$2.7 mil funds violence prevention research

A National Violence Against Women Prevention Research Center has been established at MUSC with $2.7 million funding from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Collaborating with the Medical University on this project are the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College in Massachusetts and the Center for Trauma Recovery at the University of Missouri in St. Louis.

“A total of 18 investigators from the three institutions, all with impressive credentials in crime victim research and/or issues directly relating to women are part of this initiative,” said Dean Kilpatrick, Ph.D., principal investigator for the project and professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at MUSC. Co-principal investigators are Linda Williams, Ph.D., at Wellesley and Patricia Resick, Ph.D., at the University of Missouri at St. Louis.

Kilpatrick and his colleagues see the center as becoming a valuable resource for both public policy makers and practitioners in the field of violence against women. Kilpatrick’s previous research project, which culminated in a comprehensive report entitled Rape in America: A Report to the Nation, has become the nation’s premier source of research data on the topic. Kilpatrick is frequently called upon to testify about rape issues and other crime victim issues at hearings held by the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. In 1990, he was presented by President George Bush the President’s Award for Outstanding Contributions on Behalf of Victims of Crime. Kilpatrick’s colleague Connie Best, Ph.D., who is also an investigator for the violence against women project, received the same award in 1996.

U.S. Senator Fritz Hollings, a member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that funds CDC programs, said, “Violence against women is a major public health problem that impacts the physical and mental health of America’s families. Such violence deeply affects the well-being of women and children. We owe it to South Carolina’s women and their families to do everything we can to prevent acts of violence against them. This grant will help MUSC study how we can stomp out violence against women.”

The establishment of the violence against women center is a direct result of the recommendation of the National Research Council. The council established a Panel on Research on Violence Against Women to fulfill a congressional request to develop a research agenda to increase the understanding and control of violence against women.

The panel recommended that a minimum of three or four centers be established nationally to support the development of studies and training programs focused on violence against women and to provide mechanisms for collaboration between researchers and practitioners and technical assistance for integrating research into service provision.

“We are very pleased to have been selected as the one center nationally to take on this mammoth task,” said Kilpatrick. “Each of the three components of our new center—the MUSC group, the Wellesley group and the St. Louis group—are strong centers in their fields with superb track records.” He said that each site has been involved in major funded research projects on related topics, such as adolescent victimization and rape. There is, therefore, already a wealth of data available for use in the new initiative.

In addition, one of the major barriers for the development of appropriate research in this field has been the general lack of cooperation and collaboration among those in the trenches who provide services to rape victims and those in the research community, explained Kilpatrick. The researchers in all three centers have a track record of cooperation and collaboration with practitioners who work directly with victims, such as the staffs of rape crisis centers, social service agencies and criminal justice organizations.

Violence against women occurs across the life span of women and includes physical, sexual and psychological abuse. It is devastating for the women’s physical and mental health with the consequences going far beyond the individual victims, affecting their children, families friends and society at large. It has taken on the proportion of a public health problem.

The research project will, therefore, take a public health approach to the problem of violence against women, looking at primary, secondary and tertiary prevention. The primary approach concentrates on preventing rape, spousal abuse and other forms of violence against women. After the violence occurs, the secondary approach emphasizes early intervention to prevent the secondary consequences of abuse such as mental health problems. The tertiary approach is concerned with treating the mental health and physical injuries resulting from the violence.

The project is funded for five years. Kilpatrick said the first year would entail information gathering. This would be followed by extensive activities such as holding focus groups designed to overcome barriers to research. Such groups would strive to answer why practitioners don’t trust researchers and why researchers are hesitant to work with community groups. Other activities will include training programs, the creation of educational videotapes and a web site, and a variety of distance learning activities and conferences to link groups involved with research in the field. The research center also will eventually act as a broker to link researchers in the field with practitioner groups.

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