For over a decade, at BWSS we have responded to arrests of survivors of intimate partner violence. In 2008, we became alarmed by the growing number of women who accessed our services who had been arrested for allegedly perpetrating domestic violence against their male partners. Since then, BWSS has been supporting arrested women while advocating for institutional and systemic change. Through our frontline work we have learned that of women who have been arrested have indicated and provided evidence that self-defence was a motive.

Why would a battered woman be arrested?  That’s a good question. The answer is largely the result of police misapplying pro-arrest policies as we detailed in this article “We had to arrest someone!”.  The article included an assessment tool former BWSS staff member Janet Freeman created in 1991 which she called The Myth of Mutual Battering which continues to inform law enforcement arrest policies in B.C.

There are many legal, social, economic and emotional consequences for women who are arrested, which may include the involvement of child welfare systems, family law and child custody implications, the inability to find employment with a criminal conviction, incarceration and immigration law challenges including deportation. These consequences add significantly to the burden already being shouldered by women who are victims of relationship violence. Further, women’s negative experience of the criminal justice system may in many cases make them more vulnerable to further abuse. The risk of physically protecting themselves is too high, women are far less likely to involve police services or consider police as part of their safety plan.

In order to take action, in 2008 we began supporting women to make police complaints . In instances where the police failed to follow their own policies and investigative practices. Through this strategy we were able to redress several egregious police failures. We moved ahead to increase the safety of and support for individual women through the development of tool kits for women which we made available in four languages. Remarkably a backlash occurred orchestrated by provincial associations and the RCMP, so we continued to push back on this effort to undermine this work and developed resources for front-line workers.

In 2017, BWSS invited service providers within the province of British Columbia to participate in an online survey in evaluation of the ongoing occurrence we have witnessed of battered women being arrested. The survey focused on three main areas, understanding the demographics of the woman, the process and impact following her arrest and the capacity of the servicing organization to support the woman. The survey was instructive and we pursued funding to develop and deliver training for the legal system.  Please take a look at survey results to gather a snapshot of what service providers are experiencing in B.C.

Also in 2017, in an initiative called Responding to Complex Presentations of Violence against Women Interfacing with the Law (funded by the Ministry of the Solicitor General and My Sister’s Closet) BWSS moved ahead to address some the most challenging situations of when violence against women survivors interface with legal systems in a negative way.  As established, the initiative emphasize four areas of battered women’s vulnerability due to systemic oppression:

  • when they are arrested for allegedly perpetrating domestic violence,
  • when they are incarcerated for criminal convictions arising out of post trauma coping behaviour before, during and post release, impacting Indigenous women disproportionately , and/or when
  • they have precarious immigration status or are Refugees or recent Immigrants as well as
  • when they are self-representing in family law situations

Later in 2017, BWSS entered a collaboration with Courthouse Libraries of BC and hosted webinar series for lawyers and other legal service providers which included training on ways to support battered women who have been arrested navigate the legal system. Please watch the one hour webinar here.

Today we are so happy to announce that BWSS received $5,000 from the Fergusson Foundation to continue this work.  Women’s use of violence in intimate partner violence situations is complex and largely misunderstood.  The project is the first, to our knowledge, to detail the relationship between battered women’s use of violence and intervention strategies for front-line workers to increase women’s safety and to prevent increased marginalization of women survivors.  The funding from Fergusson Foundation will be combined with funding from BWSS social enterprise My Sister’s Closet and the project will commence January 2019.

To learn more about this initiative please email us at strategicinterventions@bwss.org

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