Older women are disproportionately affected by violence. Older women are victims in 58% of family violence cases in Canada[i] and are twice as likely to be victims of intimate partner violence than older men. [ii] In 2021, older women in Ontario had a 12% higher rate of femicide than women aged 18-34.[iii] Typically, the perpetrator is a current or former intimate partner or a male family member like an adult son, son-in-law, or grandson.[iv] These statistics illustrate the significant risk of gender-based violence for women aged 55 and over in their homes and communities.
WomanACT’s Aging, Gender, Equality, and Safety (AGES) project conducted research that engaged with survivors aged 55 years and older to understand better the experiences, needs, and risk factors of older women affected by violence. Survivors shared how aging and gender inequality intersect in many areas of their lives, shaping their risk and experiences of violence.
This blog shares what we heard in our focus groups from older survivors about gender-based violence and key themes from literature to illustrate the experiences of older women affected by violence. These insights aim to increase the knowledge and understanding of services and practitioners to provide age-inclusive wrap-around support for older gender-based violence survivors.
What are the experiences of older women experiencing violence?
Some researchers advocate for a lifespan approach to understanding violence against older women.[v] A lifespan approach examines the different experiences of violence and power across a women’s lifespan to understand how they interconnect.[vi] Ageism and gender inequality represent significant societal power imbalances that can enable, compound, and perpetuate gender-based violence.[vii] Gender inequality is widely understood as an overarching societal structure whereby individuals are discriminated against based on gender or sexual identity.[viii] Similarly, ageism is a societal construct that perpetuates differential treatment based on age.[ix] Like gender inequality, ageism can show up at the individual level, such as stereotypes about older people as frail or confused, or at the institutional level, such as having systems or programs not designed to meet the needs of older women.[x]
The survivors we spoke with shared their experiences of how ageism and gender inequality compounded to shape their experiences of violence.
Ageism and experiences of gender-based violence
A couple of AGES participants shared how perpetrators used ageist stereotypes as a tactic of emotional abuse or control. For example, a survivor shared how:
This experience illustrates how perpetrators draw upon ageist stereotypes, such as slower cognition, in an attempt to make victims feel bad about themselves and undermine their perception of the abuse.
Survivors who experience abuse in their older age expressed that the physical changes accompanying aging exacerbated their experience of abuse. For example, they shared how they felt that their age made physical and emotional abuse “more difficult to deal with” and “harder to bounce back” from. Other participants felt that there are “more chances to get hurt” from the abuse in their older years or that the abuse may worsen underlying health issues like diabetes or heart problems.
The insights from survivors align with findings in academic literature. Research shows that women aged 55 or more who are survivors of intimate partner or family violence experience long-term health effects, such as depression, anxiety, chronic pain[xi], and sexual trauma.[xii] Additionally, changes to their health or financial status, such as a decline in physical or cognitive capacity or retirement, can increase an older survivor’s sense of dependency on those within their immediate social circle, like friends or family relations.[xiii] In short, the physical and societal realities of aging can make experiences of gender-based violence worse and further isolate survivors from seeking help or reporting abuse.
Ageism within the service system
Survivors shared their experiences of ageism with services and practitioners. Some participants felt service providers dismissed or downplayed their experiences of abuse because of their age. For example, one participant recalled how her memory of the abuse was questioned because of her age; other participants recounted how service providers told them they were being too sensitive and overreacting.
A common myth participants spoke about was the misperception that older survivors were well-established members of society with access to substantial financial resources or social supports, like friends or co-workers. Survivors believed this misperception contributed to downplaying the seriousness of abuse and led to a lack of urgency in responding to their experiences of violence as an older woman. For example, a participant shared:
The survivor’s experience illustrates the difference between an ageist stereotype, such as being an established older woman with financial resources, and the lived experience of gender-based violence, which left her economically insecure. Her story illustrates how ageism is a reality within the services and systems from which older survivors seek support.
What we’ve heard from survivors adds to existing research about systemic ageism for older survivors. Research shows that older adults experience age discrimination from various services and systems, including landlords, healthcare providers, social services, and employers.[xiv] Examples include being denied rental housing because of a perceived incapacity to live independently[xv] or dismissing signs of abuse and trauma as aging.[xvi] Systemic ageism also appears as a lack of age-inclusive services across sectors, leaving many services unable to respond to older survivors’ health and age-related needs. For example, research consistently highlights the lack of appropriate and affordable housing options for older survivors[xvii], the inability of domestic violence services to provide health and medical care[xviii], and a lack of age-inclusive outreach materials and programs.[xix]
Gender inequality across the lifespan
The survivors we spoke with also shared some of the many ways gender inequality specifically impacted their experiences of violence and prevented them from seeking help. For instance, gender norms about women as caregivers persisted even at later life stages. Some participants shared how they perceived it more difficult to leave or change an abusive relationship because it would be disruptive to their older children. As stated by one participant:
In the violence against older women literature, studies have shown that some older survivors have a sense of caregiving obligation to their intimate partner, despite the abuse, and may believe that the perpetrator is better off in their care rather than in an institutional setting, like mental health and addictions systems.[xx]
Gendered experiences of economic insecurity also significantly impinge older survivors’ experiences. For instance, older women in Canada are more likely to be living in poverty due to the gender wage gap and gender pension gap. According to Ontario’s Pay Equity Office, Canadian women only make 82 cents in retirement income compared to Canadian men.[xxi] Additionally, the gender wage gap of Canadian women aged 65 and older is 3.9% higher than those aged 35-44.[xxii]
AGES project participants shared how intimate partner violence reduced their economic security over the long term as an outcome of economic abuse and decreased financial independence. According to one participant:
It is particularly telling that many services lacked the capacity to improve the financial security of older survivors. One participant shared how difficult it was to get support for the financial abuse she was experiencing:
It is a clear message from older survivors that improving their economic security was front of mind. Unfortunately, experiences of gender inequality and gender-based violence during their lifespan limits their capacity to build that economic and financial security. It is equally unfortunate that many services are not currently addressing this significant gap.
