The origin of one of the most important Web sites on violence and
abuse goes back to the adolescence of the Internet. In late 1994
professor Jeffrey Edleson of the School of Social Work loaded a
copy of the free MOSAIC Web browser onto his home computer. "I
couldn't believe what I found that night," said Edleson. "I
discovered the Internet world beyond Gopher and e-mail."
In the following weeks he copied HTML code from the Web pages he
found and created a page with links to the few Internet resources
on violence against women that were available at the time. "I
kept adding links over the coming months, quickly having to re-sort
them, and eventually building subpages for specific areas of content,"
he noted. As the burgeoning Web site took shape, others wanted Edleson
to post their documents on his site. So he handed over site maintenance
to a graduate student while he coded and posted his own newest research
At the time Edleson was the principal investigator of the state-funded
Higher Education Center Against Violence and Abuse (HECAVA). The
center, which later changed its name to the Minnesota Center Against
Violence and Abuse (MINCAVA), was established to improve the quality
of higher education related to violence prevention. Posting documents
online was a side project for Edleson, now the center's director.
But over the ensuing decade the side project has evolved into the
MINCAVA Electronic Clearinghouse, one of the most comprehensive
and widely used resources of violence-related material on the Internet.
Over 2,300 unique users per day from over 30 countries use the clearinghouse.
A grassroots community
In 1992 the Minnesota legislature directed the Higher Education
Coordinating Board to survey recent Minnesota college graduates
to evaluate the adequacy of the professional education they had
received about violence and abuse. Based on the survey results,
HECAVA was created to work in cooperation with colleges and organizations
statewide to revise the preparation, licensing, and continuing education
of a wide range of professions. The improved education programs
helped prepare professionals to provide safety and services to victims
of violence, hold perpetrators accountable for their actions, and
address the root causes of violence.
As HECAVA's education work progressed, the electronic clearinghouse
continued to grow. "Initially the Web site was for academic
faculty who taught professional students about violence and abuse,"
said Edleson. But as others discovered the site, it became a meeting
place for a grassroots community. According to Ann Kranz, MINCAVA
program director, "the clearinghouse quickly evolved because
its users helped to shape its content. It became a primary source
of violence-related information for all types of users because people
were hungry for new material that was easily accessible. MINCAVA's
users willingly shared their content with each other and consequently
supplied new resources to people across the globe who were accessing
The clearinghouse now allows automated submission of a wide range
of violence-related documents, including survivor and service provider
resources, educational syllabi, published research, funding sources,
upcoming training events, and searchable databases of training manuals,
videos, and other educational resources.
With the growth of the clearinghouse, the center's reputation for
online expertise also grew. In 1997 the U.S. Department of Justice's
Office of Violence Against Women commissioned the center to create
an electronic repository of full-text documents. The ensuing Web
site, Violence Against Women Online Resources (VAWOR), uses
a MINCAVA-developed interactive, online review process to route
documents through VAWOR's 25-member national advisory board. The
site currently hosts nearly 300 papers, reports, research findings,
curricula, presentations, training manuals, and multi-media resources
related to violence against women.
For the federal government, VAWOR ensures that products developed
with funds from the Violence Against Women Act are made widely available
to advocates, prosecutors, police, judges, probation officers, and
related professionals. For criminal justice professionals and battered
women advocates, having fast, reliable, cost-effective access to
high quality training and resource materials is invaluable, particularly
with recent budget shortfalls and shrinking resources.
More than Web sites
While people from all over the world seek information from MINCAVA's
online resources, the center stays grounded to its original education
mission. It helped launch a certificate program in child abuse prevention
studies, an undergraduate minor in family violence prevention, and
interactive online training tools used by students and professionals
throughout the country. One training tool, the Global Violence
Prevention case study, presents users with effective ways to
respond to victims and perpetrators and provides current research
and programmatic resources.
The center also conducts research through the Link Project and
the applied research forum of the National Electronic Network
on Violence Against Women (VAWnet). The Link Project is a series
of projects studying the experiences of families in which mothers
and their children have both been maltreated, and seeks to build
collaborative relationships between child protection, domestic violence
agencies, and court services. MINCAVA's participation in VAWnet,
a CDC-funded online resource, focuses on the creation of research
summaries for use by practitioners working on the issues of domestic
violence, sexual assault, and stalking.
All of this work--the Web sites, education, and research-would
not exist without initial funding from the Minnesota legislature
and continued funding from the Office of Violence Against Women.
But much of what the center does today stems from that night in
1994. "The growing attention MINCAVA's Web sites received led
us to expand our mission to provide access to the available information,"
said Edleson. "Now faculty and students, community activists,
and victims and their families from all parts of Minnesota, the
United States, and the world use our resources."
To visit MINCAVA's main Web site, go to www.mincava.umn.edu.
WRITTEN BY BRIAN LIEB