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6 The Future of Research on Violence Against Women: Final Thoughis The Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Hu- man Services have supported research on violence against women for over two decades. Findings have had a significant impact- perhaps more than in any other crime-related topic on legislation, crimi- nal justice policy, and, to a lesser extent, health policy at all levels of gov- ernment. Much of what has been accomplished has been driven by a cadre of dedicated researchers and nongovernmental groups advocating for the safety of women and girls. The committee found that while much has been accomplished, a great deal of work remains to be done. Federal agencies have made a very prom- ising start in carrying out the research agenda delineated in Understanding Violence Against Women (National Research Council, 1996), and the com- mittee recommends that those efforts continue. However, because of the comparatively low level of funding that has been available for rigorous studies on violence against women (compared, for example, with drug abuse and other health or behavioral areas), federal research agencies have tended to fund important but less expensive studies instead of develop- ing the research infrastructure required to support studies on causes of violence against women and the impact of interventions. The prevention and treatment studies discussed in this volume would all have benefited from better data from surveys and longitudinal studies. The committee wishes to emphasize the importance of building a research infrastructure that can support sophisticated studies on the causes, nature, and scope of violence against women and the kinds of interventions that will prevent or reduce such violence in the future. Therefore, top priority for the im- 96
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FUTURE OF RESEARCH 97 mediate future should be given to improving definitions and the quality of data in surveys, conducting longitudinal studies of violence against women, and evaluating theoretically sound prevention and intervention programs. IMPROVING DEFINITIONS AND DATA Understanding Violence Against Women calls for improvements in re- search methods, including the development of clear definitions by re- searchers and practitioners of the terms used in their work, and the devel- opment and testing of (new) scales and other measurement tools to make operational the key and most-used definitions. While some new work has been funded in this most critical of areas, the committee believes that a more coordinated and continuous research strategy would help remedy the measurement problems discussed in this report. Without consistency in the use of terms across studies, research in this field will remain frag- mented; new measurement instruments that have been developed may not receive adequate testing or experimental use in studies that can dem- onstrate their power; and accurate prevalence and incidence estimates, especially of severe violence, will remain elusive. One avenue the committee has recommended for accomplishing such improvements is to investigate how to link existing datasets, such as those found in Table 2-1, and how to link information from these datasets with findings from clinical and longitudinal research. Such an effort would pro- vide more immediate information on the risks of, responses to, and conse- quences of violence against women and perhaps on the impact of inter- ventions as well. The formulation of a new framework for developing standard definitions to overcome the lack of conceptual and operational clarity that currently exists would be a critical part of this effort, and could address other problems as well, such as differences in sample selection among surveys and studies. The steering committee believes that the fed- eral research agencies responsible for developing research and statistics in this area are best positioned to develop a process for designing this framework. For example, the Bureau of Justice Statistics had relatively recent experience salient to such an effort in the research process that in- formed the redesign of the National Crime Victimization Survey. The recommended effort to improve definitions would also inform any new undertaking to provide better national survey data on violence against women. The problems with survey data on violence against women have been well documented in this report. The committee believes that the program of research described above for assessing what can be learned from extant data sources would provide important information on prevalence and on how best to proceed in developing more-accurate
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98 RESEARCH ON VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN datasets and prevalence estimates especially whether a new and con- tinuous national survey is needed. If it is determined that such a survey is needed, Congress should provide the additional funding necessary to sup- port data collection and analysis, and to make the data available to the academic community for research and to the public. If we are to advance the state of knowledge on violence against women, there can be no higher priority than improving data on prevalence and incidence. Without im- proved data, we cannot determine whether the programs that are being implemented under the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 or under other auspices or funding streams are having the desired effect of reduc- ing violence against women. CONDUCTING LONGITUDINAL STUDIES The committee found credible evidence from an existing New Zealand longitudinal study (Moffitt et al., 2001) that perpetrators of violence against women commonly have histories of violence and conduct prob- lems outside of intimate