In this episode, our host Juan Carlos Areán is joined by Dr. Charvonne Holliday, assistant professor in the Department of Population, Family, and Reproductive Health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, attorney Casey Gwinn, President of the Alliance for Hope International, and Dr. Chan Hellman, professor at the Ann and Harry Zara School of Social Work and Director of the Hope Research Center of the University of Oklahoma. The group discusses the science of hope and how it can be applied to intimate partner violence. Together, they address how past trauma, structural inequalities, and other stressors can affect hope in one's life, and how hope can be measured in a way that paves a path forward.
This project was supported by grant number 2018-TA-AX-K026 awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed in this document are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Department of Justice.
The following is a transcript of the podcast:
“Hope is the belief that the future will be better than today, and that we have the power to make it so.”
Juan Carlos Areán: Greetings. My name is Juan Carlos Areán, and I'm a program director in the Children and Youth Program at Futures Without Violence. We partner with the Center for Court Innovation on the Abusive Partner Accountability and Engagement Project, an initiative funded by the Office of Violence Against Women.
We provide training and technical assistance to communities across the country to help them enhance their abusive partner intervention and engagement strategies. We have been producing a podcast series focusing on innovations and trends in abusive partner intervention programming, also known as battering intervention programs.
Today, we're going to talk about the science of hope and how it can be applied to the work with people who cause harm through intimate partner violence. I have the pleasure to be joined today by Dr. Charvonne Holliday assistant professor in the Department of Population, Family, and Reproductive Health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, attorney Casey Gwinn, president of the Alliance for Hope International, and Dr. Chan Hellman, professor at the Ann and Harry Zara School of Social Work and director of the Hope Research Center at the University of Oklahoma. Thank you all so much for joining us today.
So, I would like to start, as always, to ask about your work, in particular your work in the field of domestic violence. So, let's start with Dr. Holliday.
Dr. Charvonne Holliday: Hi, thank you so much, Juan Carlos, for that great introduction. And I'm so thrilled to join all of you for this podcast. Broadly my research focuses on addressing and understanding social and structural determinants of violence against women and the impact of these factors on persistent racial and ethnic women's health disparities. And so, currently, my research agenda is threefold. One, I work with a multidisciplinary team, including a community agency to strengthen abuse intervention programming for people who cause harm in their intimate relationships. I also examine the impacts of social and structural factors focusing mostly on environmental context, housing stability or instability amongst survivors of abuse, norms, as well as racism on women's risk of violence, and also on folk's potential to cause harm against another.
And finally, I'm leading a study on understanding men's use of reproductive coercion. Reproductive coercion is a specific form of gender-based violence, and it includes tactics like condom manipulation or pregnancy coercion to force someone to become pregnant.
Areán: Thank you so much, Charvonne. Such interesting work, and I know that you are in Baltimore. Now, you work with the House of Ruth, and we have had them on a previous podcast here talking about the wraparound services. Very exciting. What about you, Casey?
Casey Gwinn: Well, good to be with you, Juan Carlos, and good to be with Charvonne and Chan. I became a prosecutor 36 years ago in San Diego. I was sick the day that everybody picked their area of interest. And I came back the following Monday and the only area that had not been picked was child abuse and domestic violence. And so, that's how I became a child abuse, domestic violence prosecutor.
It really was a calling though from the very beginning. I grew up at a home impacted by child abuse and domestic violence, and certainly had never really come to grips with it in my career as a prosecutor early on. But spent 20 years as a prosecutor in San Diego, the last eight of those years as the elected city attorney of San Diego. And then, was honored to start what is now Alliance for Hope International with our CEO, Gael Strack. We have five major programs. But all of them really connect to the intersections and the intersectionality issues around child abuse and sexual assault and domestic violence and human trafficking and elder abuse.
