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Domestic violence prevention: What you can do

Following the recent murder of a mother and her two children in Ajax, Ont., Dr. Katreena Scott says knowing the risk factors, along with helping victims – and their abusers – is key to prevention

By Lindsey Craig

April 16, 2018

Watch: Learn the risk factors linked to domestic violence, and how to prevent it by not only helping women and children — but the men in their lives. 

Watch video by theme:

0:00:  Dr. Scott reacts to recent domestic homicide case in Ajax, Ont.
0:40:  Risk factors for domestic violence
2:27:  If we know the risks, what are we doing?
3:08:  When situations like this arise, who’s talking to the man?
4:00:  Not enough resources. Study shows importance of talking with abusers.
7:27:  What we need
7:45:  How speaking up can make a difference

Are you or someone you know at risk of domestic violence? Here are some resources that can help.

Do you know a man who’s being abusive? Learn what you can do.

In a recent and horrifying case of domestic violence in Ajax, Ont., Krassimira Pejcinovski and her two teenaged children, Roy and Venallia, were killed, with Pejcinovski’s former boyfriend charged in their deaths.

For Dr. Katreena Scott, a professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) and an expert on mental health and domestic violence, the situation is not only tragic, but preventable.

“It frustrates me that these homicides continue to happen, that women and children continue to be killed by the men in their lives. It frustrates me because we know quite a bit about domestic homicide, and we know quite a bit about the risk factors,” she said.

As the murder case surrounding Pejcinovski and her children begins to unfold, Dr. Scott says in many cases of this nature, there are often, sadly, signs that some of the risk factors of domestic violence had been present.

“There’s very few domestic homicides that come out of the blue,” she said. “In most cases, there are lots of warning signs. We just need to see them, recognize them and be able to do something.”

According to Dr. Scott, top risk factors for domestic violence and/or homicide include:

  • Divorce, separation: The number one situational risk factor for domestic homicide is a recent or an expected separation, says Dr. Scott. “Also important are whether or not there are step children. Step children are at greater risk of being physically and emotionally abused by their step fathers." When this factor is combined with other risks, there is greater chance for domestic homicide to occur.
  • History of violence: This factor is key, says Dr. Scott. “Has he been violent toward her before? Has he threatened to kill her? Has he been violent toward others?” she asks.
  • Obsessiveness and jealousy: Acting in a controlling manner, obsessing or showing signs of jealousy are often signs of potential abuse, says Dr. Scott. “Does he always need to know where she is or who she's with? Does he stop by her workplace? Does he contact her constantly?”
  • Stress: It’s important to ask if the abuser or potential abuser has had recent stressors that have increased his level of desperation. “For example, is he about to lose his job?” asks Dr. Scott.
  • Suicidal: When men have some of the above risk factors and are depressed and suicidal, they often kill their partners and their children at the same time, says Dr. Scott.

Seven or more risk factors in 72% of cases

Shockingly, she says, and according to the Domestic Violence Death Review Committee, in three-quarters of domestic homicide cases (72 per cent), seven or more of these risk factors have been present.

In another 15 per cent, four to six risk factors had been apparent.

‘Who’s talking to him?’

Dr. Scott says when these risk factors surface, it’s important to not only address the safety concerns for women and children, but it’s equally as important to talk to the man.

“When situations like this arise the question I ask is, ‘Who’s talking to him?’” she said.

“When we know that she’s at risk…who then does something with him?...Who’s talking him down when he starts to get revenge fantasies and to plan some very harmful events? Who works with him to manage the stress that he is under? And who’s creating a safety net to make sure that his escalating distress and escalating violence does not translate into a lethal or potentially lethal abuse event?”

To illustrate the importance of working with male abusers to prevent domestic violence, Dr. Scott described a study where she and her team of researchers did just that – stepping in to talk with male abusers about their risk for violent behaviour, in effort to diminish their chances of reoffending.

The results were astounding.

Among the men who had been convicted of a domestic violence assault and those who had not been part of Dr. Scott and her team’s intervention, two-thirds (66%) reoffended within one year of their assault.

But among the group of men who had attended the intervention with Dr. Scott and her team, only 29% of men had reoffended.

Not only that – two years later, among the men in the first group that had not been part of the intervention, 41% had committed another domestic violence assault, compared with only 12% of the men that had previously met with Dr. Scott and her team.

“What this tells us is that even with very high-risk men, we can create change in their behaviour,” said Dr. Scott. “Now, we just need to do it.”

What can we do? 

Along with seeking out resources, and continuing to push for further support, Dr. Scott says greater awareness of domestic violence risk factors – and more of a willingness to speak up – is crucial in prevention.

“One of the things that we know is that violence in all forms thrives in secrecy and silence,” she said. “We need to speak up about what we see.”

Before concluding, she added, “I think men in particular need to be able to have conversations with other men about what they see as healthy and unhealthy in relationships and how they value the safety and well-being of the children and women in their lives.”


Domestic violence resources and support

Do you suspect a case of domestic violence? Here are some resources on how to speak with someone who is being abused, or a man who is being abusive:

Are you or someone you know at risk of domestic violence? Here are some resources and support. 


Learn more about the research study

Given the profound results of the study described above, Dr. Scott says she and her research team have launched a replication program – this time, with a bigger sample and across more communities.

“We’re right now pulling the information to see whether or not we were able to create the same effects,” she said. “But I also wonder, what actually made a difference?”

Watch the video below to hear Dr. Scott explore the answer to that very question.


Studying effects of domestic violence on workplaces – by asking perpetrators

Mental Health Matters: OISE hits the streets to test your knowledge

Schools must become ‘hub’ of mental health support, says Dr. Katreena Scott

OISE experts: Why World Mental Health Day is important