In the midst of the #MeToo and #TIMESUP movements, a group of UCF faculty and students want to change the conversation about violence against women and the way we treat victims, including educating healthcare professionals and lawmakers.

The interdisciplinary faculty cluster was formed last fall, bringing together health, social welfare and social justice perspectives. Their goal: better understanding violence against women, and more importantly, preventing it.

“Understanding the complexity of violence against women and creating innovative approaches to it means we need to approach it holistically,” said Catherine “Katie” Kaukinen, professor and chair of Criminal Justice, who’s also serving as the lead faculty member for the new cluster.

Historically researchers focus on one aspect of violence against women, Kaukinen said. While one researcher may study intimate partner violence, another studies stalking or rape.

“I actually started off studying women offenders, interestingly enough,” Kaukinen said. “But then I looked at victims of crime during my Ph.D. years and overwhelmingly the story came back ‘women,’ and I never looked back. I’ve dedicated my career to this subject.”

In the United States, about 33 million women will experience violence in their lifetimes. In addition to physical, sexual emotional injury and even death, the economic costs of violence against women in lost work productivity and healthcare services are as high as $12.6 billion in the U.S.

A history of abuse

While violence against women has its roots going back hundreds of years, legal reform and public acknowledge of it are much more recent.

timeline of violence against women

A new approach

With recent attention on sexual assault and harassment, Kaukinen says, the problem is more evident than ever.

“I’ve never met a woman who wasn’t, at one time, sexually harassed. Be it a cat-call or an unwanted touch,” she said. “One hundred percent of women have had to endure some kind of harassment, and that’s ridiculous.”

The desire to drive down – or all together eliminate – sexual harassment led Kaukinen to secure two three-year grants from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women totaling $1.1 million. The funding was used to develop and coordinate campus resources, services and programs to reduce sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking.

Kaukinen says her research’s goal is identifying and articulating “best practices” within violence prevention, intervention and education that have the opportunity to reach the widest audience.

The new faculty cluster, she says, will help identify more “best practices” from different disciplines – sociology, criminal justice, social work and legal studies – to look for solutions that reduce the prevalence and impact of violence, increase awareness and change attitudes.

Over the next year, the cluster will hire five additional faculty members in fields ranging from health and nursing to education, to “round out the skills sets of the faculty already involved,” Kaukinen says.

“We are putting a stake in the ground saying this topic is important, not only for the women who are currently being affected, but for all the women out there who could be victims,” Kaukinen said. “This cluster will not only change the way we deal with victims and the services available to them, ultimately we want to prevent these crimes by changing our societal dialogue. We need a culture change, and this is the start.”