Tell Us About It: Victim Research Convos


In this CVR podcast series, we talk with those doing research and serving victims and learn about the work they've done together.

Tell Us About It, Episode 2: Research with the Rocky Mountain Victim Law Center

A convo with Dr. DePrinceNov 16Time: 22:22

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On this episode of Tell Us About It, we talk to Anne DePrince, the principal researcher for the Rocky Mountain Victim Law Center. She shares her perspective on the use of research to shape and inform the Center’s work, as well as her broader work with the victim services community in Denver.

Dr. DePrince is a Professor and Chair in the Psychology Department at the University of Denver where she contributes to the Child Clinical and Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience Programs. She is the co-editor of three volumes on trauma and violence, with her research recognized in terms of federal funding as well as local and national awards. Dr. DePrince also directs the University of Denver’s Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning and the Traumatic Stress Studies Group.

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Susan Howley [00:00:03] Welcome to Tell Us About It: Victim Research Convos, a podcast from the Center for Victim Research with support from the Office for Victims of Crime. On each episode of Tell Us About It, we talk to researchers and practitioners about their work, the tools being built for use in the field, and how we can work together to build an evidence base for crime victims services. I’m Susan Howley and we’re joined today by Dr. Anne DePrince, department chair and professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Denver. Dr. DePrince has spent much of her career studying trauma and interpersonal violence and working to bring research to the victims services community in Denver. She also serves as the research partner on the Rocky Mountain victim Law Center project. Anne, welcome.

Dr. Anne DePrince [00:00:49] Thank you, Susan, for having me.

Susan Howley [00:00:51] Can you start by telling us a bit about your role with the Rocky Mountain Victim Law Center project and the type of research tasks that you do with them?

[00:01:01] Sure. I’m the research partner on the Rocky Mountain Victim Law Center’s OVC, Office of Victims of Crime, funded project, the legal wraparound project. And as the research partner, that means that I have worked with them since the start of the project, initially to do a needs assessment. So as part of the grant funding, OVC required the Denver community to do a needs assessment to identify what were the gaps and barriers to legal services following crime victimizations. And so with my research team, working in collaboration with the steering committee of this project and the outstanding folks at Rocky Mountain Victim Law Center, we designed a needs assessment approach and carried out that needs assessment and identified particular needs in the Denver community related to legal services following crime. And based on those data, the data were used to inform the program that Rocky Mountain Victim Law Center and the steering committee ultimately developed, which is now called LINC, the Legal Information Network of Colorado. My team has stayed engaged with the project. We’re now doing an ongoing evaluation as the LINC program has rolled out in order to use data to refine their approach, to provide real time information about how implementation and the rollout is going. So to summarize, we’ve been involved in everything from designing and selecting existing measures to use as part of the needs assessment and ongoing evaluation, to analyzing the data and helping the group to make sense of what to interpret and take from the data that we’ve collected.

Susan Howley [00:03:04] Well it sounds like your role has been integrated with the project all along. When you started out, did you envision that entire plan or has it evolved step by step as you’ve worked with the Rocky Mountain Victim Law Center?

Dr. Anne DePrince [00:03:18] It certainly has evolved. So we initially came on board to do the needs assessment and in designing the needs assessment, it was very much a back-and-forth process with this steering committee to make sure that we were going to collect data that were really going to be useful to them in the process of figuring out what kind of program to develop and implement. So even in the midst of the needs assessment, there was a need to be responsive in real time to what we were learning. We set out a phased approach to the needs assessment. So in our first phase, we talked with victim service and allied professionals about the kinds of legal needs they saw their clients needing to address, the sorts of barriers to getting legal needs met, and then we used what we learned at that phase to inform talking directly with victims and survivors. And then we used what we learned in those two phases to ultimately develop a measure that we passed out more broadly in the Denver community to collect a larger sample of crime victim and survivor, as well as professionals’, perspectives on legal service needs and barriers in the community. So it was a very iterative process. We initially signed on for this iterative process that was part of the needs assessment and then when the group was funded to move forward with the implementation of their program, we re-upped to be part of that process in terms of the ongoing evaluation.

Susan Howley [00:05:04] You know, when you talked about the underlying project being wraparound legal services, I’m picturing you as being the wra around research part of the wraparound service project.

Dr. Anne DePrince [00:05:15] Yeah it’s really been an incredible partnership to get to work with this steering committee and the staff from Rocky Mountain Victim Law Center. A real honor to be able to be part of a project at each phase of its development and to roll up our sleeves and figure out what kind of data are needed, how can data be of use to this group. So I think sometimes researcher evaluation can feel like a check the box, we have to do it because a funder said so. And we had the opportunity in this case to make sure that data were answering real world questions that this group had in order to support them to develop the best possible sustainable program to move victim services forward here in Denver.

