Project Challenges Myth of Alcohol's Role in Domestic Violence

NMU has received a $78,000 grant from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of Michigan. The funding will support a two-phase project designed to challenge the myth that alcohol causes men to be violent.  


“Because we live in a drinking society, there’s a tendency to blame things on alcohol – particularly behavior that is embarrassing or gets people into trouble,” said Ira Hutchison (Sociology and Social Work, pictured below), the principal investigator. “But the fact is that alcohol only heightens predispositions and diminishes inhibitions. You can sober up an intoxicated spouse abuser, but you’re still left with a sober spouse abuser. We’re trying to undermine women’s tendency to believe that alcohol is the cause of abusive behavior. By accepting it as an excuse, they are less likely to get help.”


Kerri Schuiling (Nursing) is serving as co-principal investigator for the project. Both believe that nurses have more opportunity to interact with abused women than anyone else in the medical profession and are in a unique position to help educate victims of abuse.


Hutchison has researched domestic violence for 20 years, but began to narrow his focus to alcohol’s role in the issue about a decade ago. While a growing number of domestic violence cases are instigated by abusive female spouses or partners, Hutchison said this project will address the most common form: men’s violence against women.


“Nothing like this has been done before that we can find,” he added. “Instead of addressing the broader issues of alcohol or domestic violence, this project has a very specific purpose. And we’re making the point with women’s own stories.”


In the first phase of the project, Jeanne Lorentzen (Sociology and Social Work) and Jane Richards of the Women’s Center in Marquette will interview 40 women. Some will have personal experience with domestic violence, problems with their own alcohol use or a combination of the two. “Women who drink are more vulnerable to being hit,” Hutchison said. 


The interviews will be analyzed by Hutchison, Lorentzen and Schuiling to flesh out common themes about alcohol and violence.


“It might be something like a woman saying, ‘Men are mean when they drink’ and the interviewer asking how she first learned that and her responding, ‘My mom said that about my dad when I was growing up,’” Hutchison said.


For the second phase of the project, some of the women will be asked to recount their stories on camera for a 45-minute video produced by Michael Loukinen (Sociology and Social Work). The video will be distributed to all domestic violence shelters and substance abuse facilities in Michigan.


Hutchison said, “The Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation would also be free to send the video to similar outlets in other states. Domestic violence is an area of interest to the foundation, so that helped us secure the grant. I’ve done a lot of publishing on this topic, but that information only reaches my peers. I’m at the point in my career when I have started to ask, ‘Does what I’m doing really make a difference?’ I’m happy to be involved in this project because I’m confident it will make a difference.”


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Updated: November 29, 2006

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