Criminalization of Women

A disproportionate number of women who were reporting violence against them, found themselves facing criminal charges. The Criminalization of Women Project seeks to reverse this trend.

The Criminalization of Women Project was conceived to address the disproportionate impact of the law on women who identify violence against them (particularly intimate partner abuse and sexual violence), but then find themselves facing criminal and other consequences.

In recent years, the Clinic has noticed an increase in women being criminalized when requesting state protection from gender-based violence. Based on our clients’ reports, we have seen this happen in three particular ways:


  • Family Law: Women are increasingly charged in relation to continued contact with abusers required by custody orders.
  • Sexual Assault Law: Similar to survivors of domestic abuse, women who are sexually assaulted often remain in close contact with their assaulters without receiving adequate state protection.
  • Immigration and Refugee Law: Survivors of human trafficking and forced marriage who come forward experience heightened scrutiny for their “criminal” status.
Criminalization of Women


86 percent of federally sentenced women reported being survivors of physical abuse while over two-thirds reported being sexually abused.


We have two primary goals for our project:

  1. Review current knowledge and come to understand the various forms of criminalization affecting women seeking state protection from violence.  Determine what the apparent main drivers of different forms of criminalization.

2. Create and advance promising practices, (including legal, procedural and attitudinal), to reverse the trend towards penalizing women who seek state protection from violence.


The research portion of the project seeks to identify the pattern of factors that contribute to the criminalization of women who are seeking state protection through the criminal justice system. To meet this objective, the Clinic continues to:


  1. Review relevant academic and community-based research on the criminalization of women.
  2. Review relevant domestic and international case law with a view to creating a detailed matrix of the law based on the intersectionality of criminalization of women.
  3. Hold community forums with provincial violence against women (VAW) agencies and justice players to present preliminary findings and hear the experiences and feedback of community partners.
  4. Review the last three years of client files from the Clinic, Aboriginal Legal Services, and South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario to determined trends in intra-legal charging practices including factors of criminalization such as age, race, socioeconomic status, immigration status, and sexual orientation.
  5. Design and create a functional intake assessment, safety plan as well as collaborative protocols for effective service provision for women who are criminalized.
  6. Seek feedback and report back on service delivery and adaptation, collaborative protocols and consolidation.
  7. Distribute a summary research paper to stakeholders, media outlets, and national partners.
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Criminalization of Women Pro-Bono Program

The Criminalization of Women Pro-Bono program, funded by The Law Foundation of Ontario, seeks to increase access to justice for women who are or have been charged/convicted with one or more criminal offences.  Through the program, the Clinic provides women with access to summary legal advice, brief services and appropriate referrals to services for their criminal matters.  Program participants with more complex criminal law needs are able to access a community of participating criminal defense lawyers for pro bono summary legal advice delivered through a feminist, anti-oppressive lens and with a trauma-informed approach.

This program is for women, people who identify as women, trans women, non-conforming and non-binary, survivors of gender-based violence, and those facing multiple forms of discrimination, who come from underserved communities, who have complex socio-economic and legal needs, and may identify as:

  • Survivors of gendered economic coercion including human trafficking
  • Women with overlapping child custody, immigration, housing and employment needs.
  • Non-status & immigrant women
  • Black women
  • Indigenous women
  • HIV+ women
  • Women living with disabilities

Canada, Office of the Correctional Investigator, Annual Report of the Office of the Correctional Investigator 2014-2015 (Ottawa: Office of the Correctional Investigator, 2015) at 49.

With the generous support of 

Law Foundation of Ontario logo