Washington State Magazine

Summer 2005


Summer 2005

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In This Issue...

Features

Book Season: Washington State love its literature :: In a report released last summer, the National Endowment for the Arts warned that literary reading has declined over the last 20 years. Scary stuff, huh? So we did our own informal survey of faculty, students, and alums. Their response? Read on!

Shock Physics: Power, Pressure, and People :: After the Soviet Union tested its first nuclear device, the U.S. determined that staying ahead in the arms race would require the best scientists and the best weapons. A new federal funding model emerged, channeling money into universities around the country for research and the training of the next generation of national scientists. By the late 1950s, WSU had started on shock-wave research.

Bear Bones: A Murder Mystery :: It must have been easy to drop the body into this part of Pullman, a section that sees so little traffic. The old county road was research land where hardly anyone but the groundskeepers ventured. But somebody had an ugly secret to hide.

Panoramas

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE—Story: Birth, Death & Architecture :: Architecture professor Paul Hirzel wanted to push his students out of their mindsets. So he asked them to design a single building for both the beginning and the end of life: a funeral home/birthing center. }

Departments

:: FIELD NOTES:In Search of the Wild Chickpea

:: FOOD AND FORAGE:Asparagus

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE—Story: One-on-one: A chapter from Home Stand :: A chapter from Home Stand: Growing Up in Sports, a memoir by James McKean '68, '74 about growing up in the Pacific Northwest in the late '50s and early '60s. }

Tracking

Cover: After 54 years of diligence, Nature Boy takes a break from the west face of Holland Library for some beach and reading time with Seattle's Hammering Man. Illustration by David Wheeler.

Panoramas

A Private Matter

by | © Washington State University

A unique academic unit combats domestic violence

Chris Blodgett relates a story told him by a colleague. She was shopping one day, when she observed a father growing progressively frustrated with his nine- or 10-year-old daughter. Finally, he snapped, grabbed her by her ponytail, and lifted her clear off the ground.

"That's an assault on a child," says Blodgett.

But what did his friend do? What did e eight other adults who observed the incident do? Nothing.

"Because," says Blodgett, "we have no social contract with each other about what we do when we see this."

A clinical psychologist by training, Blodgett directs Washington State University's Child and Family Research Unit (CAFRU) in Spokane. And he probably would have done something. After all, that's his job.

Blodgett and his colleagues at CAFRU have embarked upon a crusade to expose and treat, through a blend of academic research, policy, and practice, the family violence that many of us consider a regrettable but private matter, rather than  a public-health issue.

Legally defined, domestic violence entails physical assault, battery, property damage, kidnapping, and unlawful imprisonment. The problem with the legal definition is that it requires the violence to occur in order for anything to be done about it.

Blodgett prefers discussing "intimate-partner violence," a broader concept that includes warning signs of impending assault, such as the controlling of a partner's behavior, isolation or withdrawal , and intense jealousy. Intimate-partner violence has physical violence at its core, Blodgett says. But the larger pattern of behavior is one of emotional and psychological abuse, and includes depriving the partner of her rights and freedoms.

While this more inclusive definition of domestic violence precludes direct intervention, it does provide a basis for discussion, says Blodgett. Questioning whether one's behavior is going to be damaging, for example, opens the door to self-examination. And looking at the definition as a public health model provides a means to influence behavior early in the progression toward violence.

Research in Spokane by CAFRU confirms what other studies have established-that one out of every five women has suffered domestic violence. But under the broadened definition, the incidence of violence against women increases from 20 percent to 43 percent. "If we were talking about this as a physical health problem," says Blodgett, ". . . if we said four out of 10 women will have diabetes, we'd be talking a major epidemic."

Compared to the incidence of domestic violence in other communities across the country, Spokane seems to fall somewhere in the middle. The city counts nearly 10,000 adults as victims of domestic violence every year-a very conservative estimate, Blodgett insists. Although domestic violence happens within all social strata, incomes, and ages, says Blodgett,  the incidence is disproportionately higher among the poor. According to Blodgett's research, the odds of requiring medical care as a result of domestic violence are nine times greater in a family making less than $25,000 a year than it is for one making more than $75,000.

This is a particularly significant statistic for Spokane County, where one quarter of the children live in poverty and 12 percent of the population as a whole lives below the federal poverty level.

"That's not your first impression of Spokane," says Blodgett.

Understanding a problem and doing something about it are two different things, of course. That's what makes CAFRU unique among academic entities.

"Much of what I do is try to keep pace with where the literature is," says Blodgett. He and CAFRU then look for money to fund partnerships with other local agencies to deal with families affected by violence. They have channeled about $7 million into Spokane in the past five years.

The unit currently is working with three federal multi-year grants. One, from the Department of Justice, is directed toward situations in which children have been exposed to violence. Research shows that following a violent incident there is only a short window of opportunity available to offset the effects of the incident on a young mind. If a child has witnessed a violent incident, police will call in an individual trained by CAFRU to help the child reduce the trauma. This may involve drawing or playing with dolls to reenact the situation, or simply talking through what happened. The theory, says Blodgett, is that such activity gives the child distance and perspective.

CAFRU has trained about 3,000 such professionals in the Spokane area.

Under a grant from the Centers for Disease Control, CAFRU also addresses violence in the workplace, such as harassment or stalking. "What we're finding in our survey," says Blodgett, "is that 60 percent of respondents say they know of a violent work event that affected one of their coworkers."

Ten percent of women say it's happened to them. One percent say they've had to have medical treatment because of violence that occurred in workplace.

Add to this the nearly $9 million in annual health-care costs related to domestic violence in Spokane alone, and the more than two million emergency-room visits that occur each year across the nation because of domestic violence, and the nature of domestic violence as a public-health problem becomes clear.

In other words, says Blodgett, "If we start with dollar value, this is not a bleeding heart issue."

Categories: Psychology | Tags: Human behavior, Domestic violence, Children

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