Susan Howley [00:06:04] That sounds great. Now, Anne, given your reputation in the victim services community, I’m sure you have all kinds of opportunities to get involved in projects. What brought you to this particular project? What interested you about the Victim Law Center?

Dr. Anne DePrince [00:06:22] Well the Rocky Mountain Victim Law Center is a terrific organization focused on victims rights and I hadn’t had the opportunity to work closely with them. We certainly are members of similar groups, such as the victim service network more broadly here in Denver, but we hadn’t collaborated closely before but I had very high regard for their work. This opportunity was particularly exciting because, as a researcher, it was a chance to collect data from the start that we knew we were going to use those data to try to inform a system change here in Denver and those opportunities are sometimes rare. Occasionally, you have research, you have findings where you are, after the fact, trying to convince people this has implications for policy and practice and because of what we learned here we think this policy or practice could be informed. And this was the opportunity to do that from the start, to say we’re going to design research that, from the very beginning, the goal is to be able to build up a program that’s responsive to our community’s specific needs. So that’s a really exciting challenge and opportunity, as a researcher, to get to move from – the whole arc of the project now has turned out to be so exciting, to move from that needs assessment to using data to inform program development and now inform and guide implementation. The opportunity to be involved in that arc doesn’t necessarily come around all the time. So we were very excited because of the particular agencies at the table, the steering committee, and then this particular opportunity.

Susan Howley [00:08:24] Well I could see what attracted you to this project, thank you. You talked about this project being different than other projects where people think of it in terms of just checking off the box that they included research. Can you tell us a little bit more about how you and your team approach this work to make it a meaningful partnership with the practitioners?

Dr. Anne DePrince [00:08:47] So in my research, I consider myself a community-engaged researcher or a researcher who uses community-engaged methods. By community-engaged methods, what I mean is that I am working with my colleagues in nonprofits and government agencies, wherever they’re housed, to identify a project that’s going to be mutually beneficial and reciprocal. So there should always be something that our partners are getting out of it – they’re getting access to data and information that can answer questions they have, guide or inform them. And then there is something that we get out of it on the research side. We’re maybe pushing the field forward, answering a question that has evolved out of my particular program of research. And so we really strive for this win-win. Research that matters for advancing the science of victim services and trauma research and also advances our understanding of policy and practice. And so that community-engaged approach has really been the key to building true partnerships where the goal is mutual benefit and reciprocity and using research to be responsive to real world needs.

Susan Howley [00:10:12] That’s great. So that your partners are are seeing the benefit to themselves all the way through, which in so many project,s it’s not until the very end that the practitioners might sa,y oh here’s how that helped us, all that work. But it sounds like you’re working all along to make sure they’re learning from your work and from the mutual work.

Dr. Anne DePrince [00:10:36] Yes that’s certainly the goal and you know projects vary in design. So this wraparound one was really designed to have data in short bursts, if you will. In that phase-oriented approach, it allowed us to do fast data collection and feed it back to the steering committee to inform the next steps. We’ve certainly done other projects with partners here in Denver that have appeared from the outside more traditional, where we might have longitudinal questions, we might have questions about how does is interaction with law enforcement following a sexual assault affect women’s well-being and decision-making a year later. You can’t get around the year later part of that, that to get to the final answer to that question it’s going to take well more than a year. So projects vary depending on what the original question is for how quickly you can get information back. So with the latter example of a longer project, where it takes more time to get to the end, we do try to report to our partners regularly to tell them what we’re noticing and learning along the way, so that they’re not there’s not radio silence between the beginning and the end. But that’s another exciting thing about this legal wraparound project was that it was this opportunity to do more in closer to real time if you will.

Susan Howley [00:12:06] So I can understand the benefits of this kind of continuing project, but have there been any challenges in such a long-term, multi-phased project? Any challenges from the research angle or in trying to keep the partnership functioning at as high a level as it has been?

Dr. Anne DePrince [00:12:26] No,, I think any of the challenges have really been ones that are similar to any multidisciplinary long-term collaboration. You know, the need to have outstanding communication at all points, the need to ebb and flow and flex as there are staffing changes on any number of agency sides. But there aren’t things that stand out to me that were a particular challenge for the research that are different from just the challenges one faces in a commitment to long-term, multidisciplinary collaboration.

Susan Howley [00:13:06] Let’s talk a little bit about the research team. So you’re also a professor and department chair at the University of Denver. Do you involve your students in this work?

