The Centre and its researchers are involved in various projects that seek to build knowledge and contribute to society’s understanding about violence and efforts to reduce and prevent violence. While not exhaustive of the research activities being undertaken at the Centre, the projects below provide a sampling of current efforts that focus on local, national and international responses to violence and its prevention.
Location, location, location: Examining the geography of justice for victims and perpetrators of violence
This five-year project is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council’s Insight program. The Principal Investigator is Dr. Myrna Dawson.
Project Description: Little attention is given to variation in official responses to crime across Canadian jurisdictions despite recognition that courts operate in distinct environments that impact how cases are processed and disposed. Understanding what groups are affected, where and why is integral to ensuring consistency in access to justice for victims and defendants. More theoretical development in sociology of law and punishment is also needed to link multilevel determinants to identify how responses may be embedded in and shaped by case, court and community characteristics. To meet these overarching objectives, the proposed study has four sub-objectives: (1) To document jurisdictional patterns in case processing and dispositions by characteristics of the victims, their accused, and the incidents; (2) To document jurisdictional patterns in case processing/dispositions by characteristics of the courts and the broader communities in which they operate; (3) To identify associations among particular types of cases, court sites or communities that may help explain identified jurisdictional variations; and, finally, (4) To determine if there have been changes over time in these jurisdictional patterns that parallel legislative and policy transformations. The continued absence of systematic Canadian court data allowing researchers to link case characteristics to punishments has so far prevented such research. In the Canadian context, the importance of the above research is demonstrated by a 2011 special issue of the Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice which highlighted the lack of progress in Canadian criminal justice research. Contributors to this special issue argued that many problems identified by the Canadian Sentencing Commission in the 1980s remain true today with few changes made beyond some modest reforms introduced in 1996.
Defining and documenting resources for victims/survivors of violence in Canada
This project is funded in part by the Canada Research Chair Program. Other funding that has supported the project’s development was received from Department of Justice Canada; Public Health Agency of Canada; Canadian Observatory on the Justice System Response to Intimate Partner Violence; and the College of Social and Applied Human Sciences. The Principal Investigator is Dr. Myrna Dawson.
Project Description: In the past few decades, crime victims have become more aware of their rights and of the services and resources available to them largely due to the women’s movement and the victims’ rights’ movement. With the increase in the number of victims seeking help and no parallel increase in the amount of funding that is required to support these services, it is becoming more of a challenge to assess victim needs, allocate available resources effectively, and to advocate for additional resources to meet the growing demand. In addition, obtaining sufficient funds to maintain current programs while, at the same time, providing support to victims who had previously not been served continues to be a challenge. As such, the national Victim Services Survey was an important first step in addressing the dearth of information on such resources in this country (Brzozowski 2007: Kong 2004) and has advanced our knowledge on the availability of victim services beyond that currently existing in other countries. This project seeks to build upon this work so that can more comprehensively document, examine and understand the role of victim resources in Canada and elsewhere. In doing so, the project will: (1) Move beyond the traditional emphasis on criminal justice-related resources and services to identify and document other types of resources that are available in the community; (2) Examine the distribution of both community-based and criminal justice-related resources and services across geographic regions; (3) Recognize that service availability is only one element of effective delivery by examining additional service characteristics such as accessibility and utility; and, finally, (4) Examine the association between rates of violence and resource availability, accessibility and utility. With a particular emphasis on intimate partner violence and violence against women, the ultimate goal of the research is to identify underserved areas to determine if they have higher rates of violence. The underlying premise is that more resources should lead to reduced exposure to violence: where resources are high, rates in violence should be low and vice versa.
Dawson, M. (2010) Developing a pan-Canadian map of family violence services. Ottawa: Public Health Agency of Canada.
Dawson, M. (2010). Documenting the growth of resources for victims/survivors of violence. Victims of Crime: Research Digest (No. 3). Ottawa: Department of Justice Canada.
Dawson, M., J. Poon & M. Hubbert. (2010). Documenting resources for victims of violence in Canada: A workshop discussion paper. Ottawa: Department of Justice Canada.
