Center's Philosophy and Theoretical
Approach Towards Prevention Research

"The key to reducing violence against women in the United States
is prevention."
Crowell & Burgess, 1996

The Task and the Center's Vision
The National Research Council Panel on Research on Violence Against Women (Crowell & Burgess, 1996) concluded that the key to reducing violence against women in the United States is prevention. The panel further concluded that improving prevention will require a number of research strategies including those which attempt to gain a better understanding of the causes and consequences of violence against women and which rigorously evaluate the effectiveness of preventive intervention programs. Pages 2-6 of this excellent report provide a number of other specific recommendations as to the types of research that are needed and what other steps are needed to provide the research infrastructure required to accomplish this research.

We agree with the Panelís assessment that a massive effort is needed to get this job done. There are many ways to accomplish this task, and our Center cannot do them all. However, the Center does have a vision of how we should approach this complex issue. Specifically, we think the Center can best accomplish its mission by adopting the following attributes and activities:

It should adopt a public health approach towards prevention of VAW and work in close partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to maximize the utilization of VAW prevention research findings by the public health community.

It must focus on obtaining a better understanding of barriers to nonexploitive collaboration between researchers and VAW service providers. Moreover, it must develop effective ways of breaking down these barriers.

It should address all types of VAW across all parts of the life span, including childhood and adolescence.

It should address primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention.

It should assess whether there are different risk factors for physical assault, sexual assault, and witnessed violence, by different types of perpetrators (e.g., romantic partners, other family members, acquaintances, or strangers). Such data are essential to development of prevention programs.

Because resources to be provided to the Center are limited, most research activities should be focused on analysis of existing literature and reanalysis of extant data sets from the perspective of primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention rather than on attempting to conduct original research. However, the center should help VAW researchers develop skills to make them competitive in obtaining extramurally funded research grants.

The Center should work closely with a number of agencies and groups who serve female victims of violence. These include representatives of rape crisis centers and battered womenís advocates, other victim advocates, criminal justice system representatives, child abuse and neglect workers, public health groups, public policy makers, and the education community.

The Center should have a major training role. It should help recruit and train violence against women researchers. It should help educate practitioners about the importance of research and evaluation. It should help educate its interdisciplinary faculty about different perspectives on prevention research. In turn, the Center should be informed by practitioners as to their special needs, problems, and concerns.

It should address research-to-practice and research-to-policy issues.

It should assist the CDC and other funding agencies in developing priorities for violence against women prevention research.

It should place major emphasis on recruitment and training of women and ethnic minority researchers.

It should serve as a catalyst that facilitates the development of the VAW prevention research field.

Theoretical Approach Guiding the Center's Research Activities:

Several fundamental concepts provide a theoretical framework that guides the Centerís research. First, investigators must be aware of methodological complexities inherent in the study of violence against women. Early governmental and epidemiological surveys grossly underestimated the prevalence of violence against women as a result of methodological errors. Inefficient case identification strategies impair both preventive intervention development, and programmatic assessment. Second, it is clear that violence against women must be examined across the life span. For many women, violence in adulthood may be directly or indirectly linked to violence experienced during childhood. Moreover, there is no reason to assume that efforts to prevent violence in adulthood will be effective with either older or younger age groups. Third, prevention strategies that are successful with one form of violence should not be presumed to be effective with another form of violence. Consequently, the study of preventive interventions must include a variety of violence types, each specified. These include, rape, sexual assault, physical assault, homicide, and witnessed violence. Moreover, multiple types of violence should be studied in the same samples, using the same methodology, during the same time frame in order to clarify interrelationships among violence subtypes. Fourth, prevention strategies that are successful with one type of perpetrator will not necessarily be effective with another type of perpetrator. Thus, the Center does not assume that techniques to reduce stranger rape will be effective in diminishing marital rape, or that strategies to eliminate physical assault in dating relationships will be effective in marital relationships. Fifth, multi-dimensional outcomes of violence must be studied in the same sample. These include assessment of individual, family, and community effects of violence in terms of both physical health impact and mental health impact.

We also believe that barriers exist that inhibit nonexploitive research partnerships between researchers and practitioners victim service agencies. Lack of cooperation and understanding between academic researchers and actual service providers limits the type of valuable program evaluation studies that can be accomplished and lessens the relevance of research completed by academics. These barriers may also limit development and implementation of innovative prevention programs.

Another concept is that all levels of prevention, including primary, secondary, and tertiary should be addressed in the study of VAW. Thus, in addition to identifying strategies to reduce the occurrence of violence (primary prevention), the Center must also focus on studying methods to prevent development of physical and mental health problems in women who are victimized (secondary prevention). The Center must also assess methods to ameliorate physical and mental health problems that result from exposure to violence (tertiary prevention).

A final, extremely important, Center concept is that research must avoid contributing to "victim blame." As members of our faculty have described elsewhere (Hanson et al., 1995; Kilpatrick et al., 1997; McCall, 1993), many primary prevention approaches are focused on compelling female children, adolescents, or adults to make themselves "hard targets" for assault by restricting their activities and behaviors. These opportunity-reduction approaches to prevention focus on victim control rather than control of potential offenders, contribute to the notion that a woman who is attacked must have done something wrong, and merely redistribute who is attacked, rather than reducing the number of attacks that occur. Whereas reducing risk of attack is clearly valuable to a potential victim, our view is that the ultimate goal should be to reduce all types of violence against women, not merely to redistribute to whom the violence occurs. These prevention issues are discussed in greater detail in the reprints by Kilpatrick et al. (1997), Hanson et al. (1995), and McCall (1993).


Crowell, N.A. & Burgess, A.W. (1996). Understanding violence against women. National Academy Press: Washington, DC.

Hanson, R.F., Kilpatrick, D.G., Falsetti, S.A., & Resnick, H.S. (1995). Violent crime and mental health. In J.R. Freedy & S.E. Hobfoll (Eds.) Traumatic stress: From theory to practice (129-161). Plenum Press, New York.

Kilpatrick, D.G., Acierno, R., Resnick, H., Saunders, B., & Best, C. (1997). A two-year longitudinal analysis of the relationships among assault and substance abuse in women. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 65(5), 834-847.

McCall, G.J. (1993). Risk factors and sexual assault prevention. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 8, (2) 277-295.

This page authored by Dean G. Kilpatrick, Ph.D.

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