Domestic violence and homicide: A reality that cannot be overlooked

By Patricia Coelho, Coordinator of the Risk Assessment Project.

There are numerous international research projects, initiatives, programs and services organized to address and prevent domestic homicide for the simple fact that murder represents the most prolific and extreme form of violence against women. According to a 2018 study on gender-related deaths of women and girls by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, approximately 50,000 women were killed worldwide by their intimate partner or family members. In Canada, according to Statistics Canada, there were 738 spousal homicides between 2000 and 2009

One of the initiatives to understand and prevent domestic homicide was the creation of the Domestic Violence Death Review Committee (DVDRC). The DVDR reviews and studies domestic violence deaths to provide reports and recommendations to all level of government and agencies that offer services to survivors of gender-based violence. The first DVDR in Canada was established in 2003 in Ontario. Currently, there are DVDRCs in several provinces and territories across Canada. In Ontario, of the 289 cases reviewed from 2003-2016, 410 involved death; approximately 73 percent involved a couple where there was a history of domestic violence, and 67 percent involved a couple with an actual or pending separation. The relationship between domestic violence and homicide cannot be overlooked.

Leaving an abusive partner puts women in potentially life-threatening danger.

The DVDRC created a list of approximately 40 risk factors that can indicate a potential for homicide on which to base their case review study and research. Among them include a history of domestic violence, actual or pending separation, the mental health of the perpetrator, obsessive behaviour by the perpetrator, and prior threats. Professionals working with survivors of gender-based violence often rely on these risk factors to conduct a risk assessment, risk management, and safety planning.

Currently, several risk assessment tools base their scoring system results according to the risk factors identified and validated by research. The Schlifer Clinic conducts risk assessments with clients to inform service responses and to develop appropriate safety planning strategies with women and children fleeing violence. Recently, the Clinic received funding from the Law Foundation of Ontario to create a risk assessment tool and protocols for survivors of violence who are in contact with the family courts in Toronto, Peel and Durham region. The Clinic’s risk assessment tool will comprise the most common risk factors identified and validated through research and will include sessions that will assess physical, emotional, mental, social/cultural, financial, legal, spiritual abuse and situations of coercive control in which specific incidents or manifestations of violence may occur. Once developed, this tool will also take into account the multiple sources of oppression and systemic barriers women experience.

Though the Clinic is the leading agency of this project, we are working with close partnership with Indus Community Services in Peel, and Luke’s Place in the Durham region. As well, the Clinic is in consultation with experts in the field such as the Center of Research on Violence Against Women and Children from Western University in London and Family Lawyer Consultant, Pamela Cross.

The risk-assessment tool project is a multi-year initiative. Our findings, recommendations and toolkit, will be shared publicly online and with organizations working in the prevention of violence against women sector.