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Graduate Research

Understanding Child Homicide and Filicide: A Focus on Intimacy, Gender, and Criminal Justice Outcomes

Lead Researcher: Anna Johnson

Photo of Anna Johnson.

Project Description: Child homicides are rare; when they occur, the majority are committed by biological parents or stepparents – what is commonly referred to as filicide. However, the concept of intimacy and how it might be associated with legal responses has been examined almost exclusively in the context of intimate partner violence.

The criminal justice outcomes in cases of child homicides may also differ depending on the relationship that existed between the child and their killer. Research has also shown that traditional perceptions about gender roles and parenting have been linked to variations in how mothers and fathers are perceived and reacted to when they kill their children. Although maternal and paternal filicide is committed in almost equal numbers, historically mothers who kill their children have a long history of receiving more negative media coverage and community outrage.

The goals of this project are three-fold: (1) To examine the role of intimacy in determining criminal justice outcomes; (2) To examine the role of perpetrator sex in determining criminal justice outcomes in filicide cases; and (3) To thematically analyze how judges discuss maternal and paternal filicide perpetrators in sentencing decisions.

Overall, this research is necessary and important for understanding how the criminal justice system responds to child homicide perpetrators, will identify if more needs to be done to ensure parental relationships are treated as aggravating factors as stipulated in the Criminal Code sentencing principles, and capture whether there is gendered treatment of filicide perpetrators.

Related References

Dawson, M. 2015. Canadian trends in filicide by gender of the accused, 1961-2011. Child Abuse & Neglect 47: 162-174.

Johnson A. 2023. Filicide: An Oxford Bibliography. New York: Oxford

Johnson, A., and M. Dawson. 2021. Comparing child homicide: An examination of characteristics by degrees of intimacy. Child Abuse Review 30(3): 251–267.

Johnson., A. and M. Dawson. 2023. Child homicide in Ontario, Canada: Comparing criminal justice outcomes. International Journal of Law, Crime and Justice 75: 1-15.

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