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Let’s end the cycle of domestic violence

December 2, 2014 Shelley Magnusson, ATA Executive Staff Officer

Resources are available to combat enduring social problem

Dec. 6, 2014 marks the 25th anniversary of what has become known as the Montreal Massacre.  On that snowy day in 1989, an embittered young man entered École Polytechnique, an engineering school associated with the University of Montreal, and shot 28 people. During his rampage he separated the male students from the female students and claimed he was fighting feminism and that the women engineering students had to die. He killed 14 young women that day. Another 10 women were injured and four men were caught in the crossfire before he turned the gun on himself. His suicide note blamed women in general and feminists in particular for ruining his life and listed 19 other women whom he planned to kill.

In Canada we mark Dec. 6 as a day of remembrance by wearing white ribbons and saying “never again.” This day has also come to symbolize a call to action to end violence of all kinds against women.

But in spite of all the white ribbons and international activities, gender-based violence still exists. And it affects us all. It destroys families, weakens the fabric of our society and takes a heavy toll on our communities and our economy. Sadly, Alberta continues to lead the pack when it comes to domestic violence figures. A recent study by the Canadian Women’s Foundation reports that 74 per cent of Albertans know a woman who has experienced physical or sexual abuse, compared to 67 per cent of Canadians, in general.

On any given day in Canada, more than 3,300 women along with their 3,000 children are forced to sleep in emergency shelters to escape domestic violence. Every night, about 200 women are turned away because the shelters are full.

We know that boys who witness their mother’s abuse are more likely to batter their female partners as adults than boys raised in nonviolent homes. Girls who witness their mother’s abuse may grow up to believe that threats and violence are the norm in relationships. Perhaps the most chilling of statistics: 63 per cent of adolescent boys who commit homicide kill their mother’s abuser.

Studies unequivocally show that the precursors of domestic violence occur in childhood and adolescence. Children and youth learn relationship skills and social behaviours from their parents and other family members. A high proportion of children who witness or experience violent relationships in childhood go on to perpetuate these patterns in adulthood.

A growing body of research shows that domestic violence is often preceded by dating violence in adolescence, which is often preceded by bullying and aggression in childhood and early adolescence. The lessons of power and bullying learned in the playground are often refined and intensified into domestic abuse in adulthood.

Domestic violence and gender violence are complex and intractable social problems that cannot be easily solved. But by helping students learn positive, healthy relationship skills we can help end the cycle.

The Fourth R is one such program. The idea behind the Fourth R is that healthy relationships can be taught in much the same way as the other three Rs in school.

The Fourth R is a comprehensive, evidence- and school-based prevention resource that targets peer and dating violence and related risk behaviours. The 21-lesson curriculum meets provincial education guidelines for grades 7, 8 and 9 health and physical education and is taught by teachers.

Currently the Fourth R is implemented in 177 schools in Alberta and is estimated to reach more than 17,000 students. All 436 teachers who use the program received training and the resources needed to implement the program.

The program, which is in its third year, is funded through a five-year project by Alberta Human Services. A shorter program, to be used by school counsellors in small group settings, has also been developed and is used in some Calgary schools. More information about the Fourth R can be found at

This year as we pause to remember the 14 young women who lost their lives on December 6, 1989 and the 1,527 women who have lost their lives since then as a result of domestic violence, lets also commit to working towards a future where women and children are safe and free from abuse in their environments and relationships.❚

What if your school is not a part of the Fourth R?

The ATA offers a one-day workshop called Unseen Hurts: Understanding Mental Health Issues in Our Schools. By integrating positive mental health activities throughout the curriculum and grade levels, schools can become safe and positive spaces for students, teachers and families. While based primarily around the theme of mental health, this workshop can be a great resource for teachers on promoting healthy relationships.

If a one-day workshop is too long, locals can also book the Healthy Minds, Bright Futures presentation. This 60- to 90-minute presentation provides an overview of common mental health concerns for children, recommends resources and references, and informs teachers how they can promote awareness and discourage stigma. A booklet called Compassionate Classrooms developed in partnership with the Canadian Mental Health Association and Global Television, is available free of charge to teachers.

The Association also offers a presentation entitled The Effects of Domestic Violence on Children. This 60- to 90-minute presentation outlines how intimate partner violence can disrupt the family refuge on which children and teens rely for stability, support and nurturing. Children’s exposure to domestic violence is much more common than generally believed. The potential consequences of abuse or exposure to violence as a child are also becoming increasingly evident. Children exposed to domestic violence are more likely to suffer from biological, social, emotional and/or cognitive development problems than those who are not. In this session, teachers will learn to recognize the signs of vicarious trauma and receive information on supports available.

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