With the COVID-19 pandemic and a growing number of people working from home, domestic violence has increased in Quebec and Canada. Since February 2021, at least seven Quebec women were killed by their spouse or ex-spouse. Femicide has got to stop! The FIQ and FIQP, composed of nearly 90% female healthcare professionals, see domestic violence as a major social issue that deserves attention and funding.
Domestic violence is a part of the historical inequality between women and men. It can arise in couples in an intimate relationship. According to the INSPQ, “while it can be perpetrated by both genders, studies show that it is generally perpetrated by men against women.” It can happen at any age, regardless of social class or education level. You can recognize a relationship with domestic violence by the hold that the aggressor has on their victim. It consists of unwanted and repeated acts of generally increasing gravity. By exercising dominance and power over their victim, the abuser makes sure the victim will not leave them. It is important to understand that in domestic violence, the abuser is taking control and not losing it. According to the Ministry of Public Security of Quebec, in 2015, women made up all or almost all victims of homicide (72.7%), kidnapping (100%), sequestration (97%), and sexual assault (97.4%) committed by a spouse or ex-spouse.
The aggressor may use one of several strategies to keep a victim within their control and, unfortunately, still today, some women will not seek help because they only associate domestic violence with physical violence. Domestic violence wears many different faces and some are hard to recognize. Some aggressors use strategies that subtly but firmly interfere in the victim’s life, for example by controlling their finances. Here are a few situations to illustrate what domestic violence can look like. You may recognize the situation of a friend, neighbour, sister, colleague or even your own. (Reference: https://sosviolenceconjugale.ca/en):
-Your partner forces their presence, friends and activities on you. Since you’ve been with him, you see your friends and family less and less. He tends to criticize your loved ones and always finds reasons not to see them. You get the feeling you are being punished when you fail to meet his expectations by talking with a friend or going to see your parents.
-One evening, you notice that your friend’s partner is making fun of her in front of others. He openly mocks and humiliates her. She doesn’t say anything but you can see that she is not laughing at all.
-Your partner is often in a bad mood. As soon as he gets home, he sets the mood for your evening. Sometimes, even before he has said a word, you see that the mood is tense and you will have to walk on eggshells. In the past, you tried to talk to him about it but he always disregarded your perceptions saying “it was all in your head,” “you were the problem.”
-You notice that your colleague has been tense for several weeks. Every day, several times a day, she receives many text messages from her partner. She talks with him during almost all of her breaks and the conversations seem complicated. She becomes more isolated. She doesn’t eat with you anymore and her partner is almost always waiting for her at the hospital exit or even in the department.
Regardless of how it plays out, domestic violence always leaves marks. Besides physical wounds, it can have a major psychological impact on victims and their friends, loved ones, community, etc. According to the WHO, it can cause depression, post-traumatic stress, sleep disorders, eating disorders, substance abuse and suicidal thoughts (reference: www.who.int/mediacentre/).
In Canada, almost one out of every three workers has experienced domestic violence. Since aggressors exert such a powerful hold over their victims, for more than half of cases, violence infiltrated into their workplace. Would you be surprised to know that 41% of victims received calls or text messages, and 16% received emails, while at work? 80% of victims recognized that this violence affected their work performance. Since domestic violence affects their work lives, let’s be attentive to our colleagues’ experiences. We are in a special position to detect domestic violence. As healthcare professionals, let’s not turn a blind eye to the suffering of a colleague, loved one, or patient. It is difficult for victims to escape the cycles of domestic violence. Many women experience guilt, shame and ambivalence about their relationship. Let’s be ready to talk about our concerns and offer support, while always respecting other people’s pace. Having a non-judgemental attitude can help to build trust and prevent victim isolation.
The FIQ and FIQP believe a legislative provision in the AOHS recognizing an employer’s obligation to protect workers who are victims of domestic violence in the workplace would be a good start. It is also time for employers to invest in prevention and raising awareness among staff. As healthcare professionals working with the Quebec population, we believe that we should be offered training on detecting domestic violence so that we can fulfill our roles as agents of change for a just society that is free of violence.
Are you or someone you know a victim of violence? Call 1-800-363-9010.
Caroline Flageol and Caroline Gravel, on behalf of the Status of Women Committee