Marital Status as Differentiating Factor in Canadian Women's Coping with Partner Violence

Article excerpt



Violence against women is a major problem in Canada. Grandin and Lupri (1997) compared rates of violence in Canada and the United States and found Canadians have a higher prevalence of partner violence than Americans. This is indicative that partner violence may be a proportionately larger problem in Canada than the United States. Of course the number of victimized women is greater in the United States, given its much larger population. However, Grandin and Lupn"s (1997) results point to the importance of studying the Canadian situation. Results from the largest national survey on violence against women ever conducted showed that 29 percent of Canadian women have experienced violence by a current or former husband (Johnson, 1996). These results suggest that research and policies are desperately needed to understand and prevent partner violence in Canada.

Brownridge and Halli (2000) argue that one important empirical tack for arriving at an understanding of partner violence involves the investigation of common-law couples separately from married couples. These researchers argue that common-law and marital unions are qualitatively different relationships and, hence, the former requires separate analysis to fully understand the causes of partner violence against women. Little is known about violence in common-law relationships in Canada. There have been only six surveys in Canada that have differentiated prevalence rates in terms of marital/commonlaw status (Brinkerhoff and Lupri, 1988; Kennedy and Dutton, 1989; Smith, 1986; Sommer, 1994; Statistics Canada, 1993; Statistics Canada, 2000). Though their breadth varies, these surveys demonstrate a consistent pattern showing common-law couples to have a greater propensity to be violent. Canadian common-law relationships are two to four times more likely than their married counterparts to involve male partner violen ce. In the only systematic analysis of violence in Canadian common-law unions, Brownridge and Halli (1999a) found that unique sets of variables are linked to violence in different marital status categories. Surprisingly, this is also the case for two groups of marrieds. Violence among women who possess a history of cohabitation with someone other than their husband (PC married) seems to be linked to different variables than does violence experienced by those without a prior history of cohabitation (non-PC married). Brownridge and Halli's (1999a) reasoning, that the two groups of marrieds should be separated since PC marrieds are likely to be different as a result of their past cohabitation experience with another man, appears to be supported. In fact, when prevalence rates of violence are compared, the rate of violence reported by PC married women even exceeds that of women living common-law. These results suggest that PC marrieds are an important martial status category that should be studied in their own ri ght.

The increasing number of cohabitors lends further credence to their separate treatment from marrieds. Since the Canadian Census began to distinguish between common-law and marital unions, the rate of couples living in common-law unions in Canada has more than doubled. According to the 1996 Census, 14 percent of couples in Canada are living common-law (Statistics Canada, 1997). The impact of this trend toward increasing common-law unions in Canada is illustrated by Dumas (1997:130) who writes, "consider that if the relative growth rates were maintained for the two groups, by the year 2022 there would be as many common-law couples as married couples. Thus, in half a century ... marriage would have relinquished its place as the conjugal norm in Canada." Given higher rates of violence in common-law relationships, there has been some concern expressed in the literature that the prevalence of violence will increase with the continuing trend toward cohabitation (e.g., Dobash and Dobash, 1995). …