Professor's Research Targets Domestic Violence

Heather-Bush-storyThis article shows the importance of growing the University of Kentucky endowment. It will ensure UK's continued prosperity and support UK's people and programs, a priority of the university's $2.1 billion comprehensive campaign, Kentucky Can: The 21st Century Campaign.

Both intimate partner and sexual violence remain significant public health problems and both types of violence have short and long term psychological and physical health impacts that need to be better understood, according to research being conducted by Heather Bush, professor and chair of the Department of Biostatistics in the University of Kentucky College of Public Health.

As the Kate Spade and Company Foundation Endowed Professor in the Center for Research on Violence against Women, Bush works with researchers through the University of Kentucky to collect and analyze data about violence. They are showing that abuse can have a cumulative impact on people’s health. 

“There are a number of extra factors when you consider a person’s abusive past,” Bush said. “They have stress and life experiences that impact them. Once we get at that information, we can begin to treat it.”

For example, a person with chronic pain may have an abusive past, which may make them more susceptible to substance abuse. By knowing more information about a patient’s history – their work, education and health history – doctors can better prescribe pain management techniques, help the patient and prevent possible drug addiction. 

For Bush, having an endowed professorship is more than just a title. It focuses her research, provides additional funding for her work and gives validity to her work, which attracts additional support from private and government entities. 

“It is easy to always get pulled in different directions,” Bush said. “This allows me to focus on biostatistics and gives me permission to really take on a project. I feel very strongly that they have given me this money to do work, and I have a responsibility to make good on that.”

She works with the UK Violence, Intervention and Prevention Center to create better violence prevention strategies and works with Women’s Health and You, a clearinghouse for information about women. Women fill out surveys and receive an informational newsletter teaching them how to better care for themselves. 

She is especially motivated to protect UK students from violence. 

“They come here with every hope and dream,” Bush said. “We don’t want any obstacles in their path. Being the Kate Spade endowed professor motivates me. I see students carrying Kate Spade purses, and I know that college students are their demographic, their clientele. I want to help Kate Spade help them live better lives.”

Since joining UK in 2006, she has worked with many researchers on projects that aim to understand health-related quality of life. People who experience chronic stress or trauma are more likely to experience poor health. This information, coupled with work she has done with Ann Coker, Verizon Wireless Endowed Chair in the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology, evaluating the Green Dot program in high schools, sparked her interest in violence prevention.

Bush currently serves as the principal investigator along with Coker on two studies on bystander intervention. The Green Dot program is a comprehensive approach to the prevention of violence that capitalizes on the power of peer and cultural influences. It targets all community members as potential agents of social change and seeks to engage them, through awareness, education and skills-practice, in proactive behaviors that establish intolerance of violence as the norm.

Emerging evidence suggests that a bystander-based approach to violence prevention may increase bystander interventions, behaviors and reduce sexual violence among college students and dating violence high school students and male athletes. 

Another project Bush is working on is the ConnectED program. This program seeks to identify the best ways to train incoming UK students using bystander intervention programming with strategies that additionally address alcohol abuse prevention.

Since 2009, Bush has worked with Coker investigating the health impacts of violence, during that time she has worked closely with the Violence Intervention and Prevention Center and the Center for Research on Violence Against Women.

"Bystander violence prevention programs share a common philosophy that all members of the community have a role in shifting social norms to prevent violence," Bush said. "The ultimate goal is to educate the community to recognize situations that promote violence and to safely and effectively intervene."

A portion of this story originally appeared in UKNOW on Oct. 26, 2018 and was written by Olivia Ramirez.