So, very honored to be part of this today. I met Dr. Chan Hellman in 2012 and became fascinated by the research on hope that he was doing at the time and that many others are now doing across the country and around the world. And we've really restructured our entire organization framing around the question, what does it look like to be trauma-informed and hope centered in all of our programs, in family justice centers that we helped develop and coordinate now in 43 states and 25 countries, all with a really deep understanding of how trauma plays itself out and how force multipliers like historic oppression, and racism, and poverty intersect with all of these issues. Chan and I were honored to write a book in 2018 called Hope Rising: How the Science of Hope Can Change Your Life. And it really is, for me, the calling of the rest of my career.
Areán: Thank you, Casey. I guess we were all lucky that you were sick that day, that you're doing this work. And Dr. Hellman, then tell us a little bit about your side of the story here, working with Casey on the issue of domestic violence.
Dr. Chan Hellman: Sure. Well, thank you. And it's a tremendous honor to be with you and the other panelists today. So, my work really for the last 20 years has been focused on measuring the impact and outcome of prevention and intervention programs. And it was about 15 years ago that I really stumbled on to this concept of hope. My area of research is specifically focused in what are the outcomes of hope, both physical, psychological, social outcomes associated with nurturing and restoring hope for children, adults, and families.
We're also specifically interested in how trauma and adversity rob us of the capacity for hope. And then, more importantly, how program services can restore and nurture hope, especially among children and families. And, as Casey mentioned, I've been deeply involved with him in his work and leadership on children exposed to domestic violence through the Camp Hope program, as well as survivors and examining hope in the context of survivor-defined success and the family justice center model.
Areán: Excellent. So interesting. All of you have done really amazing work and research here on the concept of hope, as we just heard. And we would like to spend a little bit on that because hope is actually part of one of our guiding principles in this project. It states literally that hope and dignity should be restored for families facing intimate partner violence. Going back to you, Chan, can you give us an overview of the science of hope and how it relates to intimate partner violence?
Hellman: Sure. Hope is a cognitive process. It is a way of thinking rather than an emotion. And the reason that that is so important is because it is something that can be taught. It is something that can be nurtured. Hope is the belief that the future will be better than today, and that we have the power to make it so.
Hope is based upon three simple ideas, the goals that we set for the future, whether the short term or long term, and then whether or not we have the ability to identify the pathways or roadmaps that we're going to use to pursue those goals. And then, finally our capacity to generate the willpower, which is the motivational framework or our ability to focus the attention on those pathway pursuits, especially as it relates to adversity and trauma. In the presence of distress or adversity, we're more likely to set avoidant-based goals versus achievement-based goals. Ultimately then the work becomes how survivors and their families engage in program services to begin to find those pathways to wellbeing.
Areán: Well, that was an excellent and very succinct explanation. Thank you so much. And, Casey, tell us a little more how the science of hope has been applied in your work.
Gwinn: Well, we really have applied it comprehensively, both with adult survivors that we're working with and with children, and now more recently with those who have harmed others. It always has to do with other people cheering for someone, lending hope when somebody lost it, for example, and helping them look forward instead of spending all their time looking back in life. And then, when we started applying it to kids, we even added a definition that Chan has really now validated with research. We define hope with kids as young as seven in our Camp Hope America program that hope is believing in yourself, believing in others, and believing in your dreams. And we can measure those things in a seven-year-old. And we can teach those things to a seven year old.
I’ve been very much a part of the adverse childhood experiences community over the last few years. I wrote a book with Dr. Vincent Felitti as the editor in 2015 called Cheering for the Children about the adverse childhood experiences study. We realized that we had to come up with a practical approach to this. So, we're just not talking about the bad things that have happened in somebody's life, or measuring all the trauma that they've experienced, or being "trauma informed," understanding what people have been through, but then where do you go? The answer for us became hope.
And once we realized this incredible relationship between hope and wellbeing and the ability to actually watch hope rise in a child's life in a very short period of time, we realized the battle is not actually increasing hope. We can all do that in somebody's life, help them start to think about their future, imagine a better future, all of those things. But how do you sustain that increase over time when they continue to experience other kinds of trauma, when they continue to experience impacts of structural systemic racism or other kinds of forces that are so powerful in the culture? Higher hope people do better in life. Higher hope children are more likely to go to college than lower hope children. Higher hope children are more likely to go to vocational school than end up in jail or prison than lower hope kids.
