The Effects on Victims of Victim Service Programs Funded by the STOP Formula Grants Program

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Document date: February 01, 2003
Released online: February 01, 2003

This report was prepared for the U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice under grant number 99-WT-VX-0010. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the U.S. Department of Justice.

The nonpartisan Urban Institute publishes studies, reports, and books on timely topics worthy of public consideration. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Urban Institute, its trustees, or its funders.

Note: The Portable Document Format (PDF) of this report includes all tables and charts.



I. Introduction and Conceptual Framework
Background—Addressing Violent Crimes Against Women
The Present Study
The Rest of This Report

II. Study Methods and Description of Samples
The Evaluation Design
Recruiting and Interviewing Women
Who are the Women in the Help Seeker and Community Samples?

III. Patterns of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Experienced by Women
Measuring Domestic Violence
Prevalence of Domestic Violence
Domestic Violence and Fear
Prevalence of Sexual Assault
Measuring Sexual Assault

IV Knowledge of Victim Services in the Community
Knowledge of Services
How Do Women Learn about Services?
Quality of the Services

V Predicting Knowledge About Services
The Independent Variables in Boxes 4,5, and 8
The Dependent Variables in Box 10: Community Outcomes—Knowledge And Quality
Analytic Strategy
Models Predicting Knowledge of Available Victim Services
Models Predicting the Quality of Victim Services

VI Victims' Use of Services
Services Women Used
Agency Behaviors

VII Predicting Women's Service Use Patterns
The Independent Variables in Boxes 4,5, and 8
The Dependent Variables in Box 7: Service Use Patterns
Analytic Strategy
Models Predicting the Types of Services Women Used

VIII Predicting Victim Outcomes
The Independent Variables in Boxes 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8
The Dependent Variables in Box 9: Victim Outcomes
Analytic Strategy
Models Predicting the Helpfulness of Victim Services
Models Predicting Legal Service Agency Interventions Outcomes
Models Predicting the Effectiveness of Legal Agency Services
Models Predicting the Likelihood Women Will Use Services Again
Models Predicting Women's Life Satisfaction and Social Support

IX Conclusions and Implications
Victim Outcomes
Service Use Patterns
Knowledge and Perceptions of Victim Services
Implications for Practice
Implications for Policy
Implications for Research


Appendix A Highlights from "Victim Service Programs in the STOP Formula Grants Program: Services Offered and Interactions with Other Community Agencies"
Appendix B Variables in Conceptual Model
Appendix C Survey Instrument




The purpose of this evaluation was to assess whether STOP's financial support for direct victim services offered through private nonprofit victim service agencies helps victims of domestic violence and sexual assault improve their safety and well-being, and work successfully with legal system and other relevant agencies. We carried out this purpose by:

  1. Examining victim outcomes for women who use victim service programs, and
  2. Examining the influence of community-level service coordination on the helpfulness and effectiveness of victim service programs.

In earlier phases of this project we pursued several other purposes, including

  1. Describing the variety of victim service programs funded by STOP,
  2. Understanding the community and state context in which these victim service programs operate, and
  3. Assessing the degree to which victim service programs' receipt of STOP funding led to improved program services and community coordination.

This report presents results related to victim outcomes and the service, community, and other factors that influence them. It speaks to the first two research purposes above. An earlier report (Burt, Zweig, Schlichter, & Andrews, 2000a) covered results for the last three research purposes. It described victim service agencies, their state and community context, their interactions with other relevant agencies and organizations in their communities, and the effect of local and state activities on victim service program and legal system configurations and ability to meet victim needs. A summary is included as Appendix A of this report.


In 1999, the National Institute of Justice funded the Urban Institute to conduct an evaluation to assess outcomes resulting from direct victim services offered through private nonprofit victim service agencies.1 The evaluation used a variety of research methods to understand how victim service programs help victims. Specifically, it looked at:

  1. The nature of women's domestic violence and sexual assault experiences,
  2. The services women used, including victim service programs and legal system agencies (law enforcement, prosecution, and courts),
  3. What factors influenced women's service use patterns,
  4. What outcomes women reported as a result of service use, including the helpfulness and effectiveness of services and legal system actions (arrest, prosecution, and conviction), and
  5. Whether greater degrees of interagency cooperation (agencies working together) in response to violence against women increase the likelihood of good outcomes and more appropriate legal system actions.

