In two decades of work as a trauma psychologist and researcher, Anne DePrince has seen a lot.
An expert in intimate partner violence and sexual assault, she has seen women, transwomen and girls contend with the physical and psychological effects of beatings, sexual harassment, reproductive coercion and rape. She has seen children stripped of childhood by violence within their families. And on the positive side, she has seen a community of health care professionals, social workers, legal advocates and passionate activists mobilize to help the countless individuals struggling to contend with the problem.
What she hasn’t seen is a drop in the number of people experiencing the stigma, pain and trauma of violence. Over the last 50 years, she says, violence against women has continued relatively unabated.
With her new book, “Every 90 Seconds: Our Common Cause Ending Violence against Women” (Oxford University Press, 2022), DePrince, a Distinguished University Professor in DU’s Department of Psychology, aims to change that. The title contains both a reminder of prevalence—“Every 90 seconds,” she says, “a woman is sexually assaulted and another woman is victimized by a current or former intimate partners”—and a call to action. “We continue to treat violence against women as if it’s a women’s issue or a special-interest issue,” she adds. “But we each share an interest in working together to address violence against women regardless of our genders or life experiences.”
The book represents a departure for DePrince, who, though she has published prolifically, generally has worked as part of a team on scholarly titles. This book is written with her professional peers and policymakers in mind, but it’s also directed at general readers concerned about the resilience of their communities.
“I wrote this book after 20 years of doing research on intimate violence and its many forms—[including] domestic violence, adolescent dating violence,” DePrince explains. “As a psychologist I have studied that issue through the lenses I was trained in—to understand the consequences for mental health, for memory or attention or cognition. What I noticed over time was the way that violence against women doesn’t just affect psychological things. It’s tied into health care, education; it’s tied into the policies that we have as communities, at the state and national levels. So the book is really born of wanting to help people understand that they have a stake in this issue, regardless of whether they identify as women, regardless of their own direct experiences. Violence against women is tangled up with the issues that we’re each passionate about.”
In making her case, DePrince invites readers to ride shotgun—and sit up for aha moments—on her personal and professional journey. Readers accompany her as, in the late 1990s, she pursues her undergraduate degree and begins making connections between what she observes outside the classroom and what she discovers in the novels and textbooks she reads for her classes. Later, readers join her as she leads research projects, meets with violence victims, and connects with activists at marches and protests. Readers even attend one of her holiday parties, when, to her consternation, someone begins blaming sexual assault victims for their plight.
Just as important, readers learn how her research rewards and frustrates her. In a chapter on justice and the legal system, for example, she describes how her research team tested a community-coordinated response to domestic violence. These programs are characterized by collaboration among criminal legal and community-based agencies, including the police department, district attorney’s office, and organizations providing services to victims. At the end of the project, DePrince reports, her team learned that the community-coordinated responses do lots of good, but they don’t necessarily make women safer.
“At the start of the study,” DePrince writes, “my team and our collaborators had hoped that the coordinated response would support women’s safety. In hindsight, we realized how naïve that hope was. Interventions focused on women do not make men change their behaviors.”
Still another significant aha moment sparked when DePrince was starting to conceptualize the book for her publisher. “What I realized in the process of writing the proposal was that awareness wasn’t enough. I have become convinced that’s a big place where we stumble—that we tend to think awareness is enough, that if enough people know about the issue, if they know about the impact, it will just stop. Awareness can feel like action”—think likes and retweets on social media platforms—“but [that is not] the kind of action we need for systemic change.”
What kind of action is needed? DePrince doesn’t offer any easy options, but she notes that building on proven successes is one place to start. For example, prevention programs around dating violence get results, so increasing their numbers and expanding their reach makes sense. She also expects that bringing new people into the conversation will generate innovative approaches and solutions.
“There are a lot of things we haven’t thought to do yet because we haven’t had diverse people in rooms yet, bringing their expertise and interests and passions,” she says.
In addition to inspiring new people to join the cause, DePrince hopes “Every 90 Seconds” will kindle fresh hope among those knee-deep in the trenches and perhaps fatigued by the seemingly stalled momentum of the #MeToo movement, by setbacks in reproductive health care, and by the sheer numbers of women and girls struggling to overcome gender-based violence. “This work does affect us as human beings. That’s an important part of this story, too,” she says. “Part of why we haven’t—as a community, country, culture—addressed the issue is because it can be a difficult one to encounter. I tried to write a book that balanced being very authentic and real about the issue with being hopeful. Because we’re not going to get to change if we can’t find hope, if we can’t believe that change is possible. And after [so many] years of researching these issues, I have been personally impacted by the work I’ve done, and I believe change is possible.”