Ortner Center on Violence & Abuse in Relationships

Current projects

Center faculty and students conduct research that is relevant to policy and to practice as well as of basic scientific interest. Multiple reearch, curriculum, and service projects are underway and a few are highlighted below. 


Recent research


Safe cyberspace and more


New technologies have multiple implications for women’s safety and well-being. Technology is developing so rapidly, though, that the scientific literature is easily outpaced. Using a series of online searches, we developed an inventory to document and describe new technologies that can be used to enhance or reduce women’s safety. A total 23,100 items were identified and screened; most addressed how technology could protect women and a substantial proportion addressed perpetration. Most focused on mobile phones; social media and wearable devices also were common. Product marketing raises multiple questions.



Closing the “boyfriend loophole”


Should abusive boyfriends be treated differently than abusive husbands? That’s the question being posed by those who would like to close the “boyfriend loophole” in the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). VAWA prohibits abusers from purchasing and possessing firearms if they have ever been married to, lived with, or had a child with the victim. Unfortunately, abuse is not limited to these relationships.


Using data from over 30,000 incidents to which police responded, we are undertaking research that will shed light on gun use by intimate partners who are currently married, formerly married, currently dating, and formerly dating. We anticipate that this work will be relevant to upcoming policy development. VAWA, authored in 1994 by then-Senator Joe Biden with the support and assistance of a broad coalition of advocacy groups, was up for reauthorization in 2018. The bill passed the House in early 2019 and is awaiting action by the Senate.



Desperate parents, desperate teens


Conflict between parents and their adolescent children is expected, but sometimes it exceeds what either can handle. In this project, we are examining over 3,000 such disputes to which police were called. Most of these calls are for verbal disputes. Initial analyses suggest that most often a parent is listed as the victim but when a parent is the offender the incident tends to be more violent and to result in greater physical harm. 

Although there is long-standing and substantial interest in the abuse of children by a parent, there is virtually no literature concerning the nature and frequency of incidents that are not deemed to constitute child abuse although a parent is the offender against a minor child. This work begins to fill that gap.



Curriculum and Service


Developing leaders to eliminate violence in relationships


The Executive Program in Leadership Strategy for Violence & Abuse Prevention, the first and only executive program for people and organizations working to end violence and abuse, was launched in January 2019. For more information about the program and the inaugural cohort, please see our homepage where you can download a viewbook and apply.



From cell to home for women lifers


Pennsylvania is one of five U.S. states in which a life sentence means life without the possibility of parole, that is, a sentence to live out one’s days behind bars. Although the number of murders has dropped considerably in recent years, the number of lifers continues to grow, particularly among women. 


Many women serving life sentences were victims before they were offenders. The typical victim of a women convicted of murder is their intimate partner or a family member. Over 200 women are serving life sentences – that is, life without the possibility of parole – in Pennsylvania. 


Many women serving life were sentenced more harshly than today’s judicial standards would permit.  Women sentenced to life in prison years ago will die in prison.  This project, launching in October 2017, seeks the release of a select few women inmates in order to afford them opportunity to reunite with their adult children.