How to better support older women experiencing violence?
Services and practitioners can better support older women experiencing violence by being more responsive to older survivors’ intersecting challenges and needs. Unfortunately, existing approaches to elder abuse lack a gendered analysis[xxiii], and responses to violence against women rarely incorporate attention to age and ageism.[xxiv] Developing responsive and preventative violence against older women and elder abuse strategies and programs must be centered on the experiences, needs, and perspectives of older women survivors of violence.
Our recommendations for creating an inclusive and responsive service system for older women experiencing violence include the following:
Supporting older women’s leadership
Social and community services need to intentionally empower and engage older women to counter the impacts of ageism. This means engaging older survivors in designing and evaluating programs and services. Intergenerational and peer support opportunities also help older survivors to form social bonds with others experiencing similar situations.
Improving collaboration and accessibility
Services and systems need to be age-inclusive and accessible. This means collaboration and coordination across social and community agencies that work with older women who are survivors, such as health and mental health professionals, gender-based violence services, and senior services or elder abuse agencies. Cross-sectoral collaboration maximizes resources and strengthens programs so that older survivors have wrap-around support for age and trauma-related needs.
Community agencies also need to be more proactive in their outreach strategies and go to where older survivors are, such as senior programs, faith organizations, doctor’s offices, or grocery stores.
Training and education
Preventing and responding to violence against older women requires sustained public education and training. WomanACT has launched two e-learning micro-lessons to raise awareness and build professional capacity to identify and respond to violence against older women. For more information, check out https://womanact.thinkific.com/.
For more information on violence against older women
Chellapermal, P. (2021). Economic abuse among senior immigrant women. Woman Abuse Council of Toronto. https://womanact.ca/publications/economic-abuse-among-senior-immigrant-women-literature-and-research-report/
The Ontario Association of Interval & Transition Houses. (2023). Aging without violence. https://www.oaith.ca/oaith-work/aging-without-violence/i-provide-professional-support/vaow-handouts-and-tools.html
Woman Abuse Council of Toronto (2023). Violence against older women infographics. https://womanact.ca/our-work/publications/?issue=54&type=
[i] Conroy, S. & Sutton, D. (2022). Violence against Seniors and their Perceptions of Safety in Canada. Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/85-002-x/2022001/article/00011-eng.htm
[iii] Hancock, H. (2022). Taking Count & Taking Action: 2020-2021 Femicide in Ontario Report. Ontario Association of Interval & Transition Houses. https://www.oaith.ca/assets/library/Taking-Count-And-Taking-Action-2020-2021-Femicide-In-Ontario-Report.pdf
[iv] Conroy, S. & Sutton, D. (2022). Violence against Seniors and their Perceptions of Safety in
Canada. Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/85-002-x/2022001/article/00011-eng.htm
[v] Walsh, C.A., Lohfeld, L., Ploeg, J. & Lai, D.W.L. (2007). Violence Across the Lifespan: Interconnections Among Forms of Abuse as Described by Marginalized Canadian Elders and their Care-givers. British Journal of Social Work, 37(3), 491-412. https://doi.org/10.1093/bjsw/bcm022.
[vii] Latzman, N.E., D’Inverno, A.S., Niolon, P.H. & Reidy, D.E. (2018). Gender Inequality and Gender Based Violence: Extensions to Adolescent Dating Violence. In D.A. Wolfe & J.R. Temple (Eds.), Adolescent Dating Violence: Theory, research, and prevention, (pp.283-314). Elsevier.
[viii] European Institute for Gender Equality. (20203). Gender Inequality. https://eige.europa.eu/publications-resources/thesaurus/terms/1329?language_content_entity=en
[ix] Canadian Centre for Elder Law. (2017). We are Not All the Same: Key law, policy and practice strategies for improving the lives of older women in the lower mainland. https://www.bcli.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/OlderWomenDialogueReportMarch_2017Web.pdf
[x] Ontario Human Rights Commission. (2001). Time for Action: Advancing human rights for
[xi] Fisher, B.S., Regan, S.L., & Zink, T. (2011). Abuses Against Older Women: Prevalence and health effects. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 26(2), 254-268. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260510362877
[xiii] Walsh, C.A., Ploeg, J., Lohfeld, L., Lai, D. (2007) Violence across the Lifespan: Interconnections among forms of abuse as described by marginalized Canadian elders and their care-givers. The British Journal of Social Work, 37(3), 491-412. https://doi.org/10.1093/bjsw/bcm022
[xiv] Sinha, S.K., Griffin, B., Ringer, T., Reppas-Rindlisbacher, C., Stewart, E., Wong, I., Callan, S., Anderson, G. (2016). An Evidence-Informed National Seniors Strategy for Canada – 2nd edition. Toronto, ON: Alliance for a National Seniors Strategy.
