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 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.

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There are two main 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 the 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 determine 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 adequate 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.

Training and Knowledge Centre

Criminalization of Women

Pro Bono Lawyer Training

This five-module training is for criminal lawyers joining the Criminalization of Women Project’s (CWP) pro bono roster. Completing this course is required to join the CWP pro bono roster. However, all are welcome to participate in learning more about the project and the criminalization of women in general.  

Criminalization of Women Forum

in 2018, a consortium of service providers collected to deliberate on the criminalization of women, focusing on four areas of concern: Mandatory charging, Immigration law, Sexual assault and the Criminalization of women, and Emerging issues. 

The Criminalization of Women Project is funded by

Law Foundation of Ontario logo