, and two hours in the afternoon. Finally, Owen was offered the chance to confront the evil monster he had built up in his head for all of those years.

Owen’s main intention going into this meeting was to find out who the offender was, and try to understand how he could have possibly done what he did. He didn’t want to carry around the anger he was feeling any longer, and he hoped to finally find a sense of peace. Over the course of the encounter, the offender was able to explain the details of what happened, and try and convey the context of who he was at the time of Cory’s murder. He talked about his difficult childhood, his struggles with substance abuse, and explained that his crime was a result of jealousy and anger. Although this could not have been easy to hear, Owen felt that the offender was open and honest with him, and that he had genuine remorse for his crime.

Following the events of that day, Owen describes a personal sense of peace, and said that the meeting was an overall success. He felt he could finally forgive the offender for what he did to his mother, and that their interaction could potentially set him on the right path. Owen’s grandfather Art also describes how Owen’s demeanor has become calmer since the meeting, and that he believes he has come away a more confident and strong individual.

Owen is an impressive young man and will undoubtedly take what he has learned from this restorative justice encounter, and try apply it to his life. He is a very driven individual, and has recently applied to the University of Winnipeg, the Armed Forces Reserves, and the United Nations to become a youth ambassador.

Although Owen’s healing journey continues, his progress has been tremendous. He serves as an example of the difficult path a victim of crime must endure, but also how one can come out the other side a stronger, stable and more understanding individual. Owen’s story serves as an inspiration to other young people impacted by violence.  The CRCVC is excited to see where his life will lead him, and everything he will be able to accomplish along the way.

The Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime offers support, research and education to survivors and stakeholders.

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