The Sunday Edition

This lawyer says there's a better way to protect victims of domestic violence

Every 2.5 days in Canada, a woman or girl is killed; the vast majority by an intimate partner. Deepa Mattoo is developing a new risk assessment tool that can objectively measure the degree of danger a woman faces, one that can be used by workers in shelters, court employees, the police or healthcare workers. Ms. Mattoo is the legal director for the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic, one of Canada’s largest agencies for women who are suffering abuse.
Lawyer Deepa Mattoo, left, is developing a new risk assessment tool that can objectively measure the degree of danger a woman faces. (Calla Evans; REUTERS/Jose Cabezas)
Listen20:40

Shelter workers' expertise and instincts can help gauge how much danger a victim of domestic violence is in — but lawyer Deepa Mattoo says they're not always enough to keep women safe. 

She is developing a new risk assessment tool that can measure the degree of danger a woman faces from an intimate partner. It is intended to be used not only by staff in shelters, but also by court employees, the police and healthcare workers. 

Mattoo is the legal director for the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic, one of Canada's largest agencies for women who have suffered abuse. She says her tool will cover abuse in all its forms: physical, psychological and financial.

The questions will be wide-ranging, covering everything from how the woman might expect her abuser to react to her decision to leave, to whether he has access to weapon, to how he treats the children or the family pet.

The need is urgent. The Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability published a report this year that said a woman or girl was killed every 2.5 days in Canada, in the vast majority of cases by an intimate partner.

Last year in January, there were so many women who got killed that we were not even getting enough time to mourn their deaths.- Deepa Mattoo

"Violence against women is an issue which we somehow globally have been trivializing for a while," says Mattoo, who is calling for a consistent, focused approach on prevention.

Women protesting against domestic violence at the foot of the Quebec legislature in 2002. (CP PHOTO/Jacques Boissinot)

A risk assessment tool is not a new idea. Mattoo plans to borrow from – and update – those that currently are being used in Canada and elsewhere. However, most are 10 or 15 years old, she says, and they do not take into account the cultural or ethnic differences that some women experience or the changes in technology that can have an impact on a woman's safety.

"[Back then] we didn't need to worry about text messaging and we didn't need to worry about stalking on the Internet. We didn't need to worry that she will be accessing a resource on a computer, and therefore her risk is actually in her own hands, and she left a trail," says Mattoo. 

While domestic violence crosses all cultures and all classes, women's experiences are unique. Mattoo says that sometimes it is not an intimate partner who is threatening her, but her father or her brother-in-law, and current assessment tools are not efficient in capturing these nuances.

A display of almost 500 pairs of women's shoes covering the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery in 2004, a reminder of B.C. women killed by domestic violence. (CP PHOTO/Chuck Stoody)

"If people understood the gravity of the situation and people understood that violence against women is real, and it impacts their children and impacts their families – it's so horrifying – we would respond differently," says Mattoo.

"Last year in January, there were so many women who got killed that we were not even getting enough time to mourn their deaths. Even before you could get over one, there would be news of another one."

Click 'listen' above to hear the interview.

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