We need to be in the hope business in how we're actually using the science, using the language, and then teaching it to kids. For so long in the ACEs community it was all about resiliency. And I didn't know how to teach resiliency. I could barely even explain resiliency to kids. But we can teach hope. We can teach goal setting. We can teach pathways. We can teach them what it means to believe in themselves, and believe in others, and believe in their dreams. And, when we can teach it and they can learn it, hope rises in their life and good things follow that rise in hope in most people's lives.
Areán: That's really, really interesting. Thank you for that. And going back to Charvonne, I think you came to the concept of hope kind of through your research. So, tell us a little bit what your research has shown and how hope relates specifically to people who cause harm through intimate partner violence.
Holliday: Yes. Thank you. I stumbled upon this concept in a study that we conducted. Well, it was published in 2018 in the Journal of Urban Health. And the purpose of that study was to understand community level risk factors that may be associated with men's use of intimate partner violence in their intimate relationships. And so, I was in Baltimore at the time, and this was around the time of Freddie Gray's murder in Baltimore City in 2016, when we began conceptualizing this study. And I knew that community level factors like discrimination and like neighborhood poverty and other stressors like unemployment influenced people's quality of life. And so, I was interested in looking at how those factors might influence their levels of stress and also their use of harm.
And so, we conducted a multi-phased study using concept mapping, which is a participatory approach, as well as in-depth interviews with these men asking about their childhood experiences, and then how those childhood experiences may have influenced adulthood, and specifically may have influenced their relationships with their intimate partners. The main finding from that work was no hope for the future. And that clause is so profound because it's from the words of the participants themselves.
Just to expound on that a bit, with concept mapping, the participants are given a prompt. We asked them to list all of the things good or bad about their community that could be related to men's use of harm in their intimate relationship. What resulted were seven main themes. And the most prominent theme was no hope for the future. Within that theme were structural issues as well as issues related to childhood, the family unit. Within our paper, we enumerate these, but a few of them are feeling like everyone is out to get you. Major stress, physical, mental, emotional stress, not experiencing love as a child, lack of outlets or ways to cope with issues, feeling frustrated from life experiences.
And so, going back to what Casey and Chan mentioned, we can see how some of these social factors and structural factors are resulting in no hope for the future, a lack of hope. The men shared with us that it's this lack of hope and this lack of agency to love an intimate partner may result in their use of harm.
Areán: Thank you for that. Very interesting. And I don't know if this was a part of your research, but given that the lack of hope for the participants in your study seem to be impacted by oppression and structural barriers, in your opinion, what can systems, communities, and programs do in order to build hope?
Holliday: That's a really great question. And I really appreciate the framework that Casey and Chan developed about focusing on willpower and way power.I also stumbled upon the framework of DeRay McKesson. I was reading his book, On the Other Side of Freedom, before I found out about Hope Rising. And so, he said that hope is work. And he used Martin Luther King Jr's, one of his famous quotes about the arc of the moral universe. And so, he shared that, in this quote, the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. And he said, "A hopeful clause would be to add, if we bend it." So, this arc will bend towards justice if we bend it.
So, in thinking about ways to support people who cause harm in their intimate relationships, I think it's going back to Casey and Chan's framework of willpower versus waypower. And I see these structural barriers being barriers of waypower. Some of the ways we've been thinking about how to adjust waypower in abuse intervention programs is through unemployment preparation. We know that a key structural barrier is lack of employment. Part of that hinges on other structural factors like disproportionate incarceration of Black men. As low-hanging fruit, we can address unemployment by preparing men in abuse intervention programs or helping them become employed, helping with mental health struggles that they may be going through as a result of their childhood trauma or trauma that they've experienced in their community.
Other factors might be teaching healthy relationships, understanding that people who cause harm may often be victims of abuse themselves. So, going back to the adverse childhood experiences. They've either witnessed violence in their home, they've been victims of violence in their home, or even victims of community-based violence. So, beginning to address the racism that then trickles down to lack of employment or experiences of police brutality, for example.
