New research is in the news. This also means new questions about research are surfacing. To be honest, our phones are ringing. It’s nothing new for us to be hearing from journalists and advocates who ask questions about the latest and greatest research. For me, this is a great sign that people are doing their homework and digging deeper. It makes sense. Research streams from natural human curiosity: help me to understand what’s happening here. The thing that’s also important to remember is research has its limitations and limits. Most importantly, research has a context.
This is not to say that I question the invaluable role of research. Studies and statistics give us an invaluable to better understand our work. Systematic and scientific data is vital to addressing sexual assault. The challenge is how research is applied and most often taken out of context.
For example, one of the questions I often hear is tell me which of these statistics is right or true. Often times this is when people are seeing a 1 in X stat. For the longest time they’ve used one statistic and they stumble upon another, or new research is released. People want to know which way is up. The only challenge is it’s not that simple. Each study is asking and answering specific questions. There is methodology and sample to consider. Data is collected and applied in a variety of ways.
Research on sexual violence is really about seeing and understanding the bigger picture. It’s a way for us to determine risk factors such as age groups (women ages 18-24) and settings (college campuses). There are still these core limitations of the very broken world research happens in.
For instance, research helps us to understand myths and misinformation in the general public about sexual assault. But it also exists in a society where individuals and communities face barriers and stigma: gender, race, sexual orientation and identity, ability, income, citizenship status, language. For me, this means that at the same time research helps to clarify questions and identify trends, it doesn’t necessarily give us a full picture of the very complex issue of sexual violence.
Before research and beyond it, there are stories. Both are necessary to understand sexual violence and create change. Another question I hear a lot these days is whether sexual violence on college campuses is new issue. Advocates have been drawing attention to campus sexual violence for decades. Why now? Why is it now that people are finally taking the issue seriously?
A lot of change has been happening over the years that connects these stories and better informed and wider audiences. There’s a convergence in news and media of brave and compelling stories, and the data that lets us know these stories are part of a bigger story and a big picture issue. It reminds us at the end of the day there are people who carry these experiences with them. The value of the facts is how it sets us in motion to change the story.