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Graduate seeking answers about abuse

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January 8, 2003
Port Coquitlam resident Tonia Nicholls wants to know what stops abused women from getting help or leaving their abusers. The 2002 graduate of SFU’s doctoral program in forensic psychology is also investigating the efficacy of current violence risk-assessment measures in predicting the potential for recidivism among male spousal abusers.

Nicholls says what prevents women from leaving abusive partners is likely a combination of social, cultural, psychological, financial and emotional factors. She is testing a measure designed to identify abused women’s most pressing needs. "Fear of escalating abuse is one of the most common reasons women report remaining in abusive relationships," explains Nicholls.

The SFU graduate is seeking "as broad a population of women as possible (i.e., women ages 18-65, various cultures) who have experienced differing degrees of abuse (i.e., physical, verbal, sexual, financial, stalking)" for her study. A broad cross-section of participants is important because "domestic violence cuts across all socio-economic, cultural and ethnic boundaries," notes Nicholls.

The Mental Health, Law and Policy Institute at SFU, the British Columbia Institute Against Family Violence and UBC’s department of psychiatry are co-sponsoring her study. Nicholls has conducted violence risk-assessments at men’s prisons and the Burnaby Correctional Centre for Women. Her doctoral research on women as perpetrators, as well as victims of violence, garnered her several honours.

Postdoctoral fellowships from the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, and an operating grant from the Lions Gate Healthcare Research Foundation are funding her current research.

To make inquires about the study: phone: 604.244.8183; email: website:


Tonia Nicholls, 604.291.4697,
Carol Thorbes, Media & PR, 604.291.3035,