Family violence causes quiet suffering for millions of people worldwide. These are people who witness physical, sexual, psychological and financial abuse among other forms of violence such as neglect or abandonment.
Whether abuse is in the form of family members, intimate partners or caregivers, it usually increases in severity if there is no effective intervention. Despite the attention given to family violence over the past several years, the cycle of violence remains a serious problem that is growing worldwide.
On UC Irvine’s campus, the Interdisciplinary Center on Family Violence is just one of the new centers that aims to be a site for research, education and community collaboration on prevention and intervention of domestic abuse. The Center is co-directed by Professor Ellen Olshansky, Professor Jane Stoever and Dr. Julianne Toohey.
“One thing that we feel really strong about is that this center is community partnered, in that we can seek input from the community, what are your data needs, what are your research needs,” said Jane Stoever, Assistant Clinical Professor of Law and the Director of the Domestic Violence Clinic.
“This is an opportunity to produce real research that has real meaning in the world and responsive to the community’s needs.”
The plan to develop the Center began a year ago when Stoever, among other leading doctors, nurses and lawyers, began to see a persistent problem with the clients they observed.
“So far, our responses are more reactionary. I think we need to start a lot younger and find better ways to prevent the violence in the first place,” said Stoever.
The Center focuses on violence across a broad spectrum from child abuse, teen dating violence, intimate partner violence, abuse of children with disabilities of all ages and elder abuse.
“It’s only been in the past several years that we’ve even recognized the problem of teen dating and how young many of these people start to develop.”
As such, the Center is collaborating with a range of expertise in violence prevention and treatment. Faculty from 20 departments and 10 schools include participants from art, engineering, biological and physical sciences, law, information and computer science, social sciences and other fields.
“We think that art therapy, dance, music, painting all of these different ways of expression can be really helpful to the healing process,” said Stoever.
By collaborating with various schools, the Center intends to produce groundbreaking research to stress the prevention of sexual violence, which Stoever says, our society has been slow to develop from a time when spousal abuse was condoned.
“If you look back in our country’s history, as long as the husband didn’t call or maim his wife, he couldn’t be prosecuted,” said Stoever. “The wife was the husband’s property and he has the obligation to control and discipline, make sure that she was obedient.”
“So we’re coming out of this really bad history from a gender perspective and it wasn’t until 1993 that each state had a law against domestic violence. Our original laws talked about wife abuse, so they weren’t taking into consideration teen dating violence and how early violence can start and relationship violence and the fact that men could experience abuse or that this could be same sex violence.”
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which was signed into law in 1994, changed the way our country responded to domestic violence and sexual assault. VAWA showed a commitment to end sexual violence against women.
“Our legal response has been very recent and we’re still seeing ways in which our law could be approved. But it’s exciting that we have had so much positive change over time,” said Stoever.
Aside from the campus resources such as the Campus Assault Resources and Education (CARE) office that offers counseling and prevention education for survivors of sexual violence as well as those whose who are willing to provide a helping hand, the Center provides extensive research by merging the effort from doctors, nurses and professors to this complex topic.
“Our center is somewhat differentiated (from CARE) in terms of providing the legal representation, providing the patient care, working with the broad range of community partners and the research projects,” said Stoever.
“I’ve done a lot of work around HIV domesticated violence. I’ve found myself going back to court year after year with clients who have experienced horrifying levels of violence. A client who’s husband called 911 saying, ‘I think I killed my wife’.”
“Through the experience of working with hundreds of domestic abuse survivors, I feel like I’m able to understand a huge range of experiences of violence,” said Stoever. “It’s really revealed to me the complexities and the different ways people experience that can prevent barriers to getting help. But also has shown how much work we have to do because we see these problems on a daily basis and we are constantly reminded of the work that still needs to be done in this field.”
With the Center being brand new, it is at the start of developing different projects. Especially since Stoever says that the law still needs to be improved.
“What we’re seeing in the field is the law hasn’t solved the problem. Medicine hasn’t solved the problem and we need to continue working on it and hopefully achieve newly partnered ways that help people achieve safety.”
Recently, problems with the law in regards to domestic violence can be seen in the NFL’s response to the video of Ray Rice knocking his then-fiancè, Janay Palmer unconscious and then dragging her body out of an elevator. As common as domestic violence exists, cases such as Ray Rice rarely draws immediate attention.
“Our country’s historic absence of response, which is reflected in the NFL’s response to domestic violence, seeing marijuana possession having higher penalties for NFL players than domestic violence charges,” said Stoever.
“I think her [Palmer] example and the national conversation that happened afterwards can really show the complexities of how challenging it is to leave or end violence. We shouldn’t only talk about [Palmer’s] situation and move on from there and recognize that this is happening all over campus, all over the community and the world.”
Now, 20 years later after VAWA was signed into law, the Center aims to become a premier site for the extensive research on prevention and intervention on domestic abuse and to this multifaceted problem that continues to have a lasting impact on society.
“When you work with domestic violence long enough, you become really determined to work on prevention. I think that is what really motivated the center is that we want to figure out better, more effective interventions in abuses that are already occurring. Our dream is to have everybody feel safe in the world, in the home and in their relationships.”