This report is the third produced by the evaluation. It presents findings on women's experiences with the service networks in their communities, and an integrated analysis detailing the roles of community context and victim service program offerings in improving women's outcomes after experiencing domestic and/or sexual violence. Previous reports described victim service programs, their use of STOP funding, community support networks for victims, and factors affecting community ability to meet victim needs (Burt et al., 2000a); and methodological challenges in obtaining interviews with women who use victim service programs (Zweig and Burt, 2002).


The STOP Violence Against Women Formula Grants Program is a major federal resource for stimulating the growth of programs serving women victims of violence. The program's long-term goal is to promote institutionalized system change, such that women encounter an effective and supportive response from the criminal and civil legal systems, and from community agencies offering services and supports to victims. The program was originally authorized by Chapter 2 of the Safe Streets Act, which in turn is part of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), Title IV of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (P.L. 103-322), and was renewed and expanded in 2000 (P.L. 106-386). STOP is administered by the Violence Against Women Office (VAWO) in the Department of Justice's Office of Justice Programs.

A great deal of federal money has been used to support violence against women services funded through the STOP program. Federal funding for the STOP program for fiscal years 1995 through 2000 totaled $672.2 million. These funds supported over 9,000 subgrants to 3,444 separate projects, many of which received subgrants for more than one year. A good deal of state and local support supplement these federal funds through the match required of projects in law enforcement, prosecution, and other public agencies.

This evaluation is designed to assess the effects of STOP-funded victim service programs on the clients and communities they serve. Little is known about how victim service program activities influence outcomes for women and how agencies hosting victim service programs interact with the legal system and other agencies to assist women victims of violence. Past research examining domestic violence and sexual assault has three limitations: (1) few studies examine the effect of a coordinated community response to violence against women; (2) most studies examine only criminal legal system outcomes (e.g., rearrests) — few studies examine outcomes for women reflecting their well-being or safety; and (3) most available studies had small samples and examined only one or two service modalities from one or two programs.

This study was explicitly designed to go beyond past research efforts to cover these missing elements, and to do so on a sample of programs and women victims of violence drawn from around the nation, from communities of different types, and from communities organized in different ways to address the problem of violence against women. Findings from this study begin to fill many gaps in our knowledge, and should lead to the design of more and better approaches to helping women.


First, we selected eight states whose state STOP agency had different levels of emphasis on creating collaborative structures in local service networks to help victims. The states selected were Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Texas, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia.

Second, we collected information about nonprofit victim service agencies receiving STOP funding to deliver direct services, their services, and their community linkages. A Program Survey completed in spring 2000 used telephone interviews with the person most knowledgeable about STOP-funded activities to obtain this information. The sample included 200 nonprofit victim service agencies that were nationally representative of all private nonprofit victim service agencies receiving STOP funds for direct services. Among the 200 programs were at least 10 subgrantees from each of the 8 focal states, with the remaining programs in the sample being nationally representative of the range of STOP-funded programs in the rest of the country.

Analysis of Program Survey data, reported by Burt and colleagues in 2000 (Burt et al., 2000a), served three purposes—describing program service offerings, testing hypotheses, and selecting the communities in the eight focal states to include in the final stage of our design — the Help Seeker and the Community surveys. Our goal was to collect data from women in 40 communities — five in each of eight states.

Data revealing women's outcomes resulting from service use were collected through telephone interviews with women between June 2001 and February 2002 for two samples of women—the Help Seeker and the Community samples. The data analyzed for this report come from women in 26 communities across the eight states (2 in Colorado, 4 in Illinois, 3 in Massachusetts, 3 in Pennsylvania, 3 in Texas, 4 in Vermont, 3 in Washington, and 4 in West Virginia).2

The Help Seeker sample consists of women recruited from nonprofit victim service and legal system agencies who had contacted those agencies for assistance related to experiences of domestic violence and/or sexual assault. The legal system agencies (e.g., police, prosecutors, or protective order courts) serving as recruiting places were selected by the victim service agency. In some cases where victim service agency staff were housed in legal system agencies, these advocates recruited women for the legal system partner. Recruitment involved an informed consent process during which agency staff reviewed with women a form describing the study and its purpose, the potential risks and benefits of participating, what they would be asked about during the interview, the confidentiality procedures, the stipend for participation, and their rights as participants of the study. If a woman agreed to participate, she provided her own contact information and contact information for up to three other people whom she was comfortable having someone contact and who would likely know where she was if she moved. The interviews lasted between one and two hours depending on a woman's circumstances. All women who completed interviews were paid a stipend of $30.00. The Help Seeker sample included 890 women—500 recruited by nonprofit victim service agencies and 390 recruited by legal system agencies. They were interviewed between June and October 2001.

