A Spotlight on family violence and immigrant women in Canada.

AuthorWhitson, Lidsey

Family violence remains a serious, on-going problem for many inhabitants of Canada. Justice Canada defines it as any form of abuse, mistreatment, or neglect that a child or adult experiences--physically, sexually, emotionally, financially, or otherwise--from a family member or from someone with whom they have an intimate relationship.

Statistics Canada's most recent profile on family violence indicates that there were at least 95,000 victims in 2011 according to police reporting, most of whom were women. (Family violence in Canada: A statistical profile). This is a drop from previous years, but it is widely recognized that the true number of victims in a given year is much greater than reported. The absence of more accurate numbers results from limitations in how family violence data is collected, from the types and phrasing of questions asked to the difficulty of securing a representative sample, particularly when many studies interview in English and/or French only. Low reporting rates are also at play, as many reasons exist for why individuals might be unwilling or unable to report their victimization.

Family violence and related involvement in the legal system is ultimately challenging for all parties involved, but these challenges are magnified for those immigrants unfamiliar with Canadian justice and social systems.

These and other issues limit collective understanding of family violence, especially around that occurring in some immigrant families in Canada. Tremendous diversity exists among these families, and yet relatively little data exists on how family violence plays out among those who have relocated to Canada. A recent resource by Justice Canada, Abuse is Wrong in any Language, recognizes that sometimes behaviours occur in immigrant families that are not always recognized as family violence or crimes. Nevertheless, the absence of detailed data in this respect slows the development of culturally meaningful initiatives to address the problem.

Inroads are being made, however. Studies and analyses of broader data are increasingly occurring with an eye to immigrant patterns, especially around the victimization and help-seeking behaviours of women. According to Statistics Canada's 2011 profile, immigrant women may be at a slightly lower risk of abuse than Canadian-born women, particularly outside of spousal relationships. (Measuring violence against women: Statistical trends) Tremendous diversity exists among these families, and yet...

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