Research and Special Projects

Violence Against Women: A Review of Impact and Practices

by Christine Edmunds, Dan Petersen, and Thomas Underood
Contributor: Kristine Hart

Copyright 2002 Joint Center on Violence and Victim Studies All rights reserved.
No part of this report may be reproduced or utilized in any form or means without written permission of the copyright owner.


The Joint Center on Violence and Victim Studies, through a contract with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, reviewed literature and programs which relate to violence against women in order to identify best practices of prevention and intervention. This report addresses violence against women with the focus on three types of victimization: domestic violence, stalking, and rape. This is not to suggest that men are not victims. Rather, it is generally recognized that women are the predominant victims of these offenses.

The lack of clear operational definitions places some limitations on the generalizability of research in the area of violence against women. The offenses of domestic violence, stalking, and sexual assault are often not clearly defined by criminal justice agencies or by victim service organizations. Indeed, victims themselves may not recognize the behaviors of an offender as victimizing. For this and myriad other reasons, many incidents of domestic violence, stalking, and sexual assault are never reported to authorities nor do victims access other services. According to research by Tjaden and Thoennes (2000) of intimate partner violence, almost three quarters of female victims of domestic violence do not report the victimization to police. Further, about half of females stalked by an intimate partner do not report and almost 83% of females raped by intimates do not rape do not report. Though the rate of reporting is higher for stranger victimizations, it is still under reported. Therefore, it is important to recognize that much of the reported research on costs, health care needs and the impact these crimes have on society is often not reflective of the actual consequences.

It should also be noted that these three types of victimizations often overlap. For example, a victim of domestic violence may also be a victim of stalking and/or a victim of rape and vice versa. The ability to differentiate the impact of these victimizations is determined in part by the definitions and distinctions of reporting agencies and researchers. Further, many programs do not differentiate between the types of victimizations in terms of provision of prevention and intervention services. Additionally, programs often fail or cannot make distinctions between prevention and intervention services.

The literature reviewed for this report focused primarily on health care costs, both medical and mental health care, that result from these offenses. The literature regarding health care costs (both physical and psychological) which directly or indirectly result from domestic violence, stalking, and/or sexual assault is extremely scarce with stalking having the least amount of empirical information. Miller, Cohen, and Wiersema (1996) note that "one of the least documented consequences and costs of crime is the mental health care treatment needed and received by victims and their families" (p.13). Adding to the complexity of assessing these costs are such factors as service agencies which provide free counseling services with funding from grants and private donations, victims who should receive treatment but do not because of the cost, and so forth. Even with what little information is available, it is evident that health care costs resulting from violence against women total hundreds of millions of dollars every year in the United States.

Programs from across the nation were reviewed in order to ascertain promising practices that have been developed in serving victims of domestic violence, stalking, and sexual assault. Identification of the promising practices was accomplished in several ways. The first effort was to conduct a literature review of publications that address each type of victimization, focusing on those publications that cite promising practices. Then a search was conducted of the U.S. Department of Justice websites, with special searches conducted of both the Violence Against Women Office and the Office for Victims of Crime. Finally, a telephone survey was conducted of national organizations serving victims of domestic violence, stalking, and sexual assault. These efforts resulted in the identification of several novel, yet promising practices from across the country.

It should be noted that the absence of rigorous evaluation data on most programs made it impossible to consistently use empirical evidence as a criterion for selecting promising practices. Programs were identified as promising based on recommendations from national organizations and from programs identified by the U.S. Department of Justice as exemplary or model programs. This identification was based on unique characteristics of prevention or intervention services and their collaboration to accomplish desired objectives. Programs and services in Kansas may reflect elements of these featured programs, and may in and of themselves be considered promising practices, but without program evaluation data this determination cannot be made.

This report is the result of efforts by the Joint Center on Violence and Victim Studies. Valuable input of this product was offered by national and state experts.

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