Eden Hoffer: Taking a different approach to a criminalized problem

By Alex Compton

Eden's hometown: Toronto, Ontario

From Criminology and Social Justice to Health Information Science: Eden Hoffer is working to assist in reforming how intimate partner violence is addressed through policy and practice in Canada.

Diverting from your expected path may initially seem unsettling, but following your passions might lead to life-changing experiences.

Eden Hoffer discovered this after she earned a BA in Criminology and Psychology and an MA in Criminology and Social Justice from Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU). Eden’s MA work focused on the negative effects of punitive mandatory charging policies on women who have experienced intimate partner violence in Canada. She examined how reactive mandatory charging policies are serving to criminalize women who are victim-survivors of physical intimate partner violence instead of helping them.

After completing her master’s degree and looking at different Criminology PhD programs, she was unsure of exactly what was next for her journey.

“I finished my MRP (Major Research Paper) by posing a question regarding where this research on intimate partner violence and mandatory charging policies should go next. The note that I ended my MRP on was like 'there is such a significant amount of work to be done in this domain and we should be doing much more to support victim-survivors’. And then I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I realized how much more I wanted to learn about intimate partner violence and how deeply passionate I was about helping to effect social change in this space - and I knew that I could do some of this work” Eden says.

After meeting Dr. Nadine Wathen, Canada Research Chair in Mobilizing Knowledge on Gender-Based Violence at Western University, Eden began thinking about a potential new approach to her doctoral research.

“Nadine introduced me to the [Health Information Science] program, which I hadn’t previously considered given my criminology background and where I thought my research was initially situated. But when I looked into the program further, I began really reconsidering my approach to this work, and thinking that maybe a criminal justice-based response is not the “solution” to intimate partner violence” Eden says.

Fun Fact

"In my spare time, I love watching Grey's Anatomy and reading. I always have a pretty wishful/ambitious 'to be read' list going." One of Eden's favourite books is The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid.

Within her first semester of her PhD, it soon became clear to Eden that since intimate partner violence is such a deep-seated societal, systemic, and structural issue, it requires a multifaceted response – it cannot be ‘solved’ through a solely punitive criminal justice-based approach. With Dr. Wathen as her supervisor, Eden’s research has her aiming to help address how intimate partner violence is being addressed in Canada.

“Through the literature, especially the literature on intimate partner violence that has come out of nursing, it became glaringly apparent to me that this is not solely a criminal justice issue. It is so incredibly gendered, and these policies have done a significant degree of damage specifically to women who are intimate partner violence victim-survivors. In hindsight, it makes total sense that this research and I are housed in a health-based program” Eden says.

Eden is now working alongside Dr. Wathen together with community partners to better understand how to address intimate partner violence through a trauma-and violence-informed lens, which Eden has said has made for “incredibly meaningful work already”.

The number of women who are victim-survivors of physical intimate partner violence is disproportionate to men, Eden says. “The statistics clearly indicate that women are disproportionately being victimized and men are perpetrating this violence, and when women do engage in physical intimate partner violence, this violence is predominantly defensive. It’s factors like hegemonic masculinity and the acceptance of patriarchy that encourages or sustains anger as the only emotion boys and men 'acceptably' are able to express, which, in part, creates a breeding ground for sustaining the perpetration of intimate partner violence. So, if we want to actually address intimate partner violence proactively, we need to do something about the factors which give rise to it. And that means assisting boys and men to not engage in violence but doing so in a compassionate and non-judgemental way.”

Although Eden aims to assist in breaking barriers in system-based approaches and responses to intimate partner violence from a policy perspective which has her considering industry or policy work for a potential career trajectory, mentorship from Dr. Wathen and other scholars such as those from her BA and MA in the Criminology department at Toronto Metropolitan University have also prompted her to consider pursuing teaching at some point in her career.

“I wholeheartedly know that professors have this magical life-changing ability. Some of the professors that I had during my undergrad and masters played an incredibly significant role in my choice to continue in academia and do a PhD” Eden says.

Working as a Teaching Assistant and leading a weekly tutorial section for an undergraduate course at Western has given her a chance to test her “potential professor skills” and assess whether she feels like teaching is the right career fit for her. Simultaneously, writing for public and policy-based forums like Policy Options and WomanACT in a way that differs from traditional academic writing has also given her practice presenting her research in a way that is accessible and understandable.

“Accessibility in my work is really important to me. I really don’t want people grasping at straws to try and figure out what I’m saying when I present on this work or when I share it with people. I think that being able to explain what I’m hoping to do with this research without the jargon - to everyone and not just academics - is critical. Also, if this research starts and ends in the ivory tower, the public may not know about the damage these policies are doing. And it’s so important that the public is aware of these issues to help drive social change.” Eden says.

With a background in Criminology, Eden may not have previously pictured herself enrolled in a health and information-based doctoral program, but now immersed in the Health Information Science program and working on her research, she feels at home.

“It honestly aligns so perfectly. The threads between women's health, taking a trauma-and violence-informed approach to this work, social justice, victimization, criminal justice system involvement, and the damage being done by social institutions and policies have become so clear to me. My research is extremely interdisciplinary, so my comprehensive examination committee/thesis advisory committee is also interdisciplinary - in addition to Nadine, it includes one faculty member from the Faculty of Health Sciences and one faculty member from the Faculty of Information and Media Studies to support all the different angles of this research. It's absolutely the ideal committee to support this work and I'm so grateful. It truly is the perfect program to explore all of these tensions and dynamics to hopefully help drive positive social change in the intimate partner violence space in Canada.”


Grad student profiles in the Meet Our Students section are written by students in the Master of Media in Journalism & Communication program, who are enrolled in MMJC 9604 - Professional Writing.