NVAA 2000 Text

Chapter 17 Supplement Research and Evaluation

(The following contains selected excerpts from the Executive Summary of Fostering Collaborations Between Researchers and Practitioners: Findings from Practitioner Focus Groups. A Report of the National Violence Against Women Prevention Research Center, May 2000.)

The National Violence Against Women Prevention Research Center (NVAWPRC) was established in 1998 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Center includes a consortium of researchers and practitioners concerned with violence against women from the Medical University of South Carolina, National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center, Charleston, SC; Wellesley College, Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley, MA; and University of Missouri-St. Louis, Center for Trauma Recovery, St. Louis, MO.

The fourteen practitioner focus groups were conducted in nine states and the District of Columbia and included the five sites of the 1999 National Victim Assistance Academy. Over 120 women and men participated in these two-hour long groups. While Caucasians represented the majority of participants, African Americans, Latina/Latinos, and Native Americans comprised 22 percent of the practitioner participants. The participants perform a variety of service, administrative, and training tasks. Ninety percent of the focus group participants serve domestic violence survivors; 83 percent serve sexual assault survivors; 30 percent serve batterers; and 16 percent serve sex offenders.


The focus group participants reported that they utilize research findings to help them identify "promising practices" that can help them to prevent, intervene with, and respond to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Practitioners said they consult research to identify models for prevention services that they can replicate in their own communities. They reported needing concise information that can help them in program planning, development and implementation. The focus group participants said their research needs were not limited only to victims. In addition, they identified a need to understand "what works" for batterer intervention and treatment programs. Practitioners stated that they need research to validate what otherwise is often considered to be "only anecdotal evidence" about violence against women.

Other important suggestions on how VAW research can help victim service practitioners included:


Focus group participants identified the need for research on the cycle of violence and, specifically, on the effects of witnessing violence on children. They expressed a need for understanding violence across the life-cycle and for understanding the inter-relationship of violence, substance abuse, and societal norms, values, and beliefs.

Participants suggested that research should address questions designed to help them best define and meet their clients' needs. They underscored how important it is for researchers to obtain victims' input about what needs are most important. For example, participants stated that many victims, but few researchers, were concerned about victim satisfaction with participation in the criminal justice system.

The focus group participants gave considerable attention to the question of why victims of color were less likely to access victim services. While there was a consensus that minority victims perceive a "cultural stigma" associated with seeking victim assistance, there was less knowledge as to why this might be true.


Overwhelmingly, focus group participants indicated that the answers to their questions about violence against women would help them in organizational management, improving client services, and meeting victims' needs. Specifically, research could help in program planning and developing agency goals and objectives. Most evident was a strong emphasis on the need for research that will help determine "what works" to prevent and combat violence against women.



Advocates and practitioners wear myriad hats in addition to their primary roles as direct service providers. They are responsible for organizational management, victim outreach, community education, fund-raising, coalition building, and professional and allied professional training and education, to cite a few key duties. Many participants viewed research as a critical tool in helping them to make the best use of their limited time, and to improve their personal and professional capabilities in providing quality services to victims. Other capacity-

strengthening outcomes include:


Approximately half of the focus group participants had participated in research projects relevant to violence against women, and all of the participants indicated that at one time or another they had been required to provide data on services related to violence against women.

Focus group participants had a wide range of research experiences--many had collected pre- and post-test data from clients or participants in training and educational programs. Most participants had experience with basic data collection, primarily for case management and funding purposes. There was unanimity across all focus groups that service providers disliked the processes of ongoing data collection for funding agencies. They agreed that such tasks took time away from direct services and did not seem to provide useful data for making policy decisions or convincing others of the need for more funding.

Practitioners' positive experiences resulted from participating in research projects that developed clear, mutually established goals that gave paramount consideration to victim safety and possible reactions, and that kept victim service providers informed and involved throughout the process.

Many negative experiences with research were described by the focus group participants. These negative experiences resulted primarily from what practitioners perceived as a degree of remoteness, or even arrogance, on the part of the researchers. They reported that often researchers paid insufficient attention to the effect of research on its participants (i.e., victims of violence), collaboration was non-existent, and practitioners' ideas and opinions were neither solicited nor respected.


Focus group participations identified nine general barriers to VAW research:

1. Lack of resources (e.g., time and money).

2. Participation is too time consuming.

3. Lack of diversity in research topics and participants.

4. Difficulty identifying victims who are willing to participate in research projects.

5. Lack of trust between victims/service providers and the research community.

6. Individual researchers with whom practitioners had had bad experiences.

7. Need for greater collaboration among researchers so that efforts are not duplicative.

8. Need for practitioners to be actively involved in the conceptualization of research.

9. Varying "measurements" utilized by researchers that result in statistics that are "suspect."


By far, the most significant ethical issues that focus group participants identified were related to victim safety. Many practitioners declared that without strict guarantees of consideration to victim safety before, during and after participation in any research project, service providers would refuse to facilitate victim involvement. Several groups also identified the "timing" of victim participation in research. If a client was currently in a domestically violent environment, participants stated that special attention should be paid to protecting her privacy and promoting her sense of security.

Many focus group participants echoed one service provider's frustration with "researchers treating clients like lab rats." Similar underlying themes resonated through all the focus groups, based primarily on participants' feelings that many researchers ("unlike practitioners") lack understanding of, and empathy for, the plight of the victims involved in their research projects.

Three general recommendations emerged for researchers to minimize the risk of harming victims, service providers, and victim assistance organizations: (1) utilize practitioners as "middle persons" to provide liaison services between researchers and their clients, and to pay attention to victims' personal needs and provide support, as needed; (2) make victims feel safe and comfortable at all times in the research environment; and (3) use language that is understandable in research studies and instruments.


Although a researcher may respect a particular practitioner or all practitioners in theory, actions do speak louder than words. Many researchers have not followed through with behavior to indicate that they value the knowledge, skills, and experience of practitioners. The focus groups revealed many specific ways in which researchers could and should indicate their respect for practitioners, including:

The findings from this NVAWPRC series of focus groups offer researchers and practitioners valuable insights into what violence against women practitioners perceive to be the benefits of, and barriers to, research. The violence against women community must examine these issues and create innovative methods to minimize barriers, maximize mutual benefits, and achieve successful collaboration.

For more information on this report, contact The National Violence Against Women Prevention Research Center (843-792-2945) <www.vawprevention.org>.

Chapter 17 Supplement References

Seymour, A., L. M. Williams, P. Mahoney, and N. Shields. Fostering Collaborations Between Researchers and Practitioners: Findings from Practitioner Focus Groups. A Report of the National Violence Against Women Prevention Research Center. Charleston, SC: National Violence Against Women Prevention Research Center.

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2000 NVAA Text
Chapter 17
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