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Wies Featured in EKU Spotlight

Wies Featured in EKU Spotlight

Jennifer Wies, assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology, Sociology, and Social Work, is featured in this ongoing series designed to allow EKU leaders and others in prominent positions to discuss their roles as well as campus issues. Prior to joining the EKU faculty in 2010, Wies was the director for the Women’s Center at Xavier University in Cincinnati. She earned master’s and doctoral degrees in anthropology from the University of Kentucky. Her emphasis in the field of anthropology is applied and medical anthropology, an area that is also informed by a graduate certificate in Medical and Behavioral Sciences. She is co-editor of the recently released book, "Anthropology at the Front Lines of Gender-Based Violence."  Below is a portion of the interview we had with Dr. Wies.

How would you describe “Anthropology at the Front Lines of Gender-Based Violence” in everyday terms and what do you hope it achieves in this field of study and work?
The volume is a collection of stories focusing on the lives of front-line workers in women's shelters, anti-violence organizations, and outreach groups. Often written from a first-person perspective, the essays examine government workers, volunteers, and nongovernmental organization employees to present a vital picture of practical approaches to combating gender-based violence. By bringing together scholars and activists focused on the frontlines of gender-based violence, the volume offers an ethnographic look at how anti-violence services are conceptualized and delivered around the world. Therefore, in keeping with my deep applied and medical anthropological roots, I believe that this volume is useful for anthropologists, activists, and advocacy practitioners.

As co-editor of the book, what are some of the common themes among these inside stories of workers struggling to counter violence?
One of the most enduring themes among front-line workers in the anti-violence movement is an intolerance for inequality and a passionate, unwavering commitment for creating a more socially just world. Anti-violence workers around the world perform the work of caring for those affected by violence because they carry with them the hope that these daily acts with ultimately make safer societies for all people. Complicating their efforts is the fact that anti-violence workers are very often working in environments of resource scarcity, including financial resources. Nevertheless, these workers are united in the hope of creating a world free from violence.

By focusing on the front-line workers who deal with gender-based violence, what do you hope this volume achieves that others might not?
First, while single-authored ethnographies of gender-based violence are valuable, we felt it necessary to model for academia what we know must happen constantly in advocacy- that is, we must work collectively to present multiple voices in a single volume. Second, and unique to this volume, we believed it was critical to focus on the people who work daily with violence, the frontline workers. In general, gender-based violence studies from all fields tend to focus on people affected by violence. Therefore, this volume goes beyond a presentation of scientifically-informed research about front-line workers. To this end, the volume illustrates the strength of anthropology as a discipline by ethnographically documenting the interactions and processes at the local level on a daily basis.

The book spotlights cases in numerous countries in all corners of the globe. What can we in the U.S. learn from the struggles in other countries?
Around the world, anti-violence activism and individual level interventions are deeply informed by similar models of intervention. When we look at the effectiveness of anti-violence work across cultures, it becomes apparent that there is no one-size-fits-all model that best responds to or reduce violence. The most effective examples are those that recognize the uniqueness of each culture and honor the strengths of a group’s cultural practices and concepts.

In what ways are we making progress in the struggle against domestic violence? In what areas do we still have a long way to go?
Across the world, domestic violence intervention services have gained strength over the past several decades. Emergency shelters, crisis hotlines, counseling services, and legal advocacy have provided people with the services they need to survive and live abuse-free lives. However, the rates of violence in the US are still significant- about 25% of all women will experience a form of violence over their lifetime and one-third of college and university women will experience sexual violence while attending school. A substantial challenge to reducing these high rates of violence is a cultural perception that victims are to blame, in some way, for the violence that is perpetrated against them. To effectively respond to and ultimately reduce gender-based violence, we need to move beyond victim-blaming and address the underlying factors that contribute to the perpetration of violence.

Published on November 30, 2011

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