Center for Women's Health and Wellness

School of Health and Human Sciences

Past Research and Projects by Dr. Loreen Olson:

The Dark Side of Family Communication (2012)

Authors:  Loreen N. Olson, Elizabeth Baiocchi-Wagner, Jessica Kratzer, & Sarah Symonds

The Dark Side of Family Communication integrates research and theories that explore the communicative “shades of darkness” within family systems and elucidates how a positivity/negativity dialectic may be present in many, albeit not all, of these processes.  For example, “normal,” ordinary families experience darker interactions from time to time.  Conversely, healthy interactions exist within dysfunctional or unhealthy families.  In addition to reviewing research and theory on the more common dark familial processes (e.g., intimate violence, incest, and sibling violence), this text also relies on scholarship that illuminates how some dark interactions between family members may co-exist alongside positive ones or may function in both positive and negative ways.  The text also explores the darkness dynamic at a social level, examining more specifically, the role of religion, “traditional” family values, the media, and morality on the social construction and enactment of family life in the United States.

Recently Published/In Press Book Chapters:

Olson, L. N. (in press).  Violence, aggression, and abuse.  In C. Berger & M. Roloff

(Eds.), International encyclopedia of interpersonal communication.  WileyBlackwell.

Published Abstract.  “Interpersonal aggression takes many forms, including, but not limited to, acts of physical violence, emotional/psychological abuse, verbal aggression, rape, battering, bullying, incest, neglect, stalking, coercion, entrapment, and harassment.  While varied in type and context, all of these behaviors can be considered examples of the dark side of interpersonal communication.  Communication is the means by which aggression is enacted.  Often, the terms abuse, aggression, and violence are used interchangeably.  However, researchers have noted important distinctions between them.  This entry examines the different ways in which scholars conceptualize aggression, violence, and abuse.   Moreover, various typologies of violent couples and male batterers are reviewed as well as a summary of interaction-based, communication focused theories that have been created to explain different relationships characterized by aggression, violence, and abuse.”

Olson, L. N. (in progress).  Envisioning the dark side of competence.  In A. F. Hannawa & B. H.

Spitzberg (Eds.), Handbook of communication science.  Mouton de Gruyter.

This chapter examines the dark side of competence, not the darkness than can be inherent in incompetence.  Such a perspective is important to not only furthering the theoretical and practical understanding of interpersonal communication skills and dark side scholarship, but also to being better able to capture the full essence of human communication.  This envisioned reality tries to expose the positive and negative along with the altruistic and the egotistic involved in relational life.

Olson, L. N., & Rauscher, E. (in press).  “It can’t be domestic violence; We’re not married!” The many faces of intimate partner violence.  In D. O. Braithwaite & J. T. Wood (Eds.), Casing interpersonal communication: Case studies in personal and social relationship (2nd ed.)Dubuque, IA:  Kendall Hunt.


Recent Interpersonal Violence Related Research Presentations/Discussions

Adamson, N. A., Albert, C. S., Campbell, E. C., & Olson, L. N. (June, 2013).  Face-to-face sexual abuse and Luring Communication Theory: A case study of Jerry Sandusky.  Paper presented at the Carolinas Communication Association conference, October, Charlotte, NC.

Dobson, C., Smith, P., Olson, L. N., & Royster, L-A (May 2014).  The Perfect Storm – from structural violence to increased physical violence:  pregnant teen experiences.  Research project presented at the North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence annual conference, Greensboro, NC.

Hunnicut, G.,  Lundgren, K., Murray, C., & Olson, L. N. (February, 2014).  Traumatic brain injury and battered women: Understanding the social, clinical, and communicative contexts.  Workshop presented at the 2014 Innovations in Domestic and Sexual Violence Research and Practice Conference, Greensboro, NC.

Olson, L. N., Fine, M. A., & Aubrey, J. A. (June, 2013).  Aggressive, combative, and aggression-free:  Assessing the validity of the relational control- motivated aggression perspective and violent couple typology.  Paper presented at the International Communication Association conference, Interpersonal Communication Division, London, England.

Olson, L. N. (Chair/Discussant) (November, 2013).  Darkness negotiated:  Confronting the challenges of intimate discourses in/about family life.  A panel presentation at the National Communication Association conference, Family Communication Division, November, Chicago, IL.


Past Center Research and Projects:

Reducing the Research-Practice Gap in Domestic Violence

The underutilization of research by domestic violence practitioners and the lack of attention by researchers to the experiences and wisdom of practitioners have been identified by numerous scholars. This “research-practice gap” has the potential to hinder progress in both research and practice. In the area of practice, approaches shown to be ineffective may continue to be used, and demonstrated effective approaches may fail to be implemented. In the area of research, failure to consider practical implications of studies can lead to research that is out of line with the actual needs of clients and service providers. For these reasons, the domestic violence research-practice gap represents a significant challenge for both researchers and practitioners to address.