[xv] Canadian Centre for Elder Law. (2017). We are Not All the Same: Key law, policy and practice strategies for improving the lives of older women in the lower mainland. https://www.bcli.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/OlderWomenDialogueReportMarch_2017Web.pdf
[xvi] Breckman, R., Levin, M., Mantrone, L., & Solomon, J. (2020). The Things They Carry:
Advancing trauma-informed responses to elder abuse. NYC Elder Abuse Center. https://eapon.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/TheThingsTheyCarry-JAN2020.pdf
[xvii] Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses. (2019). Final Report: Elder abuse
network community consultations. https://www.oaith.ca/assets/files/assets/AWV%20EAN%20Community%20Consultations%20Report-%20June%202019-%20English%20FINAL%20(2).docx
[xviii] Atira Women’s Resource Society. (2015) Promising Practices Across Canada for Housing
Women who are Older and Fleeing Abuse. https://atira.bc.ca/wp-content/uploads/Promising-Practices-for-Housing-Women-who-are-Older.pdf
[xix] Beaulaurier, R.L., Seff, L.R., & Newman, F.L. (2008). Barriers to Help-Seeking for Older
Women who Experience IPV: A descriptive model. Journal of Women & Aging, 20 (3-4), 231-248. https://doi.org/10.1080/08952840801984543
[xx] Beaulaurier, R.L., Seff, L.R., & Newman, F.L. (2008). Barriers to Help-Seeking for Older Women who Experience IPV: A descriptive model. Journal of Women & Aging, 20 (3-4), 231-248. https://doi.org/10.1080/08952840801984543
[xxii] Moyser, M. (2019, August 30). Measuring and Analyzing the Gender Pay Gap: A Conceptual and Methodological Overview. Statistics Canada. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/45-20-0002/452000022019001-eng.htm
[xxiii] Weeks, L., Dupuis-Blanchard, S., Arseneault, R., MacQuarrie, C., Gagnon, D., & LeBlanc, G.M. (2018). Exploring Gender and Elder Abuse from the Perspective of Professionals. Journal of Elder Abuse & Neglect, 30(2), 127-143. https://doi.org/10.1080/08946566.2017.1388756
[xxiv] Edwards, Peggy. (2009). Elder Abuse in Canada: Gender-based analysis. Division of Aging and Seniors, Public Health Agency of Canada. https://www.vawlearningnetwork.ca/webinars/recorded-webinars/2015/Elder_abuse_in_Canada-A_gender_based_analysis.pdf
This blog originally appeared on Homeless Hub.
Survivors of gender-based violence can experience homelessness due to lack of access to safe and secure housing. They may be unable to access the local housing market for various reasons, such as the stigma associated with gender-based violence, or because they cannot afford rent. Due to these barriers, survivors are likely to go to an emergency shelter (35%) or stay with family (22%) or friends (18%) as their initial housing option. In some cases, they may live in cars or other temporary arrangements.
This type of homelessness is often overlooked and therefore “hidden” in official government statistics and research, making it more difficult to accurately measure and address the issue. The ‘invisibility’ of these experiences of homelessness means that the extent of the problem is often underestimated, and the necessary support and resources are not provided to those affected.
WomanACT’s Successful Tenancies research worked with survivors to understand their experiences navigating the private rental market in Toronto.
Case study: Sara
Sara’s temporary housing journey started when she decided she would not put up with the recurring violence from her husband and decided to leave her home.
Like many women in this situation, she called for help from her family and sought refuge at her brother’s house despite years of estrangement. Although her brother was willing to provide her with a safe haven, staying with him was not the same as returning home. The tension between them was palpable, and it was difficult for her to feel at peace in such an unfamiliar and awkward atmosphere.
Her words highlight a tension between gratitude for housing and frustration with living in inadequate circumstances. In this case, her temporary housing led to stress, fear, physical discomfort, and frustration.
WomanACT’s research reveals that like Sara, many women in temporary housing struggle with these conflicting emotions. When asked about how they felt about temporary housing, some of the research participants shared that they felt “hopeless”, “anxious”, “overwhelmed” and “uncomfortable”. While others expressed more positive feelings such as “thoughtful”, “grateful” and “fortunate”. For many women, temporary housing is only a short-term solution to a long-term problem. It can also be a source of stress and insecurity, as women struggle to make sense of their new environment and adjust to a new lifestyle.
All of the survivors who participated in the research had at least one issue regarding the safety, privacy, or the conditions of the house where they were temporarily residing. Some of them did not have access to a private room or a bathroom. Others had to live in an isolated or remote area without any work opportunities or with scarce transportation facilities and limited access to services.
The lack of a safe and private space to call home can prevent individuals from feeling a sense of belonging or feeling connected to their community, which is an essential part of having a home. The research illustrates that having a home is about more than just having a physical space to live in, but about having access to resources, opportunities, and a sense of safety and security within one’s environment.
Barriers to Stability
Sara’s experience also highlights how many women in temporary housing are working on becoming more resilient and trying to stabilize themselves financially. However, there are many obstacles that they must overcome in order to achieve these things.
Nonetheless she does not give in. She tries to re-build her life by developing a community.
Sara’s experience is an example of how homelessness is broader than male-centric definitions like sleeping rough or living in shelters. Sara defines homelessness as “when you don’t have a place you go to everyday where you are safe, and when you cannot be independent to take care of yourself.”
Her hopes for the future provide us with an answer to the question of what makes a place a “home’:
Next Steps: Working to Expand Housing Options
Using this knowledge, Successful Tenancies plans to increase the capacity of housing providers to better meet the needs of survivors of gender-based violence, through training, building networks and partnerships.
WomanACT is conducting research to better understand the policies, programs, and practices that support women to remain in their own home when leaving a violent relationship. We engage survivors and stakeholders to work together, develop policy recommendations and advocate for system change.
Why is financial literacy a gender issue?
Globally, there is a persistent gender gap in financial literacy. Financial literacy is understood as having the skills, knowledge, and capacity to make informed financial decisions. Studies show that while the gap is closing, women in Canada continue to have lower financial literacy scores than men.
The gender gap is a little baffling, especially in countries like Canada where more women than men are attending University. But, differences in financial literacy matter. With women living longer than men and already confronted by many systemic barriers to economic security, financial literacy can lead to better financial outcomes, including savings, investments, wealth accumulation and planning for retirement. Understanding the gender gap in financial literacy is then key to developing strategies to close this gap and improve women’s economic outcomes.
So, what’s behind the gender gap in financial literacy? With an increasing number of studies into the issue, there are a few common explanations found across literature.
1. Stereotype threat: Described as the impact of internalizing a stereotype attributed to a group of people, studies have found that stereotypes and attitudes about women’s ability to understand and manage finances directly influence women’s confidence when performing financial tasks.[i],[ii] For example, studies have found that stereotypes undermine women’s performance on financial tests[iii] and that although women frequently make good financial decisions, they feel more anxiety than men when doing so.[iv] When asked about their own financial knowledge, women tend to score themselves lower than men.[v]
2. Socio-economic differences: High levels of education and income are associated with higher levels of financial literacy. This is not to say that people living on lower incomes do not have significant financial knowledge and skills. However, studies show that across genders, as income increases, so does financial literacy. Interestingly, financial services are often designed for and directed towards middle and higher-income households. This is problematic for women, especially some populations of women, including Indigenous, racialized, immigrant and women living with disabilities, who are more likely to be engaged in precarious and low-income employment.
3. Financial decision-making roles within households: The responsibility and decision making of household finances is still very gendered. Women are more likely to be responsible for daily financial spending and allocation, yet less likely to engage in the decision making of large financial decisions in the household.[vi] A study by Statistics Canada found that in households where the male partner is mainly responsible for the long term financial management, the male partners performed better on financial literacy questions than women. Some believe that differences in financial literacy are the result of women acquiring less financial knowledge because they are less involved in financial decision making in the home.[vii]
While some of the causes of the gender gap are still contested, they do all have something in common. Despite investments in financial education and programming, gender inequalities – including the myth that women are bad with money – continues to uphold the gender gap in financial literacy.
What does financial literacy have to do with gender-based violence?
Women’s economic wellbeing and safety are deeply connected. Women’s economic insecurity can increase their risk of victimization. It is also a barrier to their safety. We hear consistently that women’s lack of access to money and housing is a key barrier to leaving violent relationships. Violence also has financial consequences. It often results in health costs, legal costs, lost wages, and relocation expenses. Violence can lead to poor credit, coerced debt, and a diminished ability to work.
A common form of gender-based violence, economic abuse, can be hidden by, and reinforced with, gender norms around money. The stereotypes and attitudes around women and money can be used by abusive partners to perpetuate economic abuse – a form of financial gaslighting. Likewise, economic abuse can be difficult to identify because of the gender norms that suggest that men should be managing and making decisions about finances in households.
Women lag, or perhaps just appear to lag, in financial literacy. With gender inequalities at the root, financial literacy programs and solutions should be focusing on tackling the dangerous gender norms and shifting the narratives that are sustaining this gap.
[i] Tinghög, G, Ahmed, A., Barrafrem, K., Lind, T., Skagerlund, K., and Västfjäll, D. (2021). Gender differences in financial literacy: The role of stereotype threat. Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization. 192. 405-416.
[ii] Carr, P. B., and Steele, C. M. (2010). Stereotype Threat Affects Financial Decision Making. Psychological Science, 21(10), 1411–1416.
[iii] Tinghög et al., 2021.
[iv] Lind, T., Ahmed, A., Skagerlund, K. et al. (2020). Competence, Confidence, and Gender: The Role of Objective and Subjective Financial Knowledge in Household Finance. J Fam Econ, 41, 626–638.
[v] Bucher-Koenen, T., Lusardi, A., Alessie, R., and Van Rooij, M. (2017) How financially literate are women? An overview and new insights. Journal of Consumer Affairs,51(2),255–283.
[vi] OECD (2013) Addressing women’s needs for financial education, https://www.oecd.org/daf/fin/financialeducation/OECD_INFE_women_FinEd2013.pdf
[vii] Bucher-Koenen, T., Lusardi, A., Alessie, R., and Van Rooij, M. (2017).
Engaging people with lived experience of gender-based violence is central to WomanACT’s work. Survivors’ personal experiences of systemic barriers is key to creating solutions to overcome them. In addition, survivors’ stories, experiences, and ideas are powerful tools for education and advocacy. Understanding organizational value to engaging people with lived experience, and being open to learning and change, is important to creating organizational readiness to engage people with lived experience.
Improves service quality
Organizations that incorporate people with lived experience into their service design and evaluation shows to improve program outcomes, including program quality and service user satisfaction. People with lived experience provide a personal perspective about how services and initiatives are received based on their own intersecting identities. Organizations can consider a range of opportunities for people with lived experience across all organizational structures to influence different types of decision making across service delivery, such as boards, proposal and program development or evaluation teams.
Increases organizational capacity
Creating collaborative spaces for team members and people with lived experience to jointly explore priority areas for community and system solutions encourages bi-directional knowledge exchange. It also increases the accountability of team members to improve program outcomes. For example, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) has a program called From Surviving to Advising that aims to pair senior psychiatry residents with service users in recovery to promote mutual growth and understanding. Joint spaces have the added advantage of grounding decision-makers and humanizing discussions that may sometimes get lost in bureaucracy.
Builds trust with the community
Community engagement can be strengthened when facilitated by people with lived experience as they tend to prompt genuine and authentic conversations grounded in their personal experiences. Building trust takes time and can require frank and difficult conversations. For example, WomanACT’s AGES project, which working to improve access to services for senior women experiencing violence, engages senior women as advisors. The senior women also operate as a conduit between the organization and community members and use a snowball approach to engage senior women and community groups.
