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The Violence Link in Practice – An empirical examination of the implications of the Violence Link for family justice professionals

According to recent estimates, 60% of Canadian homes have at least one cat or dog, and the number continues to increase (Canadian Animal Health Institute 2022). The vast majority of those who report having companion animals also report considering them part of their family (Ingraham 2019; HABRI & PetCo Love, 2022). As members of the family, these animals are vulnerable to violence therein. Recent empirical research indicates that not only are animals at a greater risk of abuse in homes where there is family violence, but the presence of companion animals can render the human victims of violence more vulnerable because many victims delay leaving their abuser out of concern for their animals or consider returning to the abusive relationship because their abuser has the animal companions (Fitzgerald et al. 2022). These connections are one instantiation of what has come to be referred to as the Violence Link.

Despite a substantial body of research documenting the link between intimate partner violence and animal abuse, research attention has not been paid to how family law professionals, specifically family lawyers and mediators, encounter and deal with the Violence Link in their practices. Given that family law professionals are often among the first to encounter those aiming to dissolve an abusive relationship, their perspectives are key to understanding how to better serve the victims/survivors impacted by the Violence Link. This study therefore solicited the perspectives of family law professionals in Canada via a self-administered online survey and follow-up, in-depth qualitative interviews.

This report details the most salient findings from the data and provides recommendations for improving the family justice system’s attentiveness and responses to the Violence Link. The majority of the participants reported confronting the Violence Link in their practice but were uncertain how to best address it, and the needs of their clients by extension. Although a number of recommendations are discerned, we emphasize six that the data indicate should be prioritized.

These include:

  • Providing family law practitioners with training and resources regarding the Violence Link;
  • Educating the judiciary on the Violence Link;
  • Establishing guidelines for when to report animal abuse and how;
  • Adding screening questions for the presence of companion animals to client intake forms
    and other family law forms that screen for intimate partner violence;
  • Clarifying how ownership or guardianship of companion animals should be determined
    in cases where the Violence Link is present; and
  • Amending protection order legislation to enable the explicit inclusion of companion animals.

To read the full report, please [click here].

To view the original call for participants, please [click here].