Does the treatment fit the crime?

Julie PoonResearcher: Julie Poon

Does the treatment fit the crime? Examining whether and how educational intervention programs reflect the lived experiences of women who perpetrate intimate partner violence

In Canada, the implementation of pro-charging policies and the subsequent increase in women charged for intimate partner violence (IPV) has resulted in an increase of women being mandated to IPV intevention programs (Johnson & Dawson, 2011; Tutty et al., 2006). Canadian researchers have just begun to explore this area and acknowledge that existing intervention programs may not be appropriate when responding to women’s use of force because their actions may often be defensive rather than offensive (Tutty et al., 2006). Building on her MA research which examined predictors of women being charged for IPV (Poon, Dawson & Morton, 2014), Julie Poon draws upon the voices of women who have completed the Ontario Partner Assault Response (PAR) program as well as program facilitators to understand how women interpret their own violence and how the PAR program addresses these lived realities. Her main research question is: How do women charged for IPV perceive their use of force and do PAR programs respond to their lived experiences?

The increase in women charged for IPV who are subsequently mandated to attend intervention programs has exacerbated ongoing debates about the frequency with which women engage in IPV. Those who argue that women and men perpetrate equal rates of IPV are supported largely by studies using the Conflict Tactics Scale (CTS) which show similar rates of violence perpetrated by men and women (e.g. Steinmetz, 1977; Straus, 1997; Lupri & Grandin, 2004). Academics such as Hamberger and Guse (2002) and Osthoff (2002) have cautioned against the validity of the CTS, arguing that the context of force needs to be considered, particularly when women act in self-defence. As such, the tendency to respond to women who perpetrate IPV using intervention methods originally designed for male batterers may be inadequate, specifically if their actions are defensive (Kernsmith, 2005).

This research draws from Kelly and Johnson’s (2008) four theoretical typologies of violence – coercive controlling violence, violent resistance, situational couple violence, and separation instigated violence – to understand how well they represent the type of violence women use in the circumstance for which they were charged. Intersectional feminism is also used to examine how categories including gender are experienced in relation to other dimensions (e.g. class, race, disability, citizenship, age) and alongside other historical, cultural and social factors (Damant et al., 2014; Razack, 1998; Siltanen & Doucet, 2008). By examining how these factors produce structured power relations and multiple oppressions that flow and feed off one another, this framework will highlight how each woman’s experience with violence is unique, thus, requiring a distinct set of intervention responses (Collins, 1998; 2000; Lorde, 1984; hooks, 1981). Ontario’s PAR curriculum was originally designed to address male batterers and may not be easily transferrable to females since research suggests they have heterogeneous motivations for using force including self-defence (Bair-Merritt et al., 2010).

Julie’s research examines how women who are mandated to the PAR program interpret their use of force compared to the program’s interpretation. If their experiences are not accurately reflected in this framework, she will contribute to the field by modifying the typologies using women’s voices which are essential in order to strengthen our theoretical understanding of women’s use of force (OAITH, 2008).