relationships, and that the same is true for women who commit violent acts. The committee agrees with workshop present- ers and attendees that information from longitudinal studies of U.S. popu- lations is needed to examine the causes and consequences of violence against and by women, especially to determine which risk factors are truly unique to lethal outcomes or those involving severe injury. Studies that address risk factors for women should have female respondents, but lon- gitudinal population-based studies that include both men and women also are critical. The National Institute of Justice (NIT) already has funded some secondary analyses of existing longitudinal studies that may yet prove fruitful for this purpose. Longitudinal studies currently in progress, such as the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods, might be able to provide some of this information, an option worth exploring before generating an expensive new longitudinal study. The committee recognizes that additional funding would be needed for longitudinal stud- ies on violence against women, and recommends that the National Insti- tutes of Health and NIT should collaborate on the design and implementa- tion of such studies so that both criminal justice and health issues will be adequately addressed. EVALUATING PREVENTION AND INTERVENTION PROGRAMS Many programs have been implemented to prevent and deter vio- lence against women over the last two decades. As this report demon- strates, however, few credible evaluations of the efficacy of these programs have been conducted. This lack of program evaluation is attrib-
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FUTURE OF RESEARCH 99 usable in part to inadequate past and current levels of funding, which cannot support the kinds of experimental approaches needed to deter- mine impact; in part to the lack of good data to support strong nonex- perimental research designs; and in part to the lack of independence of many research and evaluation studies from the programs or approaches being evaluated. There may be other factors mitigating against strong evaluation studies as well. If we are to be able to determine whether pro- grams are working, having no effect, or doing harm, more rigorous evalu- ation studies and the funding and infrastructure required to support them should be a priority of federal research agencies conducting studies on violence against women. OTHER EMERGING RESEARCH PRIORITIES Understanding Violence Against Women recommends that all research on violence against women take into account the context within which women live their lives and in which the violence occurs and that this con- text include social, cultural, and individual factors. Work on neighbor- hood context has only begun to emerge, however. Similarly, research on legal reforms and sanctions indicates that both have a deterrent effect on reoffending for intimate-partner violence, and some of these reforms may have a general deterrent effect as well. Some work has been funded in these areas, and the committee recommends that these studies continue. Social Ecology Studies As noted in Chapter 3, the spatial concentration of crime is apparent on any urban map using any measure, including gun crime, gang crime, drug selling, or violence against women. These facts confirm earlier find- ings by Shaw and McKay (1942) that crime persists in certain places over generations and despite demographic changes, and have led to a new fo- cus in general crime studies on place-centered analysis. Social ecological factors may affect not only rates of violence, but also the efficacy of legal sanctions and social interventions. A new program of research on these issues is needed to address important aspects of neigh- borhood and community life and their implications for violence against women. For example, research should address how individual factors and area conditions interact to affect rates of violence against women, the in- terdependence of violence against women and violence against men in the same social areas, whether the availability of and access to local ser- vices can affect localized violence rates, and whether sanctions may be differentially effective by locale (see, e.g., Sampson and Bartusch, 1998~.
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100 RESEARCH ON VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN Deterrence Studies The committee found that legal reforms and sanctions have both a specific deterrent effect on those who have already offended and a gen- eral deterrent effect for intimate-partner violence. Future deterrence re- search should build upon existing studies on intimate-partner violence, with an expanded focus that includes other types of violence against women. Research is needed on the long-term effects of sanctioning policy, on how offenders form perceptions of the risk of punishment, on the ex- tent to which levels of violence against women respond to policy in spe- cific locations, and on the links between intended policy and the policy that is actually implemented and its effect on levels of violence. Finally, there is emerging and credible evidence that the general ori- gins and behavioral patterns of various forms of violence, such as male violence against women and men and female violence against men and women, may be similar. The committee believes that while gender-based studies of violence against women are important, some level of integra- tion of research is critical to advancing our understanding of the causes of violence against and by women. Integrating studies of violence against women with the larger literature on crime and violence would enrich both bodies of research intellectually, and provide a more comprehensive basis for violence prevention and deterrence strategies.
Representative terms from entire chapter: