Safe Havens or Dangerous Waters? A Phenomenological Study of Abused Women's Experiences in the Family Courts of Ontario
Winstock, Lois Shereen
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This qualitative, interdisciplinary research study explores the experiences of women abused by their intimate partners who appear as litigants in family court proceedings in Ontario, and the responses of judges presiding over those proceedings. Domestic violence and abuse affects families from all social, economic and cultural groups. Women have been overwhelmingly identified as the victims of domestic violence and abuse. Children exposed to domestic violence and abuse, either directly or indirectly, are also negatively impacted. The term woman abuse has been employed to denote the gendered nature of the phenomena. Studies of abused womens interactions with the legal system across common law jurisdictions have found that abused women are usually dissatisfied with the legal response to domestic violence and abuse. The extant literature examining the experiences of abused women in family court proceedings has revealed that abused women appearing as litigants in family courts do not think that their stories of domestic violence and abuse are believed, and, consequently, they do not obtain the legal relief they seek. This dissertation combines law and legal research with sociological methodologies within a feminist epistemological framework in a phenomenological study of abused womens experiences in the family courts of Ontario. Employing grounded theory, the narratives of abused women are analyzed to provide a thematic rubric from which questions were derived to pose to judges to explore their understanding of the nature of woman abuse and the impact of the phenomena of domestic violence and abuse on abused women and their children. Judges narratives were also analyzed using grounded theory. Critical discourse analysis was used to analyse relevant case law. A comparative critical analysis was undertaken to identify any disconnects in intersubjective understanding of the phenomena of domestic violence and abuse between abused women and the judiciary. The findings may provide some areas of consideration and further examination beyond those usually explored by those charged with the task of improving the family law system to make it more responsive to the needs of abused women and their children.