Family violence affects us all

In journalism, there’s an unwritten rule that reporters don’t cover suicides. It’s considered a private family matter. However this rule becomes murky when it’s a murder-suicide or the suicide of a celebrity.

I never really understood this. I suppose it’s a matter of practicality. Suicides far outnumber homicides, and it would quickly become overwhelming if newspapers routinely covered every suicide.

Last week, Fort Saskatchewan witnessed a tragic murder-suicide, the second time in a year family violence has left a profound mark on our community. Last January, 53-year-old Phu Lam killed eight people before committing suicide at a restaurant in the Fort.

On Sunday, a candlelight vigil was held in memory of one of last week’s deceased, Colleen Sillito. Her killer, ex-boyfriend Paul Joseph Jacob, will not be remembered in the same way.

But despite his heinous act, we must acknowledge that he was a member of a community. Somewhere out there are parents, siblings and friends mourning this man.

There’s no point in trying to understand what was going through Jacob’s mind the morning of Oct. 2. I have spoken with people who knew Jacob as a regular at local bars and said nothing in his character indicated he was the type of person who would do this. Some even said he wouldn’t exceed more than two glasses of wine on any given night.

In contrast, Sillito had indicated in court documents that Jacob was drinking heavily and using cocaine. The medical examiner has not released whether Jacob had drugs or alcohol in his system so there’s no sense in trying to determine what drove him over the edge.

For most of us, the thought of being killed by someone we once loved and trusted is incomprehensible. But it’s a reality that happens far too often.

Alberta’s rate of family violence is slightly higher than the national average, with roughly 290 victims per 100,000 people in 2013. It’s certainly an issue here in the Fort – in their 2014/2015 year, the Families First Society provided support to 169 individuals affected by family violence.

Family violence affects more than spouses – it affects kids, friends and entire communities. While general trends related to family violence show a downward trend, there is one concerning statistic that stands out: family violence with lethal weapons is rising. Partner violence with the use of a weapon rose from 12 per cent in 2010 to 16 per cent in 2013.

We need to recognize that we can all play a role in preventing family violence. Much like drug addiction and alcoholism, there is still a stigma surrounding family violence that makes people reluctant to speak about it.

But the only way to help reduce partner violence is by refusing to stay silent. That’s sometimes easier said than done. There are often no warning signs or outward indicators that there’s trouble in the house.

November is Family Violence Prevention Month in Alberta. Let’s take it as an opportunity to speak out against family violence, to support our neighbours and family members and to recognize that we have the resources and ability to make a change.

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