Neil Websdale: Preventing Domestic Violence

Neil Websdale, PhD

Websdale 225

Professor, Criminology and Criminal Justice

Director, Family Violence Institute

College of Social and Behavioral Sciences

For Neil Websdale, a Northern Arizona University professor in criminology and criminal justice, the power of education extends far beyond the classroom. For nearly 20 years, Websdale has worked to educate students, law enforcement officials, and policy makers about better ways to prevent domestic violence. One of the key ways in which he does this is by helping to establish domestic violence review teams, which use a systematic approach for analyzing domestic violence in order to prevent future occurrences. In his work, Websdale focuses on collaboration and education: attempting to mitigate the negative effects of domestic violence requires an informed group effort.

"I have been working with the U.S. Department of Justice since the mid-1990s in a number of different areas of the country," he says. "That work involves setting up domestic violence review teams all across the U.S., and also working internationally on those issues. The idea is to identify what happened, what some of the risk markers might be, how we might have known about them, what agencies were involved, how the community was involved, and how we can make recommendations to ensure that these things don't happen again."

Websdale's leadership in this area has not gone unnoticed. Thanks to his longstanding work toward preventing domestic violence in Arizona, he also recently earned the Arizona Attorney General's Award for Distinguished Leadership. A key piece of this recognition involved an acknowledgement of Websdale's active partnership with law enforcement officials in helping to establish multiple review teams around the state. Part of his success in doing so, he says, comes from the fact that the university has allowed him the flexibility he needed to do his work.

"NAU allows me to do the work that I want to do," he says. "If you want to excel as a teacher here and have that be the principle focus of your career, you can. If you want to do other things, you can. I choose to do a lot of research, which I really feel enhances my teaching. The flexibility at the university allows me to do that."

Websdale also has expanded the range of options available to students by creating a class that is primarily focused on case reviews. This approach, he says, allows him to share his outside expertise, and allows his students to get real-world experience by working with actual cases from the field. This method of study, he says, offers valuable lessons for students.

"It's a great hands-on learning technique, and it is the same technique we use with audiences when we do our training conferences, as well," says Websdale. "Students understand how these cases unfold from start to finish, and they learn how the various agencies and community members actually handle these situations. There is no better learning tool than this."

Teaching the phenomenon of domestic violence through case review is an engaging process, Websdale says. It is also a process in which students become deeply involved with the subject matter. "When communities bring family members to testify about the loss of their loved ones, it is a deeply humanizing process," he says. "It is hard not to pay attention and be engaged in that."

With his continued work, and network of evolving expertise, Websdale hopes that the notion of home as a nurturing and safe sanctuary can be a reality for more families around the world. Continuing to take a systematic approach to domestic violence prevention, Websdale says, is an important step toward effecting positive change.

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