They’re more than just numbers

GIS results will help identify areas prone to violence against women

12/12/2016 4:14:55 PM

On Dec. 6, vigils were held across the country to commemorate The National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women in Canada. The day was established in 1991 by the Government of Canada to mark the anniversary of the 1989 murders of 14 young women at l'École Polytechnique de Montréal.
Beginning in 1995, the Ontario Association of Interval & Transition Houses (OAITH) has compiled and released a list of names of the women murdered in the province of Ontario each year. Now, sociology students from the University of Guelph are meeting virtually with GIS Applications Specialist (Post Diploma) students from College of the North Atlantic (CNA) to put that data to good use.
Marlene Ham, provincial coordinator for OAITH, says students are examining the number of women killed in Ontario related to domestic violence in order to better understand the nature of female homicides (femicides) in the province.
“We wanted to be able to use this data as a tool throughout the year to educate people about issues surrounding femicide,” Ham said. “We felt the best way to do that is to really understand what we are collecting and what we are tracking.”
Now CNA has joined in the project, signing a Memorandum of Understanding with OAITH and the University of Guelph to conduct a project to Examine Trends in Intimate Femicide in Ontario from 2009-2014. The data and analysis from the research project will be used to help educate the public, and inform future research, policy, as well as social service/legal sector responses to violence against women in Ontario.
This research opportunity allows students at University of Guelph and CNA to work together on a real-time, shared assignment. Using online resources, the University of Guelph students offer a sociological analysis of the data, while CNA conducts the GIS analysis. Using the shared results they will create a final product that will be both academically and operationally important for OAITH and the Government of Ontario. 
Dr. Mavis Morton is an associate professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at University of Guelph. For the past 25 years she has worked with community partners on the issue of violence against women and children.
“The great thing, and where the mutual benefit is, is that students get to work on a lot of skills that fit with required program learning outcomes, but there is also a lot of research that shows that working on real world issues is good pedagogy and helps to engage students, increases their ability to retain knowledge and helps them to see how they can apply their skills,” said Dr. Morton.
Her students will also examine the common trends, in the way both victims and offenders are represented in mainstream news and popular culture, and compare to previous research on media representation of victims and offenders.
“Mainstream media tends to be very victim blaming and represents and reports on ‘worthy’ and ‘unworthy’ victims differently based on gender, race, class, faith, age, and sexual orientation,” Dr. Morton said. “You get myopic, individualizing attention to the issue of violence against women for example that tends to blame the individual women for their own victimization.”
Because of this project, this is the first time that OAITH has worked with data collected through the provincial coroner’s office. Dr. Morton hopes their research will be mutually beneficial and that it may help to inform and possibly enhance the kind of information that is currently tracked and coded.
Meanwhile, the University of Guelph students share their findings with CNA’s GIS students. Instructor Darin Brooks says the university students can present the demographic information in a table format, but by putting it into a geospatial context it is much easier for the data to be understood and presented.
“It’s about not only where the murders are happening, but why the femicides are happening. It’s about linking how many femicides have happened in a particular area and when you look at that, you can ask, ‘what are the other underlying factors of those areas – socioeconomic factors, historical factors, or political factors?’ ” Brooks said. “We can drill down into the data and create maps of where femicide is happening more frequently and less frequently, and find these hot spots and cold spots. They couldn’t do that with an Excel spreadsheet. They can just look at that spreadsheet and get a number.”
In addition to focusing on the visual representation, the GIS students are data mining and intersecting information from the sociology students.
“By doing this we can develop predictive models, based on variables we use to help understand why it is happening and where it may happen in the future. Let’s say you identify areas that are cold spots (low rates of femicide), but you hypothesize socioeconomically there is a greater likelihood of it to be a high rate of femicide. By overlaying GIS layers representing shelters for women suffering from domestic violence, or police stations, or educational centres, we may discover subtle reasons why that area is a cold spot,” Brooks said.
For more information about the GIS Applications Specialist (Post Diploma) program, visit
Media Contact:
Glenda McCarthy
Public Relations Specialist
College of the North Atlantic