According to the latest national data on violence against women, nearly 52 percent of women report being physically assaulted and 18 percent experience rape or attempted rape during their lifetimes. Decades of research also document the detrimental financial, social and mental health effects of physical, sexual and psychological maltreatment of women.
Yet despite the severity of the problem, there is still no strong national research agenda to combat it. By working together to better understand the experiences of female victims of violence, practitioners and researchers can improve the mental health treatment of these women, said speakers at a presidential symposium on violence against women at APA's Annual Convention. A first step in achieving that goal is developing a common vocabulary and a shared set of research goals, said Carol E. Jordan, who directs the University of Kentucky's Center for Research on Violence Against Women. Too often, she said, comparing the work of the varying disciplines involved in helping these women, including psychology, sociology, law and medicine, is difficult because of differing theoretical models, instrumentation and methodologies. Building a "new science" devoted to this area would, she said, "finally provide a mechanism for taking singular studies and beginning to develop an organized body of knowledge for the field."
This would allow for transdisciplinary, not just multidisciplinary, work to be done, Jordan added. To make this happen, those who work on this issue should hold interdisciplinary scientific meetings, form research teams made up of scientists from multiple disciplines, partner with practitioners, and develop mentoring programs for junior faculty and graduate students to ensure the field's future, she noted. Improving collaborative relationships between practitioners and researchers is critical, agreed Michigan State University psychology professor Rebecca Campbell, PhD. Good research requires diverse knowledge and expertise and a debunking of the myths that "advocates are cranky and researchers are clueless," she said. She called for researchers to visit battered women's shelters and community mental health centers and talk with survivors and staff members. Only then will they gain a better sense of practical research topics and the challenges clinicians face every day while working with this population of victims, she said. Being on site also allows practitioners and researchers to develop a shared vision, agree on priorities and communicate when problems arise. Simply collaborating on logistics upfront - such as who buys the laptops or who is in charge of installing the software - can be crucial to a project's success.
"Those details don't really enter my radar screen as a researcher, but it was a huge issue for our practitioner collaborators," Campbell said. "Having a formal conversation about resources probably did more for establishing mutual respect than anything else."
This session was sponsored by APA Divs. 12 (Society of Clinical Psychology), 27 (Society for Community Research and Action), 35 (Society for the Psychology of Women), 41 (American Psychology-Law Society), 56 (Trauma) and APA's Board of Directors.