The Community sample is a random sample of women in their communities who are 18 to 35 years of age. The sample was selected using random digit dialing (RDD), screening for women aged 18 to 35 in the victim service program catchment area from which we drew the Help Seeker sample. We attempted to complete interviews with any women in the correct age range living in the household called. Interviews with women who had no domestic violence or sexual assault experiences usually lasted about 30 minutes, and no payment was involved. If a woman disclosed either domestic violence or sexual assault, she was asked if she was willing to answer a more extensive set of questions, equivalent to those asked of the Help Seeker sample. These women were paid a $30.00 stipend for completing the full interview. The Community sample included 619 women, interviewed between November 2001 and February 2002.

The total sample thus includes 1,509 completed interviews from women living in the 26 study communities. The women's data were linked to Program Survey data from their own community, to provide the contextual variables that comprise most of the independent variables in our analysis.


Victimization Experiences

  • Many women reported physical violence in their intimate relationships3
  • 22 percent of women who had current relationships reported experiencing violence in them (39 percent of the Help Seeker and 12 percent of the Community sample)
  • 88 percent of women who had former relationships reported experiencing violence in them (97 percent of the Help Seeker and 57 percent of the Community sample)
  • Large numbers of women also experienced control tactics in their relationships
  • 25 percent reported control tactics for current relationships (74 percent of the Help Seeker and 12 percent of the Community sample)
  • 86 percent reported them in former relationships (95 percent of the Help Seeker and 57 percent of the Community sample)
  • Other psychologically abusive tactics were also quite common
  • 22 percent of women who were in current relationships reported these tactics (77 percent of the Help Seeker and 8 percent of the Community sample)
  • 83 percent reported them for former relationships if they had one (93 percent of the Help Seeker and 49 percent of the Community sample).
  • Patterns of violence derived through cluster analysis indicate that many women experienced high levels of control in their relationships with and without the presence of physical violence and other psychologically abusive tactics.
  • 44 percent of this sample reported having sex when they did not want to or were forced into sexual acts against their will (56 percent of the Help Seeker and 18 percent of the Community sample).
  • Perpetrators for the most recent such sexual acts were current or former intimate partners for 84 percent of the Help Seeker and 54 percent of the Community sample who reported these experiences.

Victim Outcomes

  • We found full support for two hypotheses:
  • Women benefit from the services of private nonprofit victim service agencies
  • The benefit of these services is enhanced when victim service agencies work in collaboration with the legal system and other relevant agencies in their community.
  • The level of coordination between agencies in communities, post-STOP victim service program services (meaning once STOP funding was introduced into the community), and post-STOP legal system responses to victims all matter when it comes to service outcomes. When community agencies worked together to address domestic violence and sexual assault women found them to be more helpful and effective and were more satisfied with the treatment they received by the legal system and their case outcome.
  • Legal system outcomes of arrests and convictions also happened more frequently when community agencies worked together.
  • The way agencies treat women victims of violence matters for women's outcomes and legal system actions. Treating with respect, offering positive and refraining from negative interactions with agency staff, and creating for women a sense of control over agency behavior and decisions all increased the odds of positive outcomes, including women's reports of agency helpfulness, effectiveness, and arrests. Positive interactions increased effectiveness in all types of agencies—victim service, law enforcement, prosecution, and the courts.
  • Many women reported that at least some agencies in their community were working together to assist them (57 percent of women for domestic violence and 63 percent of women for sexual assault). Women's perceptions that agencies were working together predicted their reports of agency helpfulness and effectiveness. Coordinated effort improves reported outcomes whether it is between victim service and legal system agencies, victim service and non-legal system agencies, or legal system agencies and non-victim service agencies.
  • Many women in STOP-funded communities also felt they were listened to and had a sense of control when working with agencies. Most women reported feeling at least some control when interacting with victim services (86 percent for the shelter/battered women's program and 77 percent for the sexual assault center). More than half of the women reported feeling at least some control when interacting with legal system agencies (55 percent for law enforcement, 64 percent of prosecution, and 76 percent for the protective order court). Women found services helpful and legal outcomes such as arrest were more likely to occur when women victims reported feeling a sense of control.
  • Women victims of violence reported being treated well by agency staff in many STOP-funded communities, and when they were treated well they were more likely to find services useful. In general, agency staff participated in more positive behaviors than negative behaviors. Staff from STOP-funded victim service agencies participated in more positive behaviors than staff from legal system agencies, and prosecution staff and staff from the protective order court participated in more positive behaviors than law enforcement.