Dawson, M., V. Pottie Bunge, & T. Balde. (2009). “National trends in intimate partner homicides: Explaining the decline, Canada, 1976-2001.” Violence Against Women 15(3): 276-306. [Nominated for the Journal’s 2009 Best Article Award]
Intimacy, Violence and the Law in the International Context
This project is funded in part by the Canada Research Chair Program. Other funding to support project development was received from Faculty of Law, University of Melbourne and TC Beirne School of Law, University of Queensland. The Principal Investigator is Dr. Myrna Dawson.
Project Description: The effectiveness of social and legal responses to violence has been the subject of much debate in recent decades and a key focus of these debates has been the role that intimacy should play in criminal justice decision-making. Stereotypes about intimacy and violence have been challenged and major transformations have occurred in law and public policy as a result. However, there has been little effort to determine the effect of legal and policy changes on the treatment of these crimes. This project will facilitate an understanding of whether and how changing constructions of intimacy have had an impact on the ground in criminal justice attitudes and decision-making in cases of violence. Three related initiatives are proposed. The first initiative will carry out a comparative critical analysis of the changing constructions of intimacy and violence in law and public policy across several countries (Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom). This comparison will identify how constructions of intimacy and violence are linked to existing legal and public policy frameworks that guide criminal justice responses. By analyzing key official documents, the goal is to describe and compare the larger contexts within which criminal justice actors respond to or make decisions about crime and violence. The second initiative recognizes that legislative and policy reform often relies on its reinforcement by criminal justice actors on the ground and it is here that particular constructions of intimacy related to violence may be most relevant. This initiative will begin: (1) To identify and test the reliability and validity of conceptual measures of key stereotypes about intimacy and violence that may be linked to criminal justice decision-making; and (2) To develop more innovative data collection techniques to more consistently capture data on these measures so socio-legal and criminal justice research can move forward in this area. The focus of the second initiative will be on homicide for which explanations of lenient treatment or an ‘intimacy discount’ are argued to rely on particular stereotypes about intimacy and violence that have yet to be substantiated empirically. This project builds on earlier work by Dr. Dawson that examines the criminal justice response to homicide over a period of three decades in one large urban jurisdiction. The final initiative focuses on the rise of domestic violence death review committees internationally and seeks to understand the impetus to their establishment across jurisdictions as well as their ability to achieve systemic change.
Dawson, M. (2012). Intimacy, homicide, and punishment: Examining court outcomes over three decades. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology 45(3) [In press].
Dawson, M. (2009). Over three decades of public policy change: What has been the impact for victims of intimate partner violence and homicide. Proceedings of the First International Conference on Homicide. Canberra, ACT: Australian Institute of Criminology.
Dawson, M. (2006). Intimacy, violence and the law: Exploring stereotypes about victim-defendant relationship and violent crime. Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology 96(4): 1417-1450.
Dawson, M. (2004) “Rethinking the boundaries of intimacy at the end of the century: The role of victim-defendant relationship in criminal justice decision-making over time.” Law & Society Review 38(1): 105-138.
Dawson, M. (2004). Criminal Justice Outcomes in Intimate Partner and Non-Intimate Partner Homicide Cases. Ottawa: Department of Justice Canada.
Canadian Domestic Homicide Prevention Initiative
The Canadian Domestic Homicide Prevention Initiative with Vulnerable Populations (CDHPIVP) is a five year project funded by the Social Sciences Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) to conduct research on domestic homicides in Canada; to identify protocols and strategies that will reduce risk; and to share this knowledge with the wider community. In 2013, in Canada, intimate partner violence accounted for one quarter of all police-reported violent crimes; and one quarter of all homicides.
The CDHPIVP focuses on four populations that experience increased vulnerability to domestic homicide:
· Aboriginal populations – the rate of domestic homicide is eight times higher for Aboriginal women compared to non-Aboriginal women in Canada.
· Rural, remote and northern populations – the rate of domestic homicide in rural Canada is significantly higher than in urban areas.
· Immigrant and refugee populations – their experiences with language, cultural and other barriers make it more difficult to report domestic violence and to access services.
· Children exposed to domestic violence – children and youth who were victims of family-related violence represent 29% of all children and youth victims of violent crime.
Based on this research and the greater challenges for these populations to access resources, there is a clear need to undertake research with these four groups.
1. National database on domestic homicide - to serve as a central repository for data on domestic homicide cases and the identification of associated risk factors.
