According to the Kentucky Domestic Violence Association, a third of all Kentucky women will experience some form of intimate partner violence in their lifetimes.
In 2003 the University of Kentucky formed the Center for Research on Violence Against Women. On a recent edition of Connections, host Renee Shaw talked with the center’s director, Diane R. Follingstad, who is also a professor of clinical and forensic psychology in the Department of Psychiatry in the UK College of Medicine.
As the only entity dedicated to researching violence that targets women, the center focuses on exploring prevention and intervention strategies that can improve the quality of life for victims. Follingstad says the center recently released a five-year study of the intervention technique known as Green Dot that shows it was successful at reducing violence in two-thirds of the high schools that implemented it. The Green Dot program teaches bystanders simple intervention strategies designed to stop abuse or violence before it occurs.
Follingstad says the center is also doing research to compare the success of specialized victim recovery efforts with more traditional support services. They will study the therapeutic horticultural program used by Lexington’s Greenhouse17, which provides housing for abuse victims on a 40-acre farm and teaches them how to grow, prepare, and market food and food-related products.
The UK center is also exploring the connection between cancer and domestic violence. Follingstad says she hopes to learn how the stress caused by intimate partner abuse may contribute to the occurrence of cancer, and how abusive relationships may hinder a women’s ability to seek diagnosis and treatment.
Conviction of Women Who Strike Back
Follingstad says the murder rate for men killing the women they abuse has remained fairly constant in recent years. But she explains that the increased availability of emergency shelters and victim support services has decreased the number of incidents of women killing their abusers in self-defense.
When that does happen, though, those women face uncertainty in the criminal justice system. Follingstad uses mock court situations to explore how judges, prosecutors, and juries handle cases of this nature. She says she’s found that even if a woman acts in self-defense, she is more likely to be convicted if the jury hears testimony that alleges she was not a good mother or that she nagged her abuser.
“Self-defense has nothing to do with whether or not you’re a good person, or whether or not you’re not perfect to your husband,” Follingstad explains. “It has to do with, literally at the time, were you in danger for your life or were you in danger of really being badly injured.”
Prevention Programs for Men
In recent years, groups like Louisville’s MensWork Inc. have launched intervention programs targeting men, Follingstad says more research needs to be done on what strategies best address the perpetrator side of the abuse equation. She explains that men may become violent because that behavior was modeled for them when they were children; they may have personality issues around jealousy and control; or substance abuse may be a contributing factor.
Follingstad reports some research indicates that traditional anger management courses may not be as effective as newer techniques where a man’s peers hold him accountable for his abusive behaviors. She also says there’s promising research that teaching young children how to better handle anger can help reduce the risk of perpetrating violence later in life.