Promotes trauma-informed organizational development
Trauma-informed organizational development requires organizational processes to evolve from an individual hierarchical-driven approach to collaborative community approaches. Community approaches encourage organizations to intentionally consider how all structures (e.g., boards, leadership, HR, frontline) and services can include people with lived experiences. People with lived experience have insight into how power can manifest and what can be considered to reduce organizational power imbalances. Just as their engagement in community spaces promotes humanizing conversations and breaks down hierarchies, it also does so in organizations.
Survivor engagement with WomanACT
WomanACT engages survivors in advisory, researcher and participant roles across our work. We are often seeking women and gender diverse people with lived experiences of gender-based violence, housing insecurity and poverty to fill advisory and researcher roles. Survivors receive training and are compensated for their time. If you are interested in hearing about upcoming opportunities to engage in our work, please sign up to our mailing list.
What is femicide?
The United Nations has recognized femicide as the most extreme form of violence and discrimination against women and girls. Femicide is defined as the killing of women and girls due to their gender. In Canada, in 2020 alone, 160 females were victims of violent homicide, which averages to a woman or girl being killed every 2.5 days. Out of the 128 cases where the accused was identified, over 90% of the perpetrators were men, and in 41% of the cases, the perpetrator was a current or former intimate partner. While there are a variety of risk factors for women and girls experiencing violence, they are often at greatest risk when they are leaving or have left an abusive relationship.
Who is at risk of femicide?
While women are the most at risk of being a victim of intimate partner violence (IPV) and femicide, some women are at greater risk than others. Indigenous women have a greater risk of experiencing violence than non-Indigenous women and are overrepresented as victims of violent femicide. Making up less than 5% of Canada’s population, Indigenous women make up 16% of femicide victims. Older adults also experience unique risk factors for intimate partner violence and intimate partner homicide due to their physical and mental health and increased barriers to seeking and accessing help.
Other risk factors include:
The impacts of COVID-19 on femicide
The number of women experiencing intimate partner violence has increased during COVID-19, with a 20-30% increase in some parts of Canada. During the first lockdown, women’s helpline call centers received an unprecedented volume of calls, and over the span of three months, Canada’s Assaulted Women’s Helpline received 20,334 calls, almost double of that of the previous year (12,352). Police across Canada responding to domestic violence disturbances also increased by 12% over a month in 2020 when the pandemic first started.
What can we do?
In June 2022, the jury at the inquest into the deaths of Carol Culleton, Anastasia Kuzyk, and Nathalie Warmerdam delivered 86 recommendations to prevent intimate partner violence. It is time to act upon these recommendations. Recommendation #78 specifically is related to information sharing and “working together with the Domestic Violence Death Review Committees (DVDRC), justice partners, and IPV service providers to develop a tool to empower IPV professionals to make informed decisions about privacy, confidentiality and public safety.” WomanACT’s MARAC project has started some of this important work.
Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conferences (MARAC) bring together multiple agencies to share information and respond to high-risk domestic violence cases in communities. MARAC was developed in Wales in 2003 and is now in place in more than 250 communities across the United Kingdom. The model has shown to reduce repeat victimization, increase survivor safety and connect survivors with the support and services they need. WomanACT is leading the implementation of this model in two communities across Ontario. At the centre of multi-agency high risk tables are three key components – risk assessment, safety planning, and information sharing.
Interested in learning more about MARAC or setting up a multi-agency response to high-risk intimate partner violence in the community? We’d love to hear from you.
 Statistics Canada (2016). ‘Women in Canada: A Gender-based Statistical Report’. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/89-503-x/2015001/article/14313-eng.htm
 Thompson, N. (2021). ‘Reports of domestic, intimate partner violence continue to rise during pandemic’. 16 Feb. CBC News. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/domestic-intimate-partner-violence-up-in-pandemic-1.5914344
 Quenneville, G. (2022). ‘Jury at triple-homicide inquest makes 86 recommendations to prevent intimate partner violence’. 28 June. CBC News. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/coroners-inquest-intimate-partner-violence-renfrew-probation-1.6503862
 Culleton, Kuzyk & Warmerdarm Inquest Jury Recommendations (2022). https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/22072317-inquest
In recent decades, the number of women and gender diverse people in STEM-related fields has been increasing. These folks are making important discoveries and spearheading progress in their industries and academia. For example, Dr. A.W. Peet is a tenured physics professor at the University of Toronto who focuses their research on the subatomic structure of space-time. Peet also co-chairs the physics department’s Inclusivity Committee and plans to continue their advocacy work until LGBTQ+ people feel as welcome as heterosexual and cisgender people on U of T’s campus.[i] Expanding the gender diversity of STEM fields also expands the diversity of perspectives able to offer answers and breadth to new problems.
Entering a traditionally male-dominated field presents a unique set of challenges for those who have been historically excluded from STEM industries. One of these challenges is workplace sexual harassment and violence. Workplace sexual harassment is defined by the Occupational Health and Safety Act as “(a) a course of vexatious and unwelcome comment or conduct against a worker because of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, and (b) an unwelcome sexual solicitation or advance by a person in a position to confer, grant or deny a benefit or advancement to the worker.”[ii] Gender-diverse people and women are subject to higher rates of sexual harassment and violence in the workplace. Data shows that in natural and applied sciences, 32% of women compared to 12% of men experience sexual harassment at work.[iii] And while companies have legal responsibilities to prevent and respond to instances of harassment and violence in the workplace, typical measures are consistently ineffective and continue to enable cultures of harm.