2. Comprehensive literature review - to systematically examine risk assessment, risk management and safety planning strategies that currently exist for domestic violence and homicide in general and for the identified populations specifically.
3. Qualitative research with stakeholders - to expand our understanding of unique risk factors associated with these vulnerable groups.
4. Multi-site control study - to compare domestic homicide cases with attempted homicide cases and cases of severe domestic violence in order to identify unique risk factors for lethality.
Partnerships and Collaboration
This research is made possible through strong local, provincial, and national partnerships that will be fostered and expanded in this initiative. The CDHPIVP team is comprised of multiple academic disciplines, professions, and community settings. Partners and collaborators bring specialized domestic violence knowledge and expertise to the project.
The website www.cdhpi.ca , established with funding from the Canadian Women's Foundation, provides a centralized repository of information on domestic homicide review and prevention with a Canadian focus, and will be one of many knowledge dissemination strategies throughout the project.
For further information about the CDHPIVP, please contact:
Dr. Peter Jaffe
Academic Director, Centre for Research & Education on Violence against Women & Children (CREVAWC)
Dr. Myrna Dawson
Director, Centre for the Study of Social and Legal Responses to Violence
University of Guelph
Investigating the criminal justice response to intimate partner violence in Canada
This project is funded in part by the Canada Research Chair program. Dr. Dawson is the Co-Principal Investigator with Tina Hotton, Research Associate at the Centre for the Study of Social and Legal Responses to Violence.
Project Description: Although there is no official “national” charging policy on intimate partner violence in Canada, all jurisdictions have officially supported a “pro” or “mandatory” charging policy since the mid-1980s. The move to charge and prosecute all incidents of spousal violence was a critical shift from its historical treatment as a private matter. However, reactions to the policy have been mixed. For some women’s advocates, the shift has been viewed as a triumph. It was just two decades ago that police training generally instructed against the arrest of an abuser unless he was actually found hitting the victim or unless the victim had suffered injuries that were “severe enough to require a certain number of stitches. On the other hand, some feminist researchers among others have highlighted the problem that domestic violence policies have evolved through gendered institutions which have undermined their efficacy. For example, one unintended outcome of mandatory charge policies has been the increase in counter charges being laid by the primary accused against the victim. Others have voiced concerns that victims of domestic violence are being further victimized by police when their partners are charged against their will. Although there has been little quantitative research to date, qualitative analyses of interview data with front-line police officers have found that even in mandatory arrest jurisdictions, compliance with the policy can be low. The first national level study of police clearance rates for DV cases in Canada was released by the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics in 2008. This study noted difference in police clearance rates by province. Provinces with domestic violence court programs in place (notably Ontario, Manitoba and Yukon) cleared more incidents by charge than other provinces and differences for male and female victim. To build upon this analysis, this project seeks to isolate some of the legal and extra-legal factors associated with police charges practices in these incidents and to employ a gender analysis exploring variation in charging practices according to the sex of the victim and the accused,
Dawson, M. (2007). Canadian criminal law and physical violence against women: Challenges and Changes. Bangladesh Journal of Law (November): 241-258.
Canadian observatory on the justice system response to intimate partner violence
This SSHRC-funded project is being lead by Dr. Carmen Gill, Director, Muriel McQueen Fergusson Centre for Family Violence Research, University of New Brunswick. Dr. Dawson is one of several Co-Investigators from across the country and a member of the CO Executive Committee.
Project Description: The Canadian observatory on the justice system response to intimate partner violence is an international network of researchers, practitioners and policy-makers from across many disciplines. The Canadian observatory supports rigorous inter-jurisdictional analysis on the justice system response to intimate partner violence focusing on identifying policies and strategies to resolve intimate partner violence and exploring how the justice system functions across the country and abroad.
Promoting health through collaborative engagement with youth in Canada: Overcoming, resisting, and preventing structural violence
This project is funded by the Canadian Institute for Health Research. The Nominated Principal Investigator is Dr. Helene Berman, Western University. Co-Principal Investigators are Dr. Dominique Damant, Dr. Marnina Gonick, Dr. Holly Johnson. Dr. Cathy Richardson, Dr. Wilfreda Thurston. Dr. Myrna Dawson is a Co-Investigator.
