More needs to be done to prevent homicides: criminologist

Building relationships with victims an important first step

Bonnie Belec
Published on November 30, 2013
Rose Ricciardelli is the co-ordinator for criminology in MUN’s  department of sociology. — Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram

Ten domestic homicides in the RNC's jurisdiction in 10 years may not seem like a huge number, but each victim could have been saved.

That's according to a Memorial University criminologist.

“It’s really telling us it is still a problem, and that’s the biggest thing we can get out of it,” said Rose Ricciardelli, an assistant profressor who is co-ordinator for criminology in the sociology department.  

“If you look at all of the different cases where women in domestic situations have been killed or hurt (by a partner)  they are all preventable. So (stats) are telling us we need to do more to inform the future, to do something about these situations,” she said.

The RNC is attempting to do just that by identifying domestic violence as a core objective and dedicating a full-time officer — Const. Suzanne FitzGerald — to the position of domestic violence co-ordinator. She’s responsible for analyzing calls for service and conducting risk assessments to determine if an abuser is likely to kill his intimate partner.

FitzGerald, who gets involved in high-risk cases where there is a perceived danger the relationship could end tragically, has helped co-ordinate the RNC’s domestic violence initiative, which also includes public and professional awareness and officer training.

Using a danger-assessment tool to apply risk markers to the relationships, FitzGerald told The Telegram this week she has 50 of those files on her radar.

Earlier this year, she compiled a report for the RNC’s executive which included a review of the homicides the force investigated from 2002-11. There were 15, 10 of which were domestic homicides.

FitzGerald’s work and the RNC’s actions to address domestic violence shows the force is responding to what is going on, says Ricciardelli.

“The fact we’re being progressive in responding — the RNC has added this position, so they recognize there is a problem and have done something and are willing to work with it to make it as positive as it can be — is important,” she said.

Ricciardelli said RNC cadets attend many of her classes and she reviews policy and how it has changed in order to put forward the best practices when dealing with domestic violence calls.

“One of the big things I like to get out to everyone, if you’re working with or dealing with domestic issues, is to create trust with the person so maybe you can help them find a safe place,” she said.

“Which, really, will go a long way in terms of proactive policing. I’m a big supporter of building those relationships because a safe place is probably the most important thing. If someone has someone they can call without fear — fear that your partner is going to be arrested and he’s going to come hurt you because you got him arrested — we have to find ways to deal with those challenges,” she said.

FitzGerald believes part of the problem is awareness and getting people in the community to stop thinking that violence is not their business.

She said awareness campaigns can bring about important change in public perception, alter social consciousness and affect how people will ultimately act.

“It is collaborative awareness campaigns on domestic violence that generate critical thinking and enhance dialogue regarding the pervasiveness of domestic violence, encourage proactive action to end abuse and alert victims to the community resources available to them,” said FitzGerald.

 She said in the most recent report from the Ontario Domestic Violence Death Review Committee, it was determined that critical information about ongoing abuse endured by victims was known by not only family, friends and co-workers, but also front-line professionals.

“There is still that question, even though we’ve had these tragedies and there has been so much discussion around this incredible issue, what do I do? What can I do?” said FitzGerald.

If you see domestic violence, she said, don’t turn away.

“That whole mentality, ‘it’s not my business,’ is nothing further from the truth. Violence is everybody’s business. These abusers don’t just live in a home,  they go to different places, just as we do as families. They are part of our society and we need to make sure we are addressing the issue,” she said.

FitzGerald said abusers have to recognize they need help.

“You can change. There are a lot of different services out there, but it does come down to a recognition and acceptance of  responsibility,” she said.

“Abusers are very reluctant to acknowledge they are responsible and everything is the victim’s fault. That needs to change, but it can’t without intervention, so the best place to start is with a family doctor or social services,” she said.

According to the province’s Women’s Policy Office executive plan 2011-2014, between 2006 and 2010 about 11,321 women were victims of violence. The report noted that only 10 per cent will report it to police.

“Domestic disturbance calls are within the top 10 number of calls for service,” FitzGerald said.

“On average, we get 2,200 calls in a year and that number has more than doubled since 2005. And now that we have better training and better ways of identifying it, those numbers will increase as well. It may not be indicative that the crime is increasing, just more awarenesss and reporting.”

The RNC received 1,167 calls in 2005 and 2,229 in 2011, she said.

FitzGerald added that a 2006 Statistics Canada report on violence against women estimated the cost of domestic violence — taking into consideration “health care, criminal justice, social services, and lost wages and productivity — to be $4.2 billion on an annual basis.

In 2012, it was $7.4 billion.




(DESK use as many or as few as you need but if you don’t use all just say some warning signs)


Warning signs a woman is being abused  

• He puts her down

• He does all the talking and dominates the conversation

• He tries to keep her away from you

• He acts as if he owns her

• He tries to suggest he is the victim and acts depressed

• He acts like he is superior and of more value than others in his home

• He lies to make himself look good or exaggerates his good qualities

• She is nervous about talking when he’s there

• She seems to be sick more often and misses work

• She tries to cover her bruises

• She may be apologetic and makes excuses for his behaviour or becomes aggressive and angry

• She makes excuses at the last minute about why she can’t meet you or she tries to avoid you on the street.

Source: Royal Newfoundland Constabulary