Workplace sexual harassment and violence can have serious impacts on a person’s mental and physical wellbeing, as well as their professional development. Experiences of sexual harassment and violence in the workplace are associated with negative outcomes, such as decreased job satisfaction, withdrawal from work, worsened physical and mental health, and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. In addition, misogyny and harassment in the workplace are linked to decreased organizational commitment and diminished career progression.[iv]
A lack of data on workplace sexual harassment and violence against gender diverse, LBT women, and Two Spirit people demonstrates the need for stronger governmental support for advocacy for safe and decent employment. Almost half of LGB workers have experienced harassment in the workplace based on their sexual orientation and about 90% of transgender and gender-variant employees report experiences of workplace harassment and violence based on their gender identity and expression.[v] Dr. A.W. Peet has first-hand experience with workplace harassment, sharing in a 2019 interview with The Varsity, “the amount of transphobic harassment I’ve had… as a consequence of being an out trans person in the last few years is more than all of the misogyny that I’ve ever experienced as a presumed woman in physics for over 20 years.”[vi]
International data indicates that LGBTQ employees are less likely to report workplace harassment and violence because of a lack of appropriate policies.[vii] Additionally, a recent survey conducted by WomanACT found that fear for one’s safety was a major reason for underreporting.[viii] It is up to policymakers and advocates to push for evidence-based and trauma-informed action to be taken in STEM industries, including prevention and response measures such as climate assessments, training, communication, reporting systems, policies and procedures that are trauma-informed. Trauma-informed practices promote environments of accountability, collaboration, transparency, healing, and recovery.[ix] Advocating for more effective policies is a step in the right direction. Evidence-based workplace solutions have the power to alleviate and eliminate barriers to reporting and help make STEM workplaces a safe and harassment-free environment for women and gender-diverse folks.
The Supporting Safe STEM Workplaces project is working with STEM industry partners across Canada to create safer workplaces through policy development, capacity building and improving access to legal supports and resources for victims of sexual harassment.
[i] Aziz, M., & Raveendran, R. (2019, October 7). In the spotlight: Dr. A.W. Peet. The Varsity. Retrieved January 18, 2022, from https://thevarsity.ca/2019/10/06/in-the-spotlight-dr-a-w-peet/
[ii] Government of Ontario. (2020, June 12). Workplace violence and workplace harassment. ontario.ca. Retrieved January 18, 2022, from https://www.ontario.ca/document/guide-occupational-health-and-safety-act/part-iii0i-workplace-violence-and-workplace-harassment
[iii] Statistics Canada. (2021). In 2020, 1 in 4 Women and 1 in 6 Men reported having experienced inappropriate sexualized behaviours at work in the previous year. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/en/daily-quotidien/210812/dq210812b-eng.pdf?st=SHXeWOgC
[iv] Willness, C. R., Steel, P., & Lee, K. (2007). A meta-analysis of the antecedents and consequences of workplace sexual harassment. Personnel Psychology, 60(1), 127–162. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1744-6570.2007.00067.
[v] Bucik, A. (2016). Canada: Discrimination and Violence against Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Women and Gender Diverse and Two Spirit People on the Basis of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Gender Expression. Egale Canada Human Rights Trust in partnership with the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association – North America Region (ILGA-NA).
[vi] Aziz & Raveendran, (2019, October 7).
[vii] Bucik (2016).
[viii] WomanACT (2021). Uncomfortable workplaces: WomanACT survey shows fear of backlash, stigma, and inaction. GlobeNewswire. https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2021/11/22/2338841/0/en/Uncomfortable-workplaces-WomanACT-survey-shows-fear-of-backlash-stigma-and-inaction.html
[ix] Ending Violence Association of BC. (2019). Gender-Based Violence, Harassment, and Bullying: Workplace Policy Guidelines for Response and Prevention.
The recent death of 22-year-old Gabby Petito in 2021 who was killed by her boyfriend, and the death of 23-year-old Lauren Smith-Fields who was found dead in her apartment following a date with a man she met on a dating app is highlighting the issue of dating violence and young women.
Dating violence is defined as any physical, sexual, and psychological violence in romantic and sexual relationships. Dating violence can look like many things including; hitting, being possessive, hurling insults, intimidating, isolating partners from family and friends, stalking, checking text messages without permission, using social media to hurt, embarrass or monitor them, and pressuring them for sexual contact without consent.
Young people in Canada are at the greatest risk of dating violence, with studies showing that young people between the ages of 15 and 24 make up 43% of all incidents of dating violence.[i] Dating violence starts early and is more prevalent among young women. Dating violence can begin as early as grade school, with 29% of young girls and women in grades 7, 9, and 11, reporting experiencing dating violence, compared to 13% of young boys and men.[ii]
Furthermore, a national study looking at 3,000 Canadian youth found that in the past year 12% were physically hurt on purpose by someone they were dating, 18% had a person they were dating use social media to hurt, embarrass, or monitor them, and 28% reported a dating partner tried to control them or emotionally hurt them.[iii] Among high school students, young women ages 15 -19 experience 10 times more violence in relationships than young men.
The experience of dating violence has lifelong consequences. Dating violence during youth is a strong risk factor for domestic violence in adulthood.[iv] The experience of dating violence among young women is also linked to negative outcomes in other areas such as poor educational outcomes, substance use, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, disruptive behaviours, and suicidal thoughts.[v] Dating violence has also been linked to poorer physical health and chronic health conditions such as increased blood pressure and chronic pain.
Youth are less likely to report dating violence, with only 8% informing adults or authorities after an incident. Teens do not commonly report dating violence because they are afraid or embarrassed to tell their friends and family. In some cases, teens do not think an incident is serious enough to report. In addition, sometimes youth do not report dating violence because they do not label certain behaviours as unhealthy but interpret them as acts of love.[vi]
It is important to teach young people and those around them – teachers, parents and peers – to acknowledge, understand and intervene at the first signs of violence.