Project Description: Long recognized as a socio-cultural problem, in more recent years, violence has been conceptualized as a significant health concern with long-term consequences for individuals, families and communities. This Team Grant will extend this conceptualization further by exploring the complex dimensions of structural violence to which many youth in Canada are routinely subjected. The purpose of this team grant is to examine how structural violence is experienced by youth in Canada, how it influences their health, and strategies that can be used to address and prevent violence. In addition it will evaluate how collaborative engagement with youth can promote health by empowering them to address structural violence in their lives. Using participatory action research approaches, our research will be carried out by a multidisciplinary and geographically diverse team of academic and community researchers, youth, and policymakers.
Specific objectives are to: 1) Examine how structural forms of violence are defined, understood, and experienced by youth. 2) Examine, from the perspectives of youth, how structural violence shapes their health and well-being. 3) Undertake a critical and historical analysis of relevant policies to identify ways in which institutions wittingly or unwittingly contribute to the victimization or vulnerability of diverse groups of youth and the differential ways in which these policies influence them. 4)Conduct a multi-dimensional critical analysis of the ways that mass media shapes and/or reflects dominant public perceptions of marginalized youth and structural violence, how these influence their health, with particular attention to issues of identity, belonging/exclusion, and sense of self. 5) Examine how structural violence is minimized, reinforced, or enacted through interactions with various systems/institutions (e.g. child welfare, justice, health, Indian affairs, citizenship and immigration), and how these interactions influence health. 6) Evaluate the use of youth-centered participatory action research as a health promotion strategy.
Knowledge translation activities will be incorporated throughout the duration of the grant. A national conference, to be led by youth, attended by youth, researchers, and knowledge users, including policymakers and programmers will be held in the final year. Findings will be shared and discussed in innovative and more traditional ways with diverse audiences and will contribute to recommendations that organizations and policymakers can use to dismantle barriers to equality, eliminate structural violence, and promote health among youth in Canada.
Dawson, M. & R. Dinovitzer. (2008) “The evolution of specialized domestic violence courts in Ontario,” in Chapter 5 in What’s Law Got to do with it? The Law, Specialized Courts and Domestic Violence in Canada, edited by J. Ursel and L. Tutty. Toronto: Cormorant Press.
Dawson, M. & R. Dinovitzer. (2001). Victim Cooperation and the Prosecution of Domestic Violence in a Specalized Court. Justice Quarterly 18(3): 593-622. [Reprinted in Criminal Justice: Concepts and Issues (An Anthology) (2004), edited by C.W. Eskridge. Los Angeles, CA: Roxbury.]
Dinovitzer, R. & M. Dawson. (2007) “The persistence of family-based justice in the sentencing of domestic violence.” The British Journal of Criminology, 47(4): 655-670.
Johnson, H and M. Dawson. (2011). Violence Against Women in Canada: Research and Policy Perspectives. Toronto: Oxford University Press.
Examining the importance of dynamic risk factors for predicting recidivism and promoting change among domestically violent offenders
This SSHRC-funded project is being lead by Dr. Katreena Scott, Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair in Family Violence Prevention and Intervention, University of Toronto. Dr. Dawson is a Co-Investigator.
Project Description: Domestic violence (DV) is internationally recognized as a prevalent problem with profound costs to individuals and society. Of particular concern is the subset of DV offenders whose assaults on their partners are repeated, severe, injury causing and potentially lethal. Identifying and intervening with this group of offenders is the combined responsibility of the criminal justice and social service systems. Unfortunately, there is still a great deal of debate on how these systems might best stop repeat offenders. The proposed work responds to: (1) recent calls for greater application of effective corrections principles, specifically Risk-Needs-Responsivity (RNR) model, to interventions for DV offenders, (2) the development of fourth-generation risk assessment in corrections, and (3) the promise of our pilot research on a dynamic risk focused intervention for moderate and high-risk DV offenders with a series of studies on the role of dynamic risk factors for advancing assessment and intervention with DV offenders. Our first objective is to contribute to understanding recidivism among DV offenders by examining the contribution of dynamic risk factors to the prediction of offending in both variable-centered and person-oriented analyses. Our second objective is to contribute to improved intervention for DV offenders by conducting a mixed-methods process and outcome evaluation of an RNR-informed intervention for moderate to high-risk DV offenders.