Elizabeth Sheehy

Professor Emerita, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa

Violence against women, Sexual assault, Battered women, Women who kill, Criminal law and procedure, Law reform


Rabble, January 14, 2014Radio/Podcast

URL: http://rabble.ca/podcasts/shows/feminist-current/2014/01/defending-battered-women-on-trial-interview-elizabeth-sheehy

In this episode, Meghan Murphy speaks with Elizabeth Sheehy about her new book, which looks at the cases of 11 women who are accused of killing their male partners in self-defence...

Supreme Court rules police can swab a suspected rapist without a warrant

The Globe and Mail, June 23, 2016Online

URL: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/police-had-right-to-swab-suspected-rapist-without-warrant-court-rules/article30571707/

In a ruling that adds to police powers in investigating rape, the Supreme Court of Canada says police have the right to take a penile swab from suspected attackers, forcibly if necessary, as long as they do so in a private cell and have reasonable grounds to believe they will find relevant evidence...

How the Jian Ghomeshi trial has ‘changed forever’ the conversation about sexual assault in Canada

Global News, February 10, 2016Online

URL: http://globalnews.ca/news/2509655/how-the-jian-ghomeshi-trial-has-changed-forever-the-conversation-about-sexual-assault-in-canada/

As the trial of Jian Ghomeshi comes to a close, legal experts say the case has “changed forever” the social conversation around sexual assault but are divided about whether it will discourage women from reporting it to police. Elizabeth Sheehy, a law professor from the University of Ottawa, believes that women in Canada are engaging in new and very public discussion of the issues raised by the treatment of the three complainants in the case...

Elizabeth Sheehy: The law, and history, speak for themselves

National Post, December 17, 2013Online

URL: http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/elizabeth-sheehy-the-law-and-history-speak-for-themselves

I wish I were the radical that columnist Barbara Kay claims I am in her column. Instead, I am a rather boring law professor who knows history and the law. The Ottawa Citizen reported that I said women are justified in killing their abusers, even if they are asleep or passed out. The thing is, back in 1982, a Nova Scotia jury of Jane Stafford’s peers said just that, when they acquitted her of murder after a lengthy trial for the death of her husband Billy Stafford — of Life With Billy fame.

Allan Rock and Elizabeth Sheehy: The way forward on sexual assault on campus

Ottawa Citizen, February 5, 2016Online

URL: http://ottawacitizen.com/opinion/columnists/allan-rock-and-elizabeth-sheehy-the-way-forward-on-sexual-assault-on-campus

Two years ago, allegations of sexual violence involving students led the University of Ottawa to create a task force on respect and equality, with a mandate to recommend policies and practices to create a safe and respectful environment on campus...

Sexual Assault in Canada: Law, Legal Practice and Women’s Activism
by Elizabeth Sheehy
University of Ottawa Press
Defending Battered Women on Trial
by Elizabeth Sheehy
University of British Columbia Press
Adding Feminism To Law The Contributions Of Justice Claire
by Elizabeth Sheehy
Calling for Change: Women, Law, and the Legal Profession (NONE)
by Elizabeth Sheehy
University of Ottawa Press

Securing Fair Outcomes for Battered Women Charged with Homicide: Analysing Defence Lawyering in R v Falls

Published by Melbourne University Law Review

2015 Despite law reforms intended explicitly to improve their prospects of receiving fairer consideration within the criminal justice system, it is still the case that most battered women accused of homicide are not successful in relying on self-defence. Defending battered women charged with homicide offers substantial challenges for defence lawyers. Acquittals leave little trace in standard modes of legal reporting and thus there are few opportunities for defence lawyers to examine the advocacy of their peers. In this article we document strategies that may support successful outcomes with specific reference to R v Falls, in which a battered woman charged with murder in ‘non-confrontational circumstances’ was acquitted on the basis of self-defence.

URL: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2558613

Responding to Sexual Assault on Campus: What Can Canadian Universities Learn from US Law and Policy?

Published by Wilfrid Laurier University Press

2015 We first turn to a brief discussion of the legal context in which Canadian post-secondary institutions operate, particularly federalism, provincial human rights codes, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and tort law. Second we describe the legal context in which US universities and colleges sit: Title IX, the Clery Act, the Obama Task Force and its 2014 Report, and the ongoing investigations and litigation arising from federal regulation. Third we look at what Canadian institutions might learn from the US experience specifically on the issues around reporting obligations, disciplinary measures, and protections for women who report sexual violence.

URL: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2641844

Defending Battered Women on Trial

Published by UBC Press

2015 Elizabeth Sheehy uses trial transcripts and a detailed case study approach to tell, for the first time, the stories of eleven women, ten of whom killed their partners and one who did not. She looks at the barriers women face to "just leaving," how self-defence was argued in these cases, and which form of expert testimony was used to frame women's experience of battering. Drawing upon a rich expanse of research from many disciplines, including law, psychology, history, sociology, women's studies, and social work, she highlights the limitations of the law of self-defence, the successful strategies of defence lawyers, the costs to women undergoing a murder trial, and the serious difficulties of credibility that they face when testifying. In a final chapter, she proposes numerous reforms.

URL: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2570977


Elizabeth Sheehy is an international expert on legal responses to male violence against women. She has taught Criminal Law and Procedure, Sexual Assault Law, and Defending Battered Women on Trial, to decades of law students and published extensively on sexual assault and battered women. Sheehy has played a role in law reform in the criminal law as it affects women, working with frontline women's groups and the Department of Justice. She has written many opinion pieces and been quoted by journalists in both radio and print. She holds a law degree from Osgoode Hall Law School, a Master's in law from Columbia University, and was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Law Society of Upper Canada. Sheehy is a member of the Royal Society of Canada and has received recognition for her contributions to advancing the law in the interests of women who experience male violence, including, most recently, the Person's Award and the Order of Ontario.


Roman John Hnatyshyn Award for Law | Professional

2013 Awarded by the Canadian Bar Association.

Member of the Royal Society of Canada | Professional


Excellence in Teaching Award | Professional

Awarded by the Common Law Students’ Society at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law.

David Walter Mundell Medal 2015 | Professional

Awarded by the AG Ontario for her book, Defending Battered Women on Trial: Lessons from the Transcripts (UBC Press 2014)

Additional Titles and Affiliations

Vice Dean of Research

Full Professor


  • Violence against women
  • Sexual assault Law
  • Battered women
  • Women who kill
  • Criminal law and procedure
  • Law reform


  • Osgoode Hall Law School
    LL.B., 1981
  • Law Society of Upper Canada
    LL.D., 2005

    Honoris causa

  • Columbia Law School
    LL.M., 1984