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Roadmap to Violence Against Women Research: The NIJ Compendium

Date Published
August 9, 2021

This Compendium is a roadmap to hundreds of federally supported research projects on the subject of violence against women. The Compendium also stands as testament to the depth and breadth of the National Institute of Justice’s (NIJ) decades-long commitment to protecting women in America from violence of all forms.

As a lead federal agency advancing research and practice on violence against women issues, NIJ has arranged, funded, and distributed the benefits of a rich array of research projects designed to:

  • Identify and understand the full dimensions of violence against women.
  • Articulate policy and practice solutions that can assist state and local justice and victim support agencies addressing violence against women.
  • Support training of agency professionals on how to help women who are violence survivors, who may be at risk of violence, or both.
  • Connect federal, state, and local agencies, to share knowledge and best practices and to collect data needed for an accurate and complete picture of a critical problem in our national culture.

Taking On Major Types of Violence Against Women

Since the enactment of the federal Violence Against Women Act (the Act) in 1994, a steady stream of research funding through NIJ and its agency collaborators has substantially advanced the Act’s goals of understanding violence against women, strengthening the criminal justice response, and delivering services for violence victims and survivors. The Act primarily addresses four major forms of violence:

  • Domestic Violence
  • Dating Violence
  • Sexual Assault
  • Stalking

Specific protections of the Act include:

  • American Indian and Alaska Native women. 
  • Battered foreign nationals.
  • Battered immigrants without independent U.S. legal status.
  • Individuals granted a special visa (known as a “U Visa”) who have been victims of substantial physical or mental abuse in the course of criminal activity and who have been willing to aid an investigation of criminal activity.

In 2013, the Act was expanded to include protections for children of self-petitioning parents who had died during the petition process, and to address the needs of underserved populations, including those on college campuses.

Background on Violence Against Women

Before the 1990s it was far more common for violence against women to be suffered in darkness. Physical violence occurring inside homes often was not prosecuted, or even addressed by law enforcement. If not ignored, violence against women was tacitly condoned by agencies that may have broken up domestic disputes when called, but in many cases could offer little durable relief or safety for violence survivors. A culture of hesitancy to interfere with home life often left women who were physically abused unprotected by the law. Growing recognition of that culturally-ingrained danger to women set the stage for comprehensive federal action.

The tide began to turn with the civil and women’s rights movements of the 1960s and 70s. Initiatives such as the Minneapolis Domestic Violence Experiment in 1984 gave rise to a proliferation of mandatory-arrest and pro-arrest laws cracking down on violent abuse of women. A decade later came the legislative cornerstone of the modern movement to prevent and punish Violence Against Women, the federal Violence Against Women Act. The legislation was part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994.

A key focus of the Act was to develop a knowledge base sufficient to inform new justice system remedies, policies, and practices, and to help identify and begin new victim services the Act would support. The Act was last reauthorized in 2013, but Congress has continued to fund research and programs under the Act.

NIJ’s History of Research on Violence Against Women

NIJ’s own research on violence against women goes back a half century to the early 1970s, an era when the women’s movement was raising public consciousness on Violence Against Women. In 1973, NIJ funded its first study of sexual violence. NIJ-backed research on that topic, and other forms of violence against women, would dramatically expand in the 1990s, with the impetus of the Act. 

Since 1993, NIJ has expended more than $150 million on violence against women research and development. Funding from the Act began in 1998, with annual funding ranging from $1.5 to $7.2 million, with recent-year allocations to NIJ in the area of $3.5 million. Beyond research, NIJ has convened numerous workshops on various dimensions of violence against women with researchers, practitioners, policymakers, violence survivors, and other stakeholders. 

Consistent with the Act’s broad mandate to understand violence against women, research supported by NIJ initially covered a range of subject matter realms, including, for example, epidemiology and public health, as well as criminal justice. Over time, the primary emphasis became criminal justice research. That focus has expanded to include community justice and continued promotion of federal collaboration with researchers and practitioners.

A Culture of Close Collaboration

NIJ has closely collaborated on violence against women research and development, both with its sister program offices within the Office of Justice Programs (OJP) of the Department of Justice (DOJ), and with other agency partners.

Across OJP, NIJ has been able to support violence against women research and development work with funds made available by the Office for Victims of Crime, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the Bureau of Justice Assistance, and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

A core purpose of the Act was to require and enable law enforcement to take a pro-arrest stance on violence against women. A major initiative authorized by the Act is DOJ Office on Violence Against Women’s STOP Program, a multidisciplinary approach to improving the criminal justice response to Violence Against Women and strengthening victim services. “STOP” stands for Service, Training, Officers, and Prosecutors. The STOP program funds states and territories. NIJ has engaged with STOP through research, including, for example, impact evaluations of grant programs.

Since the 1990s, NIJ has forged close collaborations with other major federal entities on violence against women research, including agency partners, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Department of Defense (DOD).  Within these organizations, collaborations have taken place with the State Justice Institute, Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research in the National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Drug Abuse, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, National Institute of Mental Health, and the Office of Community Services.

Examples of this work are:

With the CDC . . .

  • 1990s - National Violence Against Women Survey: The NIJ-CDC partnership was a funding collaboration over the first-ever National Violence Against Women Survey.
  • 1998-1999 - Funding for rape education and prevention research.
  • 2000s - National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): This comprehensive survey instrument collected national- and state-level data on intimate partner violence, sexual violence, and stalking victimization. Additional studies include a sample of American Indian and Alaska Native women and men using the 2010 NISVS instrument.

With DOD . . .

  • 2007 - National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): The Department of Defense partnered with NIJ and CDC to support the collection and analysis of domestic violence data via NISVS. This study analyzed information about the prevalence, characteristics, and consequences of domestic violence in the military and its civilian counterparts.

With HHS . . .

  • 1995 - The Department of Health and Human Services provided joint funding with the CDC and the Guggenheim Foundation in support of a grant to estimate the effects of legal and social interventions on reducing risk injury factors and the prevention of repeat injuries for women who were victims of domestic assault.
  • 1995 - NIJ provided partial support for two studies conducted through the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. The two studies were (1) Domestic Violence Policy and Program Development and (2) Child Welfare and Domestic Violence.

Research Directions

Throughout its quarter century of engagement on research under the Act, NIJ has focused on shaping research priorities to match the needs of the field. NIJ achieves its research mission through its “Listen, Learn, and Inform” model. Following that model in setting and implementing research agendas, NIJ:

  • “Listens” to the needs of the field.
  • “Learns” ways to meet those needs by funding research, development, and evaluation projects.
  • “Informs” the field of what is learned.

NIJ has tapped its internal scientific research capabilities for violence against women research related to forensics, the plight and needs of American Indian and Alaska Native women, and other subject matter areas. NIJ routinely engages leading academic and institutional experts on a wide range of research subject driven by the Act. As this Compendium reflects, the covered research projects fall into 11 subject matter categories:

  1. Justice and Related Systems
  2. Definition and Measurement
  3. Epidemiology
  4. Social and Cultural Content
  5. Trafficking Persons
  6. VAWA Evaluations
  7. Synthesis of Existing Information
  8. NIJ Jointly-Funded Projects
  9. Teen Dating Violence
  10. Violence Against Indian Women
  11. Interdisciplinary Studies and Interagency Research and Evaluation Collaborations

Date Published: August 9, 2021