Femicide in Ontario: Documenting the killing of women over four decades

CRC logoThis long-term project has been supported by various funding agencies over the past several years and currently funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Insight program and the Canada Research Chair program. Dr. Myrna Dawson is the Principal Investigator. 

While the majority of homicide victims are men, the killing of women has been the focus of public concern in recent decades due, in part, to the increasing recognition that women are most often killed in the context of intimate relationships. Killings of women by male partners account for a significant number of deaths worldwide although this varies by world region. Regardless of whether women are killed by male partners or strangers, the circumstances and characteristics of those involved differ in important ways from homicides involving men. In fact, the term femicide is used to highlight the gendered nature of homicides of women and the fact that women are often killed because they are women. More recently, particularly in the Global South, the term feminicide has entered popular and academic discourse to highlight the impunity with which these crimes are often treated by the state and the higher risks of femicide for women living in these countries compared to other world regions.SSHRC

However, no country is free from this type of violence. In the past decade, the vulnerability of indigenous women and girls has come to the forefront of national and international attention. Key contributing factors identified are the violence and trauma that have been experienced by indigenous women, their families and communities for decades due to the intergenerational impact of, and resulting vulnerabilities and marginalization due to, colonization and related state policies (e.g. residential schools, child welfare system). Inadequate state responses to the investigation of these crimes and ongoing systemic issues that lead to increased vulnerabilities for Aboriginal women have led to repeated calls for a national inquiry which is now underway.This ongoing project has documented the killing of women in Canada’s most populous province over approximately 40 years, identifying the characteristics of the victims and their killers, as well as the circumstances of the crime and the subsequent criminal justice response. Various research questions have been addressed using these data (see publications below) and new questions are underway and emerging including specific focus on indigenous women and girls, older women, and the accessibility and utility of gender-based indicators for identifying femicides.

Related references:

Sutton, D. and M. Dawson. 2017. Femicide of Older Women. Learning Network Brief (31). London, ON: Learning Network, Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children.

Dawson, M. 2016. Punishing femicide: Criminal justice responses to the killing of women over four decades. Current Sociology 64(7): 996-1016.

Dawson, M. Intimacy, gender and homicide: The validity and utility of common stereotypes in law. 2016. Chapter 3 in Gender, Murder and Responsibility: An International Perspective, edited by K. Fitz-Gibbons and S. Walklate (Routledge).

Johnson, H and M. Dawson. 2011. Violence Against Women in Canada: Research and Policy Perspectives. Toronto: Oxford University Press. [Chapter 6, Femicide]

Dawson, M. 2012. Intimacy, homicide, and punishment: Examining court outcomes over three decades.  Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology 45(3): 400-422.

Dawson, M. 2006. Intimacy, violence and the law: Exploring stereotypes about victim-defendant relationship and violent crime. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 96(4): 1417-1450.

Dawson, M. 2005. Intimate femicide followed by suicide: Examining the role of premeditation. Suicide & Life-Threatening Behavior 35(1): 76-90.

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. 2003. The cost of ‘lost’ intimacy: The effect of relationship state on criminal justice decision-making. The British Journal of Criminology 43(4): 689-709.

Dawson, M. & R. Gartner. (1998). Differences in the Characteristics of Intimate Femicide: The Role of Relationship State and Relationship Status. Homicide Studies 2: 378-399.