Warning signs of dating violence include:
Looking out for warning signs is a good start, but much more is needed. A culture shift is required in making sure that youth dating violence is not minimized or accepted as a common learning experience, but understood as a serious form of violence that is habit-forming, and has lifelong implications and trauma attached to it. Adolescence and young adulthood is an important developmental period and it is important that healthy habits and messaging around dating and relationships are formed to stop the cycle of violence from teen to adulthood.
Interventions can include teaching safe and healthy relationship skills in schools. Bystander education can help teachers and peers learn how to identify and take action to stop and prevent dating violence. There is also a need for improved screening for dating violence in healthcare settings, and educational programs and information for families.
Youth dating violence is a public health issue, and it is important to have publicly funded support dedicated to effective prevention and response strategies. In Canada, there are limited services that are specialized for young people experiencing violence, in addition to a lack of policies that offer protection and clear actions on where to go and how to receive help.
[i] Statistics Canada. (2008) Police reported dating violence in Canada. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/85-002-x/2010002/article/11242-eng.htm
[ii] Price et al. (2001) Dating violence among New Brunswick Adolescents: A summary of two studies. Fredericton, Canada: Muriel McQueen Fergusson Centre for Family Violence Research, University of New Brunswick.
[iii] Exner-Cortens D, Baker E, Craig W. (2021) The National Prevalence of Adolescent Dating Violence in Canada. J Adolesc Health, 69(3): 495-502.
[iv] Persram et al., (2021 Dec 14) Development and validation of the teen dating aggression measure among Canadian youth. Front Pyschol.
[v] Taquette, S. R., & Monteiro, D. (2019). Causes and consequences of adolescent dating violence: a systematic review. Journal of injury & violence research, 11(2), 137–147.
[vi] Hébert, M., Van Camp, T., Lavoie, F., Blais, M., & Guerrier, M. (2014). Understanding the hesitancy to disclose teen dating violence: Correlates of self-efficacy to deal with teen dating violence. Temida : casopis o viktimizaciji, ljudskim pravima i rodu, 17(4), 43–64.
Domestic and dating violence, or intimate partner violence, has a long term impact on women’s economic security. A lack of economic security can prevent a woman from leaving an abusive relationship and make it difficult to establish safety and financial independence. One of the ways that intimate partner violence affects women’s economic security is by impacting their ability to find and maintain employment.
Survivors may be prevented from working by an abuser. It is also common for an abuser to make it difficult for a survivor to get to work and maintain their employment.[i] These controlling behaviours are often referred to as employment sabotage. Employment sabotage can look like hiding a survivor’s car keys or starting an argument before work.[ii] It also looks like an abuser refusing to care for children while the survivor is at work and restricting access to alternative childcare.[iii] Employment sabotage shows up in the workplace, too. Survivors may receive excessive phone calls and text messages to the workplace or may experience stalking in and around the workplace.[iv] The sabotage tactics might start to involve co-coworkers. Lies told to co-workers by an abusive partner, such as claiming that the survivor stole from the company, can be used to damage the survivor’s employment or career progression.[v]
While there is a very little research into the impact of trauma on employment, there is some evidence to show that trauma from violence impacts the survivors’ ability to gain and sustain employment.[vi] The effects of trauma, like anxiety and depression, can impact a survivor’s performance and advancement at work.[vii] Knowing the long term effects of trauma, it could potentially impact a survivor’s job stability or career progression for many years.
The constant disruption, stress and harassments felt by a survivor can lead to a survivor missing work as well as reduced productivity when they are there. Because of this, intimate partner violence can be associated with career gaps, underemployment, and a loss of earnings.[viii] It can also lead to job loss. In some some cases, survivors may quit their employment because of feelings of shame associated with being a victim of violence or embarrassment over the abuser’s stalking or harassment in and around the workplace.[ix] In other causes, survivors may lose their jobs because of the number of missed days or the poor productivity and performance.[x]
However, the relationship between intimate partner violence and employment is complicated. For some survivors, violence spills over into the workplace. For other survivors, the workplace can be a place of safety or escape. Furthermore, employment is an important source of financial independence for survivors. This is why it is frequently targeted by abusers. These challenges can be further compounded by the structural barriers to employment that survivors face. For example, racialized women with experiences of violence face additional systemic barriers to equal pay and decent work.
With the increased risk of intimate partner violence and the fundamental shift to how we work amid the pandemic, it is vital that we we understand the changing realities faced by survivors.
The Intersections between employment and safety among racialized women project is undertaking research to understand racialized women’s experiences in employment and how these are impacted by experiences of intimate partner violence. The project will be undertaking primary research with survivors well as work with employment agencies and employers to improve policies and practice.
[i] Showalter, K. (2016). Women’s employment and domestic violence: A review of the literature. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 31(01), 37-47.
[ii] Swanberg, J. E., Logan, T., and Macke, C. (2005). Intimate partner violence, employment and the workplace: consequences and future directions. Trauma, violence and abuse, 6(4), 286-312.
[iii] Hess, C; Del Rosario, A. (2018). Dreams Deferred: A Survey on the Impact of Intimate Partner Violence on Survivors’ Education, Careers, and Economic Security. Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
[iv] Logan, T.K., Shannon, L., Cole, J., and Swanberg, J. (2007) Partner stalking and implications for women’s employment. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 22(3),268-91.
[v] Moe, A.M and Bell, M.P. (2004). Abject Economics: The effects of battering and violence on women’s work and employability. Violence against Women, 10(01), 29- 55.