Service Use Patterns

  • Of women reporting victimization experiences, 68 percent used some form of victim services and 79 percent used some form of legal system agency.
  • We found partial support for a third hypothesis: coordination of community agencies around services for victims of violence will influence the types of services women use. The more agencies work together in women's communities, the less likely women are to use only legal system services. However, individual-level factors were more useful for understanding why women used the combination of services that they did.
  • Service use patterns were more responsive to the nature and the timing of the violence women experienced. Women who experienced more physical violence and control in their relationships were more likely to use both victim services and legal system services than women in less violent and controlling relationships. For patterns of domestic violence, high levels of physical violence and high levels of control tactics, even without much physical violence, appear to be the major factors influencing a decision to use services. The more intimate relationships women have had that involved physical violence, the more likely they were to have only used legal services for help.
  • Women who experienced a sexual assault involving the threat or use of physical violence were less likely to have used only legal services for help compared to women who experienced other types of sexual assault (i.e., substance-related coercion or psychological manipulation).
  • Finally, women were more likely to use services in the two years before data collection if they experienced violence in their intimate relationships or were sexually assaulted during that same time frame.
  • Most victimized women who chose not to use services did so because they were afraid to use services. Other primary reasons women gave for not using services included not wanting to admit that something had happened to them; being discouraged from seeking services by their husband, partner, or boyfriend; and, for legal system agencies, thinking the services would not help or take them with their types of problems. Few women reported that they were discouraged from seeking services by their women friends or that they had heard bad things about victim services. About a third of women reported that they had heard bad things about law enforcement.

Knowledge and Perceptions of Victim Services

  • Our fourth hypothesis, that women within communities with coordinated approaches will have more knowledge about available services, was not supported. The level of coordination between agencies in communities did affect women's knowledge of available services. Competence and coordination may not evoke much publicity, even if they help women who are victims.
  • Although factors in the present study did not explain much about women's knowledge of services, we did increase our knowledge about how many women are aware of services and how they learned about such services.
  • Not all women in communities know about the services that are available to them. All communities in this sample had hotlines, battered women's programs, and sexual assault centers. But only about one-third of the sample knew for sure that the hotline existed, only half knew the shelter/battered women's program existed, and only one-fifth were certain that the sexual assault center existed.
  • Women learned about services mostly through word of mouth from family and friends and through contact with staff from other community agencies or the police. Few women learned about services through community events, flyers, public service announcements on radio or television, newspapers, and posters. Reports from women strengthen reports from victim service agency staff during the Program Survey that referrals from other agencies and collaborative work with other agencies is one way to get clients if the clients have an immediate need. Word of mouth among women also works. But accurate knowledge among the general public appears harder to develop.


The findings suggest a number of ways that community agencies working to address domestic violence and sexual assault can improve their efforts. First, victim service and legal system agencies, as well as other relevant community agencies, should work together to address violence against women. When agencies work together, women find their services more useful and legal system outcomes occur more frequently. Additionally, in earlier results from the current evaluation, program representatives reported that community interaction among private nonprofit victim service programs and other community agencies can improve services by increasing the amount of services provided in conjunction with other agencies and by improving a community's ability to meet the needs of victims of domestic violence and sexual assault (Burt et al., 2000a). Work together can take many forms and can vary in intensity from informal communication between staff members of agencies to institutionalized written protocols for joint work. It can include cross training of agency staff, cross referrals between agencies, integrated case management, joint planning or strategizing to address violent crimes against women, and/or institutionalized commitments to work together. Findings from the National Evaluation of the STOP Formula Grants documented the ways in which agencies within communities can work together to improve their response to domestic violence and sexual assault (see Burt, Harrell, Raymond, Iwen, Schlichter, Katz, Bennett, & Thompson, 1999; Burt, Zweig, Schlicther, Kamya, Katz, Miller, Keilitz, & Harrell, 2000b).

