A child in a pink shirt holds the hand of their parent
Sandra Seitamaa, Unsplash

Oct. 30, 2023

UCalgary Research Excellence Chair examines trauma-informed approaches in gender-based violence

Prof. Jennifer Koshan hopes to bring concrete changes to law, policy and educational programming

Pursuing research in gender-based and family violence is not something a person enters into lightly. For Professor Jennifer Koshan, BSc’85, LLB’88, her interest grew while working as a Crown prosecutor in the Northwest Territories and she experienced the unique challenges lawyers faced when dealing with this difficult issue.

Professor Jennifer Koshan

Professor Jennifer Koshan was appointed a UCalgary Research Excellence Chair in July 2023.

“With my background in science, I had plans to be an environmental lawyer,” says Koshan. “Through mentorship from Professor Emerita Kathleen Mahoney and former law dean and Supreme Court Justice Sheilah Martin, my interest shifted to human rights, gender equality and gender-based violence.

“And, while working on gender-based and family violence cases can be disturbing and difficult, it can also be gratifying.”  

Expanding focus of research to include children 

In recognition of her commitment to research in human rights, domestic violence and access to justice, as well as her community-based work with organizations such as the equality effect, Koshan was appointed one of UCalgary’s 22 new Research Excellence Chairs in July 2023. The chair will allow her to expand her focus from adult survivors to include children who are victims of family violence, with particular attention to children who are members of marginalized groups. Using intersectional, transdisciplinary and community-based approaches, Koshan will explore how to transform the Canadian legal system to provide a rights-based and trauma-informed approach for children and adults experiencing family violence.   

“My research will look beyond the traditional concepts of family violence to include emotional and psychological abuse and coercive control,” says Koshan. “This can include situations like we see in Saskatchewan and other provinces around parental rights. When we consider aspects of a child’s identity, including gender identity, emotional and psychological violence from family members can come into play through parental control of names and pronouns. And our current laws aren’t always broad enough to recognize these types of violence.”  

Partnership to provide recommendations to impact of legal system on survivors 

Koshan will also partner with Luna Child and Youth Advocacy Centre to develop trauma-informed approaches for children in the justice system. Using quantitative and qualitative research methods, Koshan will work with the Centre’s staff and clients to hear from youth who have experienced abuse and navigated the justice system. Based on the data, the research team will provide recommendations on addressing the legal system's re-traumatizing impacts on children and youth who are survivors of abuse.   

Koshan will continue her work with the faculties of nursing and social work in developing interprofessional and experiential learning modules on family violence, using findings from the research team’s pilot study to refine the program and expand it to include a rights-based and trauma-informed approach for law students working with children in the legal system.   

Says Koshan: “The ultimate goal from my research, which will be made possible by the UCalgary Research Excellence Chair, is to produce recommendations that lead to concrete changes to law, policy and educational programming for law students, lawyers and judges, providing a better experience for children, youth and their parents navigating their way through the system.” 

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