In the early ’90s, Molly Dragiewicz was majoring in women’s studies at the University of Arizona. The young student often found what she was hearing in the news unsettling.
“There were a lot of stories in the media that were really nasty to victims of campus sexual assault," she recalls. “People were reacting strongly against efforts to do anti-rape education on campus.”
Soon after, she joined a research project that involved transcribing women’s experiences of assault. “I realized very quickly â€¦ that the most horrendous stories of sexual assault were related to ongoing partner violence,” she says. At the same time, “there wasn’t a lot of work going on about media coverage of violence and abuse in relationships, and how the media coverage of that was good or bad.”
Dragiewicz has followed her interest in these kinds of tough issues to the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT), where she is an assistant professor in the faculty of criminology, justice and policy studies. For her body of work so far, she was honoured last month with the New Scholar Award from the American Society of Criminology’s (ASC) Division on Women and Crime.
“We’re very proud of her,” says Barbara Perry, associate dean of UOIT’s faculty of criminology, justice and policy studies. Perry notes that a number of faculty members have won ASC awards in recent years. “Many of us are doing ‘firsts’ in particular areas â€¦ When we talk about sustainable societies, it’s not just about environmental sustainability but also cultural and social sustainability. So the work we do is trying to understand and hopefully challenge structures of inequality that contribute to criminalization.”
The majority of Dragiewicz’s work centres on violence against women, with two areas of focus being the problems that battered mothers face with child custody arrangements and anti-feminist backlash. She takes aim at what she sees as failures in implementation of existing policies and coordination between different systems like the family court system and the criminal justice system.
“None of these systems work together so survivors of violence and abuse continue to have a really hard time getting the resources that they need to get out and be safe after an abusive relationship ends,” she says.
Dragiewicz hopes her research will continue to raise awareness on violence and abuse. Her upcoming projects include looking at support for anti-violence services targeted at the LGBT community and racial and ethnic communities.
Dragiewicz says people often wonder if those in her line of work find it hard to deal with such difficult subject matter. With the bad comes the good, she says. “You really hear a lot about women’s strengths and perseverance and tenacityâ€¦ It’s inspiring to see how tough these women are and how much they can overcome.”