October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a time to celebrate the strength of battered women and their children, mourn those who have died from domestic violence, and reach out to fellow advocates across the country. First celebrated in October 1987 by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, this event serves as an uplifting yet poignant reminder that much more can be done to improve awareness, intervention and policy surrounding domestic violence. John Hamel, Editor-in-Chief of Partner Abuse: New Directions in Research, Intervention, and Policy, touches on some of the shortcomings of domestic violence intervention and policy and how these have inspired his research and unprecedented review of domestic violence literature.

The 1970s was a pivotal decade, in which the publication of both the first widely-read accounts of battered women were published, and the first large-scale empirical studies on violence within the home. Citing a combination of qualitative and quantitative data, advocates were successful in getting state legislatures across the United States to enact a series of laws that would protect victims and hold their perpetrators accountable.

Unfortunately, the field of partner abuse has since been stymied by ideology and discord among scholars, while domestic violence intervention and policy have hit a wall. Mandatory arrest and no-drop prosecution policies lead to greater arrests but fewer convictions, and they inhibit victims from calling hotlines when they are re-assaulted, in response to a system that disregards their choices and thus disempowers them even further. Battered women who fight back against their abuser lose claims of self defense when they fail to meet common stereotypes.  Additionally, intervention programs have not been found to reduce recidivism as much as previously thought. This should not be surprising, given that in only one state (Colorado) do state standards mandate that the type and length of intervention be based on a standardized risk assessment. In sum, domestic violence policy and intervention have been limited by an incomplete, fragmented and politically-compromised body of research.

We can assume that everyone, including researchers, policy makers and front line treatment providers, want to address current challenges and find more effective ways to reduce domestic violence. What are we to do with the increasing number of female and same-sex perpetrators in the judicial system? Should we cease trying to change offenders, as has been done in New York State, in favor of even greater reliance on arrest and prosecution, or should we be funding studies to determine what intervention approaches work and build programs upon this body of evidence? Ideally, these questions should and can be answered, by empirically sound research. Unfortunately, the currently divisive, politically-charged atmosphere has made this difficult at best, and promising ideas and solutions are lost in the din of partisan arguments and counter-arguments.

Partner AbuseTo rectify this problem, I decided in February, 2010, as Editor-in-Chief of the Springer Publishing Company peer-reviewed journal Partner Abuse, to ask renowned family violence scholars to conduct a sweeping review of the domestic violence literature. The result was the Partner Abuse State of Knowledge Project (PASK), an unprecedented 3-year research project conducted by 42 scholars at 22 universities and research centers in the U.S., Canada and the U.K.  Beginning with Volume 3, issue 2 of the journal, published in April, 2012, findings from PASK have been appearing in multiple special issues of Partner Abuse and in a massive online data base, free to the public on the Springer Publishing website, containing summaries of nearly 2,000 research studies across four decades – a total of 2,300 manuscript pages. PASK is intended for researchers, policy-makers, intervention providers, victim advocates, law enforcement, judges, attorneys, family court mediators, educators, and anyone interested in family violence.

PASK covers a wide range of topics, including Prevalence Rates, Abuse Dynamics and Context, Risk Factors, Emotional Abuse and Control, Partner Abuse in Ethnic Minority and LGBT Populations, Criminal Justice, Partner Abuse Worldwide, and Assessment.

PASK will serve as a sound, comprehensive, reliable and easily accessible source of information for years to come. If you would like access its findings, visit the Partner Abuse website. You may, of course, also wish to subscribe to the journal on springerpub.com, in order to access the PASK manuscripts and all of the previous issues.  If you would like more information, please contact me at johnmhamel@comcast.net.