What puts families at risk of violence and what helps protect them?

Patterns of family violence continue from one generation to another

A child or teenager who is abused, or exposed to intimate partner violence, is more likely to be abused as an adult or to become an abuser. This makes prior experience of family violence a risk factor.

Family violence can happen in any family or community.

Research shows that while some factors may help protect families from violence (protective factors), others are related to a higher risk (risk factors).

These factors do not cause family violence; they are related to level of risk, with exposure to multiple risk factors making families more vulnerable.

Strengthening protective factors and reducing risk factors that make families vulnerable can help to prevent family violence.

Protective and risk factors are related to family violence at many levels-society, community, relationship, and individual-and each level impacts all of the others. For example:

A society's values and beliefs influence laws and can send a message about whether or not violence is tolerated. This message can influence the community-level programs or services that can help prevent or respond to family violence. Together, society's values, laws and community supports can impact family relationships and individuals - both to help people relate to each other in safe ways, and to develop resilience to cope with difficult or harmful situations.

Examples of protective and risk factors by type of violence

Table 1: Child abuse and neglect
  What helps to protect children from abuse? What puts children at risk of abuse?
Society Laws against all forms of child abuse Social tolerance of violence
Community Access to local support services Concentrated neighbourhood poverty and crime
Relationship Strong parent-child attachment A history of intergenerational violence
Individual Parental resilience and ability to cope Parental mental health or substance abuse problems
Table 2: Intimate partner violence
  What helps protect intimate partners? What puts intimate partners at risk of abuse?
Society Strong income supports Traditional gender norms (gender inequity)
Community Safe and affordable housing options for families Community members unwilling to speak out against violence
Relationship Strong conflict resolution skills Dominance or control issues of one partner over another
Individual Positive self-esteem Being abused as a child, youth, or adult
Table 3: Elder abuse
  What helps protect elders from abuse? What puts elders at risk of abuse?
Society Public awareness of elder abuse Ageism
Community Access to quality home care Social isolation
Relationship Strong social support systems Family conflict
Individual Stable income Chronic illness, particularly dementia


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Krug EG et al., eds. (2002). World report on violence and health. World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland.

Stewart DE and Riazantseva E. (2014). Research Brief: Resilience and Mental Health Outcomes. PreVAiL: Preventing Violence Across the Lifespan Research Network. London, ON. (PDF document)

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