This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

Bringing science to bear
on domestic violence issues

In her keynote address at the Law School’s conference on “Intimate Partner Violence: The Ripple Effect of Education, Research and Advocacy,” Catherine Cerulli advocated for using “community-based participatory research” to establish best practices in the field. Photo: UB LAW SCHOOL

  • “I believe that policy should be based on science, practice and resources.”

    Catherine Cerulli
    Keynote Speaker, “Intimate Partner Violence” Conference

Published: Dec. 6, 2012

Careful research makes for more effective interventions for women at risk from intimate partner violence, according to the keynote speaker at a major UB Law School conference on the issue.

Catherine Cerulli, JD ’92, former director of research for the law school’s Women, Children and Social Justice Clinic, detailed several research studies that have been done on domestic violence and showed how such research helps to establish best practices in the field.

Cerulli currently directs the Susan B. Anthony Center, a research institute at the University of Rochester.

At the Oct. 19 conference, titled “Intimate Partner Violence: The Ripple Effect of Education, Research and Advocacy,” Cerulli spoke of the process of “therapeutic jurisprudence,” such as the workings of Family Court, saying that those who are called to administer justice need support in that work.

“When we ask people to put on the black robe of Family Court,” she said, “we ask them to be extraordinary heroes—superheroes. We are asking them to see through the lies, know the enemy and protect the weak from evil, all the while enforcing the laws that are dictated to them. We expect them to use their wisdom to do their best, and they do a phenomenal job.

“But many of them express to me this little feeling on the inside, a red flag sometimes, that they cannot articulate,” Cerulli related. “They will not have a basis for their concern or something they can hang their hat on to articulate the decision that they’ve made. We can work better, we can work smarter and we can help judges do their job better.”

To do that, she said, takes “community-based participatory research,” such as a major study conducted in Rochester—a joint effort of the Law School, the University of Rochester School of Medicine and the courts—to examine whether the domestic violence section of the court system is working effectively. The result, she said, was six “primary findings” that have led to procedural changes in the court system that have improved the lives of those who come seeking relief and protection from domestic violence.

“I believe that policy should be based on science, practice and resources,” Cerulli said. “What does the data tell us, what’s really going on at the grass-roots level and what money is there? If we can better combine these three elements, with science as our basis, we can improve our courts tremendously.”

Cerulli spoke about another study that looked at how often perpetrators and targets of partner violence thought about or attempted suicide. The results, she said, prompted creation of a mental health clinic in the court building to provide screening for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, and even cognitive and behavioral therapy for those struggling with insomnia.

The immediacy of that treatment is crucial, Cerulli said. “Some of these women have taken three buses to get to court. If we tell them that they’ve screened positive for depression and give them an appointment three days from then, they’re not going to take another three buses to get there.

“Individuals come to us in the Family Court system with broken hearts,” she said. “They come because they need our help. We are the guardians of their hope—sometimes for a day, sometimes for a week, sometimes for a few months and sometimes, sadly, for a few years. We have to do better by partnering with researchers to use the scientific evidence at our disposal to do the best job we can.”

Cerulli’s address followed morning appearances by two advocates who study intimate partner violence: Leigh Goodmark, professor at the University of Baltimore Law School and author of “A Troubled Marriage: Domestic Violence and the Legal System,” and Aruna Papp, a Canada-based advocate and expert on the challenges of global diversity in addressing domestic violence.

The conference continued with an afternoon symposium organized by Family Court Judge Lisa Bloch Rodwin, JD ’85, and other members of the New York State judiciary to celebrate the 50th anniversary of New York State Family Court.

The Law School announced at the conference that it was establishing two awards to support student work in the area of intimate partner violence: The Suzanne E. Tomkins Women, Children and Social Justice Advocacy Fellowship and The Catherine Cerulli Women, Children and Social Justice Research Award. Read a story in the UB Reporter on these awards.

Reader Comments

Tera Murphy says:

Thank you for that. I have been in that situation, and one can really get stuck in the system, much to the glee of the person's abuser, because the court in all of its cycle just perpetuates the cycle of violence in a more civil manner. Having to come back to court, and drains the precious resources on transportation and legal fees that should be going to ones healthcare or children. After all, it is called FAMILY court for a reason.

Posted by Tera Murphy, Social Science Interdisciplinary, 12/10/12