Students Present Research on Intimate Partner Violence

Webster undergraduate students Michelle Bloyd-Fink and Emily Mason presented original research at the 31st Annual Qualitative Analysis Conference in London, Ontario on June 25, 2014.

The conference’s theme for 2014 was “The Social Construction of Boundaries: Creating, Maintaining, Transcending, and Reconstituting Boundaries.” Alongside fellow scholars from around the world, Bloyd-Fink and Mason presented “Thought Pattern Changes in Participants of a Batterer’s Intervention Program” and shared their findings on the reconstruction of physical and emotional boundaries over time among men who batter, using data from their ongoing longitudinal study on thought patterns among Batterer’s Intervention Program (BIP) participants in St. Louis.

Bloyd-Fink, a double major in Sociology and Women and Gender Studies, and Mason, a double major in Psychology and Women and Gender Studies, began their research on intimate partner violence in January 2014, collecting data from male volunteers enrolled in the BIP program at RAVEN – a non-profit organization in St. Louis dedicated to domestic violence intervention and prevention services.

Men in the 48 credited week program meet regularly with facilitators and fellow program participants for an education in non-violence. 95 percent of them are attending on a court mandate.

“Half the time they’re there, they’re challenging each other and the facilitators are challenging them on their belief systems and their behaviors, and then the other half [of the program] is spent on curriculum that explores issues like anger management, gender and oppression, and sexual violence,” Bloyd-Fink explained.

Using the BIP curriculum as a guide, Bloyd-Fink and Mason crafted guided journal prompts to collect anonymous qualitative data on the thought patterns of the participants through the participants’ own writing.

“Each journal page,” Mason said, “begins with a question about what emotions they’re feeling – which is something the men are asked at the beginning of each group meeting anyway – and then [a question that asks] ‘how have you been abusive, verbally violent, or physically violent in the past week?’. Then the last question is one we’ve come up with, and it rotates.”

The men fill out their journal responses each week for the duration of the program, and answer the same question again at several points in time.

“Because it’s a longitudinal study, with data collected at multiple points in time over a long period of time, we can have a basis for comparison, for change over time,” Mason said.

RAVEN agreed to incentivize participation in the study by offering volunteers a credit toward program completion for their work. Currently, the study has 25 volunteers, but Bloyd-Fink and Mason expect to reach a sample size of 75 to 100 men.

The duration of the study, the frequency with which data is collected, and the research sample size set Bloyd-Fink and Mason’s findings apart from much of the current research on Batterer Intervention Programs. Mason found that, when reviewing literature on BIP efficacy for an independent study course, most studies use sample sizes of six to 12 participants and collected data at a single point in time.

Additionally, most research on domestic violence is quantitative, meaning it provides objective data like numbers and percentages. Bloyd-Fink and Mason’s research – like all the research presented at the conference in Ontario this summer – is qualitative, meaning it provides more subjective data and addresses complexity not adequately communicated in numbers alone.

“Quantitative research [in this area] is highly coveted – data on repeat offenses, for example – but domestic violence is so much more complex than you can make into a number,” Bloyd-Fink explained. “If you’re just quantifying someone hitting [another person], you’re missing out on information on who hit first, on how hard someone was hit, on the injury experience, on how people experience hitting differently based on their position in society.”

Though they will continue to collect research well into 2015, Bloyd-Fink and Mason were able to present at the conference an analysis of their findings thus far as they relate to issues of boundaries among men who batter.

“We are finding that RAVEN is providing language to the [study] participants to help them discuss uncomfortable boundaries, as in the case of sexual violence,” Bloyd-Fink said, “and this aids in the negotiation process. [The men] are currently struggling with their emotions as well, often setting up strict emotional boundaries [for themselves].”

When they have completed their study, Bloyd-Fink and Mason will examine how these boundaries – and other facets of thinking –change over the duration of the program among men who batter.

Their overall aim, Mason said, is “getting some kind of picture of what’s happening in these programs. If the goal [in working with perpetrators of intimate partner violence] is evidence-based practice, then you need a baseline.”

Both women recognize how their work with RAVEN and this Students presenting researchh project have made an impact on their lives within the academic realm and beyond.

“Ultimately, I want to get my PhD in sociology, and this project will always be something that defines how I work, how I grow, how I learn in the future,” Bloyd-Fink said.

Through their research, Mason said she and Bloyd-Fink “learned how to communicate, how to work together. It has become something that we can take ownership of, and it has given us a lot more confidence.”

The women expressed hope that their study, once complete, will help illuminate the complexity of domestic violence issues through the often-overlooked vantage point of the perpetrators.

Bloyd-Fink noted that sociological research often focuses on the underprivileged – those who have been victimized – but “researching the men who have the privilege of being male and are using it…there’s a lot to learn from that instead of just researching the people who are experiencing violence. We often research a problem from [the victim’s] perspective without understanding the dominant group in power. We should be looking at [those in power] too.”

Understanding more about the beliefs and ideas that precipitate violence, they explained, helps work toward sustainable violence prevention methods.

“This is not just something I’m doing to get an ‘A’,” Mason added. “This is something I’m doing to contribute to the field.”