Website to spark dialogue, foster sharing on domestic violence

By Paul Mayne
March 06, 2014

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HomicidePaul Mayne, Western News
Dr. William Lucas, deputy chief coroner and chair of Ontario’s Domestic Violence Death Review Committee, helped launch a new domestic violence initiative website, a partnership between Western and the University of Guelph, on Feb. 28.

"We speak for the dead to protect the living.”

So said Dr. William Lucas, deputy chief coroner and chair of Ontario’s Domestic Violence Death Review Committee (DVDRC), about the motto he follows each day.

“We have to look at deaths and what can be learned from them to try and make the province a healthier and safer place to live,” he said.

Lucas helped launch a new domestic violence initiative website, a partnership between Western and the University of Guelph, on Feb. 28 at Western. Designed for researchers, community organizations and government policy-makers, the Canadian Domestic Homicide Prevention Initiative website,, is co-directed by Western’s Peter Jaffe and Guelph’s Myrna Dawson, both members of Ontario’s DVDRC.

The website features research reports, educational materials, learning and training opportunities, annual reports from DVDRCs across Canada and internationally, as well as other resources associated with domestic homicide prevention.

Four other provinces have also established similar committees and review processes, including New Brunswick, Manitoba, British Columbia and Alberta.

“It’s not one person’s responsibility individually; there is more of a collective, societal role to play in preventing domestic homicides,” Jaffe said. “Not just family and friends, but professionals such as teachers, physicians and agencies. It’s a shared responsibility.”

The raw numbers are striking.

According to Statistics Canada, intimate partner homicide continues to top family-related homicides (43 per cent) and women are consistently at greater risk than men, regardless of age group.

Since its inception in 2003, Ontario’s DVDRC has reviewed 164 cases involving 251 deaths – 55 per cent homicide, 45 per cent homicide-suicide.

In 2012 alone, DVDRC reviewed 20 cases including 14 homicide and six homicide-suicide cases, resulting in 32 deaths.

Of the 32, 26 were homicide victims and six perpetrator suicides. Of the 26 homicide victims, 20 were female. In 18 of those 20 cases, a male perpetrator was involved. Victim ages ranged from 2 to 85; perpetrator ages ranged from 18 to 83 years.

“The vast majority of these homicides are predictable and preventable based on the number of risk factors known to professionals, friends, family and co-workers in many of these tragedies,” Lucas said.

In 75 per cent of cases that involved homicide or suicide, DVDRC identified seven or more common risk factors, such as a history of domestic violence, actual or pending separation, obsessive behaviour, depressed perpetrator and prior threats or attempts to commit suicide or kill the victim, among others.

Lucas said the launch of the new website is a proactive step in preventing further domestic violence events.

“If those risk factors could have been identified by agencies or organizations that were working with a family, there may be an enhanced chance that it was potentially a preventable death, if there has been early intervention,” he said.

Lucas added significant gains in understanding have been made over the past 10 years. However, considerable room exists to improve help to service providers responding to domestic violence cases.

“Efforts must also continue to educate the public to the dangers and societal costs of domestic violence and provide neighbours, friends, families and co-workers with the knowledge and confidence to intervene and assist victims in preventing further violence,” Lucas said.

Jaffe added reviewing cases and offering recommendations through the DVDRC is comparable to the aftermath of a plane crash. People want to know a proper investigation has taken place and proposals have been made to ensure a similar tragedy from happening again.

Through the new website, funded by the Canadian Women’s Foundation, Jaffe hopes to empower and educate people on how they can make a difference and, realistically, save a life.

“Domestic violence is not an exercise in pointing fingers; it’s really trying to understand why this is happening and how do we prevent such a tragedy from happening in the future,” he said. “We don’t have the ‘black box,’ similar to a plane crash, but we do have information about those closest to the victim – the police, doctors and others – to understand what we can do, together, to prevent this from occurring again in similar circumstances.”

Similar to the rise of domestic violence death reviews, Dawson added the launch of this website is a clear indicator these crimes can no longer be explained away as spontaneous crimes of passion.

“They are now more accurately recognized as acts that can often be prevented and it is the collaborative efforts by multiple groups, evident on this website, that will continue to improve our prevention initiatives,” Dawson said.

Jaffe agreed.

“This website will bring together these initiatives to create a national dialogue and foster more information sharing and collaboration across Canada. It will not only enhance research efforts, but will help make better informed policy and service delivery decisions to help prevent domestic homicides.”


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