The Future of Mandatory Charging for Intimate Partner Violence: Status Quo or Alternative Direction?

The Future of Mandatory Charging for Intimate Partner Violence: Status Quo or Alternative Direction?

Legislative responses to domestic violence, including mandatory charging policies, were introduced across Canada in the 1980s to address what was evolving as a serious social problem. These policies create an onus on police to lay charges against a violent partner where there are reasonable and probable grounds to do so. In some jurisdictions these policies have been coupled with pro-prosecution policies as part of a larger criminalization strategy.

In a 2009 report, Ontario’s Domestic Violence Advisory Council noted numerous unintended negative consequences of these policies and recommended an impact study which has not been conducted. Various claims and counter-claims are made in the research literature regarding the efficacy of mandatory charging policies in supporting the safety of women and children and in reducing repeat violence. Most front line service providers and activists support an aggressive criminal justice response to domestic violence even while recognizing the problems and limitations. While research that interviews abused women is more limited, it reveals uneven levels of support for mandatory charging. Women who are marginalized by gender, poverty, racism or other social factors experience particular negative impacts. Furthermore, mandatory charging shifts decision-making authority from victim/survivors to police, thus increasing the power of the state while further disempowering the women involved.

Mitacs is providing shared funding with Building a Bigger Wave (the Ontario provincial network of Violence Against Women Co-ordinating Committees) for a research project examining the impacts of mandatory charging policies on abused women and their families in Ontario. A mixed methodology will collect both qualitative and quantitative data from victim/survivors through an online questionnaire. A smaller sample will be interviewed by telephone or in person to gather more detailed information. Police and service providers also will be invited to share their experiences and views of mandatory charging policies by completing on-line questionnaires. The study will generate new knowledge and will help illuminate the complexities of the issues from multiple perspectives.

This research project will be developed and implemented by Mitacs postdoctoral fellow Deborah Conners and internship supervisor Professor Holly Johnson with support and input form Building a Bigger Wave and member agencies across Ontario. The online surveys will be launched in November with results expected in 2017.