We have conducted a series of studies to understand and address various facets of the gap between research and practice in domestic violence prevention and intervention. The first study involved a statewide survey of domestic violence service providers to examine their needs and perceptions related to research. The second study involved the development of a scale to measure domestic violence researchers’ perceptions of the links between research and practice. The third study involved a Delphi study of representatives from state domestic violence coalitions to identify possible solutions to bridging the gap between research and practice. To obtain a summary of Delphi study, download this pdf file. We thank the National Network to End Domestic Violence for this help with this study.

Unlocking Stigma with Survivors of Battering

The purpose of these studies is to learn about how survivors of battering experience stigma related to their victimization and how they overcome this stigma in their quest to build healthy, safe lives and relationships. These studies have informed the “See the Triumph” campaign. The goals of the See the Triumph campaign are (1) to share empowering messages that people can overcome their abuse and create positive, nonviolent lives, (2) to describe strategies that have worked for other survivors to help them overcome their abuse and the stigma related to it, and (3) to promote a new view of battering survivors that shows them as triumphant, courageous, and resourceful. Learn more about See the Triumph at the following web-site, Facebook page, and Twitter feed!

Safety planning in domestic violence agencies

Through this study, we are identifying common approaches to safety planning for victims of domestic violence.

The Coping Window: A contextual understanding of the methods women use to cope with battering

This qualitative study involved interviewing women in battered women’s shelters in order to understand how these women cope with the battering-related stressors they face. You can read a summary of this study in the Counseling Research-Practice Blog, sponsored by the UNCG Department of Counseling and Educational Development:

Women’s Leadership Network for Safe, Healthy, and Meaningful Lives

The Women’s Leadership Network was an innovative community-based approach to domestic violence resistance. Its goal was to enhance the capacity of women to create domestic violence resistance strategies tailored to the unique cultural and social needs of their own communities. This approach to domestic violence prevention programming is grounded in the principles of community organizing, community-based participatory research, and best practices in family violence prevention programming.

The program was implemented in one lower income, African-American neighborhood in the southeastern United States. The qualitative process evaluation indicated that this approach can be successful, but it requires researchers to be patient, “hands-on,” and willing to modify their approach to meet the needs and interests of the community.

Program Overview: There were two levels of program activities:

  1. Level One: The first level involved a leadership training program for a select group of residents. This program aimed to equip the participating residents (i.e., the Women’s Leadership Network members) with the knowledge, skills, and self-efficacy needed to develop, plan, implement, and evaluate domestic violence prevention programming within their neighborhood.
  2. Level Two: The second level involved the Women’s Leadership Network members developing and implementing domestic violence prevention programming within their community. The specific format and content of this programming was determined by the network members during their completion of the leadership training program. This programming focused on:
    1. increasing residents’ awareness of the problem of domestic violence
    2. promoting social norms that favor healthy, nonviolent relationships
    3. increasing residents’ knowledge of the resources available to help them with problems related to domestic violence
    4. enhancing the relationships between community residents and local domestic violence-related services and institutions.

The full-text of the article on this program can be found here:

Through the Eyes of a Survivor: Using Photovoice to help formerly battered women

When you look at a blank wall, what is the first thing that you think about? You may think that the wall is barren and needs pictures or that you do not like the color. This is not what one woman saw after being abused by her husband. For her, the blank wall holds memories, memories of food being thrown at the wall and at her. Memories of when her arm was broken because she did not “cook dinner right” for the 1000th time. To her that wall is just not a wall, but memories of her ex-husband and the abuse she suffered at his hands. Thus, the old adage that a “picture is worth 1,000 words” holds true for her.

In order to help women disrupt revictimization and move forward beyond domestic violence, Beth Haymore, a recent graduate from Public Health Education and former graduate assistant in CWHW implemented a study entitled Through the Eyes of a Survivor. The study used a concept known as photovoice, whereby people, in this case, formerly battered women, take photographs and write narratives about them. This process empowered them to define for themselves their experiences and find ways to explain it to others.

Collectively, the images and words have the potential to provide a powerful way for a community to learn about the tragedy of domestic violence, and hopefully, work for change. Through the Eyes of a Survivor was a 10-week program, which was implemented in partnership with a domestic violence agency in rural North Carolina. The participants met regularly in a safe place to share their photographs and narratives with each other.

The project served as Beth’s Capstone experience for her Master’s program. The program concluded with a focus group to examine the extent to which participants believed that Photovoice helped them to process their experiences and move beyond re-victimization and how it could be used as a tool for community action.

Usability testing of a domestic violence information web-site

This study involved a multi-phase usability evaluation of an on-line resource for information about domestic and sexual violence.