[vi] Riger, S. and Staggs, S. (2004). Impact of Intimate Partner Violence on Women’s Labor Force Participation, Final Report. National Institute of Justice, United States. Available at: https://nij.ojp.gov/library/publications/impact-intimate-partner-violence-womens-labor-force-participation-final-report
[vii] Showalter, 2016.
[viii] Tolman, R. M., & Raphael, J. (2000). A review of research on welfare and domestic violence. Journal of Social Issues, 56(4), 655-682.
[ix] Swanberg, Logan and Macke, 2005.
[x] Showalter, 2016.
Economic abuse is a common form of intimate partner violence. Studies have shown that anywhere from 94%[i] to 99%[ii] of women in abusive relationships have experienced some form of economic abuse. Economic abuse includes behaviours that control a person’s ability to gain or use economic resources. Some of the more common forms of economic abuse as a form of intimate partner violence include a partner restricting access to income, demanding to know how money was spent and withholding financial information. Another common tactic includes coerced debt in which a partner builds up debt in their partner’s name. Economic abuse often happens alongside other forms of abuse.
Economic abuse can be difficult to identify or may be overlooked. This is because it may be assumed customary or normal for men to bring in more income or manage the household finances. This can be complicated by the taboo around discussing money with those outside of the household. Economic abuse can have serious consequences. A lack of access to money makes it difficult for a woman to flee violence. A lack of income and savings alongside debt and poor credit can make it difficult for women to establish safety and independence because they cannot secure housing or meet their other daily needs.
With more than 99% of Canadians having a bank account[iii], financial services, such as banks, are in a good position to identify, prevent and respond to the economic abuse. Financial services can support in a variety of capacities. Financial services can help identify and intervene to support survivors as well as help survivors re-build their economic security. They can also help survivors and promote women’s economic security by developing products that may prevent abusive behaviours among families and are designed specifically for survivors.
Some jurisdictions have recognized the value of financial services in playing a role in the prevention and response to economic abuse. The Members of UK Finance and Building Societies Association and the Australian Banking Association have developed industry guidelines for financial services. These guidelines recommend that banks and other financial services train employees on identifying financial abuse and create policies to help employees identify and respond to customers experiencing financial abuse.
With such a large audience, financial services could also help raise awareness of financial abuse among the public as well as start to challenge and shift the gender norms related to money that perpetuate women’s financial dependence and economic insecurity.
Addressing gender-based violence requires a coordinated and holistic approach from multiple services, including the private sector. While historically, a multi-agency response to intimate partner violence has included justice partners and agencies providing support to victims, the prevalence of economic abuse as well as the importance of financial well-being as a key safety factor, makes a case that financial services should also be a part of this response.
Interested in learning more about the role of financial services in the prevention and response to economic abuse? You can read our brief here.
[i] Adams, A.E., Sullivan, C.M., & Greeson, M.R. (2008). Development of the Scale of Economic Abuse. Violence Against Women 14(5), 563 – 588.
[ii] Postmus, J.L., Plummer, S.B., McMahon, S., Murshid, N.S., & Kim, M.S. (2012) Understanding Economic Abuse in the Lives of Survivors. Journal of Interpersonal Violence 27(3), 411 – 430.
[iii] Canadian Bankers Association (2021) Focus: Banks and Consumers. https://cba.ca/banks-and-consumers
The COVID19 pandemic may be novel, but the connection between violence and women’s economic security is not. As governments start to develop economic recovery plans, it is critical that women’s safety is priority.
Women’s economic security and safety are connected. Without economic resources, women are unable to flee violent situations and face a greater risk of exploitation and victimization. Violence also has long term impacts on women’s economic well-being. Women with a history of domestic violence change jobs more often and are more likely to be in casual and part-time jobs than women without experiences of violence.
Survivors also experience financial hardship after fleeing violence such as debt, poor credit scores, and ongoing legal costs. These financial pressures make it difficult for survivors to rebuild their financial stability.
With a reported increase in gender-based violence during the COVID-19 pandemic and the significant economic toll on women – like disproportionate jobs losses and an increase in care responsibilities – rebuilding the economy cannot be at the cost of women’s safety.
Domestic violence in the workplace
Domestic violence often spills over into or near the workplace and can impact an employees’ concentration, attendance and performance at work. With an estimated one in three workers reported to have ever experienced domestic violence in Canada,[i] it is essential that employers understand their legislative requirements as well as how they can recognize domestic violence among employees and provide the necessary support.
Sexual violence and harassment in the workplace
While violence is present in all workplaces, women are more likely to experience sexual harassment. Some women are disproportionately affected because of their employment status, the nature of their work or their working conditions. Sexual violence and harassment is particularly common in male-dominated workplaces. As governments start to look at removing barriers for women to fields in which they are underrepresented, it is critical that these fields of work are safe.
Survivors re-entering the workforce
Survivors face barriers to maintaining employment or entering the workforce because of the health impacts of abuse as well as control tactics of abusers. Some survivors face barriers due to having large gaps in their careers because of their abusive relationship. With a focus on achieving the shortest route to work, as typically found in employment and income support programs, survivors are often forced to accept precarious work. There is an opportunity to ensure women’s full access to decent work but this cannot be done without investments into childcare, housing and workforce development initiatives.
This is an opportunity to design things differently – to listen to survivors to understand the economic and safety barriers that they face and to co-create solutions.
This is an opportunity to rebuild things differently – to establish services, policies and social conditions that promote women’s economic security, independence and safety.
[i] Wathen, C.N., MacGregor, J.C.D., and MacQuarrie, B.J. (2014) Can Work be Safe, When Home Isn’t? Initial Findings of a Pan-Canadian Survey on Domestic Violence and the Workplace.