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Winter/Spring 2004 Vol. 4 No. 1

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©Index Stock Imagery Inc.Violence and Women

A Focused Research
Effort Needed

Violence against women is one of the nation's most intractable social problems. It touches people from all walks of life. Its effects show up in emergency rooms, courtrooms, and the workplace. Each year in the United States, more than 4 million women are assaulted, often by people they know, and 300,000 rapes are reported. Women also account for one-fifth of all homicide victims. Yet little is known about the prevalence of such crimes or which public policies would prevent them effectively.

More research is needed to bridge persistent gaps in the science base, says a new report from the National Research Council. For starters, research on violence against women -- and even by them -- would be enriched if it were better integrated with other scientific studies of violent crime in general. Focusing on women's victimization as well as on their own acts of aggression has allowed scholars to tease out unique aspects of the problem and to carefully examine how policy-makers have responded. But a stronger connection to research on all violence would provide a more solid scientific foundation for broader efforts to determine the causes and consequences of violence -- and the most effective prevention strategies. Specific studies of violence against women should continue to be carried out, however, to increase understanding of offenses that affect more women than men.

Scientists also should explore the influence of social factors such as relationship dynamics, neighborhood conditions, and access to local preventive services on violent behavior, the report says. Both men and women who violently abuse intimate partners often have childhood histories of serious behavior problems, recent studies show. But male abusers are more likely as adults to commit violent crimes outside of intimate relationships.

Trying to figure out how well prevention and treatment strategies actually work is often difficult, the report points out. Data-collection efforts to determine the actual scope of the problem, as well as studies to assess intervention methods, are seldom consistent. And evaluations typically are underfunded and short on scientific rigor. Congress should fund the development of better data-collection systems and high-quality, long-term evaluations of prevention and treatment programs aimed at reducing violence against women. The National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Justice should work together to carry out such a research project, with the goal of ultimately improving women's safety in American society.
  -- Vanee Vines

Advancing the Federal Research Agenda on Violence Against Women. Steering Committee for the Workshop on Issues in Research on Violence Against Women, Committee on Law and Justice, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education (2004, 116 pp.; ISBN 0-309-09109-8; available from the National Academies Press, tel. 1-800-624-6242; $35.00 plus $4.50 shipping for single copies).

The steering committee was chaired by Candace M. Kruttschnitt, professor, department of sociology, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. The study was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice.

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Copyright 2005 by the National Academy of Sciences