When Staying Home Isn't Safe

Students use research to combat domestic violence.

By Venita Jenkins

Government orders to stay at home to curb the spread of COVID-19 were meant to help protect the public. But for some, like victims of abuse, the orders placed individuals in a dangerous situation.
With that in mind, a group of student researchers, led by psychology professor Caroline Clements, compiled local and national resources on mental health and intimate partner violence on a website and printed flyers to share. The team also launched a survey to assess mental health, intimate partner violence rates and alcohol use during the pandemic. The researchers reached out to community partners, the Wilmington Police Department, and local shelters and grocery stores for assistance distributing the flyers. WHQR, a local public radio station, aided in getting the word out.
“To collect data, we needed to reach people who may or may not have access to the internet,” Clements said. “We also knew that we had to be targeted. Because of the stay-at-home order, most people were only going to grocery stores and pharmacies.”
The research team used “snowball” sampling to collect data, a technique where existing study subjects recruit future subjects from among their own acquaintances. Researchers posted the survey on social media and encouraged others to share the survey among their contacts. Individuals were able to respond anonymously. Survey responses extended beyond the U.S., with participants from Australia, Great Britain, Pakistan, Peru and Pakistan, where Clements has strong research connections. They helped translate the information and submitted the survey link for publication in an English newspaper, she added.
“The data is essential because there is no way to get resources without data, and there is no way for us to know where to target resources without data,” said Clements. “Partner violence occurs across every economic status and across every education level.”
Dawn Albrecht ’20, a psychology major and U.S. Marine Corps veteran, said ideally the survey will give researchers an idea of what conditions are associated with a potential spike in intimate partner violence. Albrecht, who once worked at a domestic violence shelter, hopes people become more aware of the warning signs.
“This pandemic is going to cause a lot more chaos before it’s done, and I firmly believe the economic impacts associated with this will be our biggest struggle,” she continued. “If we can identify even a couple key associations with intimate partner violence, hopefully, during our rebuilding stage, we can better help those experiencing intimate partner violence.”
Not only did the project provide the community with valuable information, it also gave students an opportunity to participate in applied research with direct consequences, said Clements. “This has given students a huge sense of the real-life impact of research,” she said. “I think it has been tremendously energizing for them to feel like there is something they can do right now that matters while a lot of people are feeling helpless. They will continue to have the chance to make a real difference now and in the future.”
Photo above: Psychology professor Carrie Clements meets with her graduate assistants Bree Hollowell (blue mask) and Mckenzie Bullins (teal mask) at Clements’ house weekly to discuss ongoing research projects like their data collecting for intimate partner violence rates and alcohol use during the pandemic.

Posted Sept. 15, 2020

Read more articles from the Spring/Summer 2020 issue of UNCW Magazine here!