Research Spotlight: Professor Studies Community Response to Victims of Violence

Posted: October 12, 2009 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: October 12, 2009 at 12:07 pm

By Tara Laskowski

Lauren Cattaneo. Photo courtesy of Lauren Cattaneo

Lauren Cattaneo. Photo courtesy of Lauren Cattaneo


When a victim of domestic or partner violence seeks help from a court system, organization or advocate, he or she is looking to feel safe again, to be protected. Among the many resources these organizations can provide a victim, one of the most important things is giving the victim a sense of empowerment.

“They need to regain control of their lives,” says Lauren Cattaneo, an assistant professor of psychology at Mason.

Cattaneo has been researching intimate partner violence and the ways in which victims of this type of violence interact and struggle with the systems that are in place to help them. Her goal is to improve community responses to intimate partner violence, and to learn from victims about how to refine interventions.

“I’m interested in looking more deeply into how interventions can meet clients where they are mentally, emotionally, and practically – how they can facilitate victims’ efforts to improve their own lives,” she says.

Cattaneo’s research falls in an area of psychology called community psychology, which deals with social issues and the various ways communities affect individuals. With a new grant from the American Psychological Foundation, Cattaneo is working with a local court system to collect data on victims’ experiences filing court orders.

With her new grant, she is looking specifically to see how empowered women find the process of obtaining a civil protection order. She would like to develop a measure that can determine how successful an agency or organization is in facilitating the empowerment of women who seek their services. She hopes this measure will be of practical use to agencies in evaluating and refining the services they provide to their clients.

“Empowerment is defined in many different ways,” she says. “Some people think it is just an emotion – one feels empowered, feels in control. But I think it is more than that. I think it is more about helping a person toward her own goals. It is the difference between real and perceived power.”

Cattaneo earned a doctorate in clinical/community psychology from the University of Maryland in 2001 and worked as an advocate in the U.S. Attorney’s Office Domestic Violence Unit in Washington, D.C. She served on the District of Columbia’s Domestic Violence Fatality Review Board, collaborates frequently with the Domestic Violence Clinic at Georgetown Law School, and consults with Safe Horizon, the largest victim services agency in New York City. She has been teaching at Mason since 2003.

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