Dr. Anne DePrince [00:13:18] I sure do. So I have an outstanding team of graduate research assistants, as well as undergraduate research assistants, depending on the project. Students are involved to different degrees in different projects. But I very much consider this kind of research an opportunity for graduate students, especially, to learn by doing. That they learn how to do this kind of community-engaged research under my close supervision and get to evolve over their years in the program to be collaborators in this work. And so a project, such as this one with the Rocky Mountain Victim Law Center and LINC, has been a really important learning opportunity for several grad students on my team, where they’ve gotten to see this responsive approach to research, they’ve gotten to see the community partnership development and maintenance piece of things. So it’s a really outstanding opportunity for students to learn through this sort of work.

Susan Howley [00:14:25] So it sounds like you’re growing the local pool of community-engaged researchers.

Dr. Anne DePrince [00:14:31]  I sure hope so. I think the students on my team are very committed to being the next generation of leaders in community-engaged research that affects victim services and our understanding of trauma.

Susan Howley [00:14:46] Wow. So the benefits of your involvement in this one project are even greater than everything that your research is bringing to the project, which leads me to another aspect of your work. You have a reputation for being a member of the victim services community whose profession is a researcher. So just part of the victim services field, although wearing the researcher hat. Some researchers that I’ve spoken to would think that one has to be wholly disconnected from the subject matter in order to conduct quality research. What would you say to that kind of thinking?

Dr. Anne DePrince [00:15:26] I think it is very important in science to grapple with how do you handle interpreting and working with data and do that in a way that’s transparent, that’s fair to the data, that doesn’t reflect one’s own biases. Because we all have biases. That said, the way that I navigate those kinds of challenges are really to think about myself as a member of a multidisciplinary team. As the trauma field, the victim service field moves more to community-coordinated responses and expectations of multidisciplinary responses to crime, it’s easy to forget that maybe a decade ago, we wondered whether having prosecutors in the same room with police, in the same room with someone from a community-based advocacy organization, whether everybody could still do their jobs in a room together. And we figured out that you can and in fact, the outcomes are good for victims and survivors when we collaborate in that way. And so I think of this evolution of engaged research, and in a similar way that I have professional ethics and best practices from my field that I have to follow and live up to, just like the lawyer across the table does and the SANE examiner or medical doctor and we all bring those pieces to our work. I think it is very possible and essential in this kind of research to have a really nuanced understanding of what agencies are grappling with, what the real world looks like for victims and survivors in order to figure out not what the data say at the end of the research project but even the right questions to ask at the start of a project. And I don’t think you can do that as well, or certainly I can’t do that as well, if I treat this as a disconnected, removed kind of topic separate from my team.

Susan Howley [00:17:43] I love that illustration of the multidisciplinary team and a researcher being part of that. To take that out a little bit broader, can you tell us about the work that you do with the Denver Victims Services Network?

Dr. Anne DePrince [00:17:56] So in Denver, broadly, I am very fortunate to be a member of this community where we have a long tradition of collaboration, using community-coordinated responses to different forms of victimization and to be in a place that really values research, researchers, data to inform the process. So I have been hanging out with my colleagues here in Denver for more than a decade now on these kinds of multidisciplinary teams, listening, looking for opportunities where data could play a role in answering a policy or practice question that the group has. So for example, we just finished up a project recently that we were calling the Women’s Health Project that was funded by the National Institute of Justice, which was focused on the kind of social reactions that women receive when they disclose sexual assault to community-based providers or criminal justice personnel. And then looking at what impact those reactions have down the road on women’s decisions to engage with the criminal justice system or on their well-being. And pursuing that research came out of listening to the kinds of questions that our colleagues at the Sexual Assault Interagency Council here in Denver had in their day-to-day practice. So by being integrated in this community, attending meetings, listening to the kind of policy and practice questions that my colleagues are grappling with, it’s opened up really exciting opportunities to say, hey I think research could help us answer this question. It’s just been a really incredible place to get to do this work.

Susan Howley [00:19:49] Wow. So that has been a lot of excitement and growth over the past decade. What would you forecast for the next 10 years in this field or in Denver?

Dr. Anne DePrince [00:20:02] Well, I would forecast and really hope that we can continue to find really smart ways to use data. This Rocky Mountain Victim Law Center project that led to LINC was just so inspiring in terms of us taking the opportunity to integrate the research team into this multidisciplinary team from the start. And so my hope would be that, as a field, we do start treating researchers as another member of the multidisciplinary team and figuring out what kinds of questions data can help answer. I’ve seen the positive impact that it’s had on all of the levels that you’ve been alluding to – students’ developments, implications for the agencies themselves, for trying to improve services to victims and survivors – that you can get all of that potential from integrating a researcher into the teams you’re working on. So I’m really hopeful that that becomes more of the norm down the road.

Susan Howley [00:21:17] Anne, it has been a real pleasure and an inspiration talking with you.

Dr. Anne DePrince [00:21:24] Thank you so much for this opportunity.