Second, agency staff should work to increase the positive ways and reduce the negative ways they treat women. Providing women with information, listening to their stories, respecting them, and contacting them about their safety and well-being are among the behaviors women find helpful. Women who are treated more positively by agency staff find the services more useful and effective.

Third, agency staff should work to increase the amount of control women feel when receiving agency services. They should work to listen to the women and consider their opinions before acting in situations. Women know best about their own safety and well-being; when they have a greater sense of control while working with agencies, they find the services more helpful and effective.

Fourth, agency staff should examine what types of outreach they do and compare these to reports of how women learn about the availability of services. Some of the most common strategies may not actually reach many women in the community. In addition, although we found that word of mouth is a useful outreach strategy that brings many women to services, relying on word of mouth may still leave large groups of women without certain knowledge that help is available in their community.


This report's findings suggest that state STOP administrators and the Violence Against Women Office should continue to support local communities in their efforts to develop victim services, and especially to develop collaborative service networks among agencies. Funding policies that require collaboration should be continued or created, and technical assistance should be offered to increase collaboration and, since collaboration takes administrative time, grants should cover the services of a coordinator. We have made these recommendations in past reports based on program staff's perceptions that collaborative work in communities improves outcomes for women (Burt et al, 2000a; 2000b; 2001). The present findings increase our confidence that collaborative work is critical to addressing domestic violence and sexual assault as women themselves report that services are more effective when agencies work together to meet their needs.


More research should be conducted to further our understanding of victim services and their effects on the women they serve. An important direction for future research is to identify what factors increase women's knowledge about available services in their community and bring reluctant victims to agency doors. At this point we do not know what factors increase knowledge; it would be useful for programs to know more so they can target relevant actions when conducting outreach activities.

Another important direction for future research would be to follow women who used victim services over a period of time using a longitudinal design. At this point we have a better understanding of the circumstances under which women find services helpful and effective. It would also be useful to know how services change the lives of women over time and if using services assists women in living violence-free lives.

A final possibility is to conduct a study such as the present one in communities that may have more complexity to their service structures than many of the ones we included in this study. Although we did have several communities of 500,000 or more (the largest was 1.5 million), many of our communities were of a size that could be organized community-wide if the commitment were there to do so. There was no relationship in our 26 communities between level of community coordination and community size, but it remains more difficult to organize really large cities and counties. These might be where the biggest payoffs for good service planning, coordination, and follow-through will be found.

1 This project is supported by Grant No. 99-WT-VX-0010 awarded by the National Institute of Justice, U.S. Department of Justice. Points of view in this document are those of the authors, and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice or of other staff members, officers, trustees, advisory groups, or funders of the Urban Institute.

2 For a variety of reasons detailed in this project's second report (Zweig and Burt, 2002), we were not able to retain all 40 communities in the final sample.

3 These very high rates of domestic violence occur because 60 percent of our sample were drawn deliberately from among women who were known to have experienced victimization and sought help for it.

This report is available in its entirety in the Portable Document Format (PDF).


The authors would like to acknowledge the contributions of the state coordinators and research assistants who worked with us to make this evaluation happen. We appreciate the hard work provided by Anna Belle Burleson, Vonni Edwards, Judith Joseph, Pamela Kelley, Beth Morrison, Cindy Morrow, Joan Rappaport, Adrian Unell, and Emily Rosenberg. We would also like to acknowledge the efforts of our partner, Westat Inc., specifically Doreen De Leonardis, Helen Jewells, and Steve Dietz. Finally, we would like to express sincere gratitude to all the agencies that assisted us in finding women who were willing to talk with us about their experiences and to all the women who participated in the study and shared with us about their lives.

Topics/Tags: | Crime/Justice | Families and Parenting

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