I just watched the video of Ronald Greene's murder yesterday, and I'm still rattled by that. And so, things such as that can result in a lack of hope. But, if we can address structural racism, I think that we can then begin to open up avenues for waypower and then begin to tap into opportunities to develop willpower as well.
Areán: Thank you for that. And obviously, this is a complex question. I would like to go back to you, Casey. You told us a little bit about strategies that you are using at the individual level with children, which is wonderful. It's prevention. That's the way that we will resolve this problem. But you also mentioned structural issues like racism, oppression, and so on. So, I'm curious to see what you have come up with or what the Alliance has come up with thinking about these more structural issues in terms of hope.
Gwinn: From an organizational standpoint, once we kind of all agreed on this premise that you can measure hope. For us the first question became, are we a hope-centered organization? Do we have hope in our own organization toward the people that work for us? When they come to work for us, does hope go up or down in their life? I mean, if you run an organization, whether you're a law enforcement agency, or prosecutor's office, or a nonprofit organization, or a school system, or whatever it is, when people come into your system does hope go up or down in their lives? If we can measure it, we should know the answer to that question. Because, if what we're doing is sucking hope right out of people who may have already experienced the robbery of hope from systemic issues or from personal issues, we got to be in the hope business.
And we all know that when foster kids do really well, they start setting goals in their life. We all know that really good teachers in the classroom, they're goal oriented and they're helping kids set goals in their lives. So, as Chan often says, he's identifying and describing what happens when this goes well in people's lives, when people find pathways forward, and wellbeing rises, and they become more resilient and overcome trauma. They're actually starting to set goals and figuring out pathways.
If we can measure it, one, we should be measuring it. And two, if we're not increasing it, we need to change our strategies in our own organization, in systems. The criminal justice system is by definition not hope centered. The criminal justice system captures somebody at the worst moment in their life where they've done something wrong, or they've done something bad, or harmed somebody else. And then, the system defines them around what they've done. We're going to introduce punishment and retribution, and you're going to pay for what you did, instead of saying, yes, this happened and let's understand the journey you got to before this moment in time. And yes, everybody has got their choices to make in life, but we can't ignore context. We can't ignore how trauma robs people of hope. As Charvonne just said, virtually everybody committing harm to others has been themselves victimized at some point in the past.
What would a hope-centered criminal justice system look like if we start helping people set goals for their future? And you can say, "You should stop this. You should stop doing that." And we run right into negative goaling or avoidance goals instead of positive or achievement goals. What can you do to treat your partner with more respect and kindness? What can you do to treat your children differently? What can you do to start moving your life forward? Not goals that we're going to externalize upon you, because hope is about your own goals. It's not about the goals that somebody else is putting on you. The criminal justice system says we're going to now set goals for your life. We are going to control what happens to you going forward. It's the antithesis of hope.
What does a hope-centered system look like? What does a hope-centered organization look like? And we all know, Juan Carlos, you've seen this in so much of your work, a really good advocate, a really good social worker, what are they doing? They're helping people set their own goals, figuring out who they want to be, what they want to do in life, and how to get there.
We know how to do this. We just haven't been measuring it. And we haven't been looking at whether what we're doing is working or not. And, Chan, I'd love you to talk a little bit about this whole notion of the impacts of racism and other forces, because I feel like your research was a real aha moment to me in that regard when I kept hearing "Well, if you've experienced so much discrimination or oppression, there's just no way you can find hope out of that." And then, you started talking about some of those issues, and I had some real aha moments from some of your findings.
Hellman: Sure. Well, and thank you for that. One of the things that we've been very interested in, and Charvonne articulated as well, is the impact that these structural issues have is they present as barriers to those pathways. It also restricts access to particular pathways that may exist for others. The other areas that it impact is clearly that willpower because, if I don't believe that my pathways exist or that they're going to be blocked in some framework, then clearly my motivation to even engage becomes somehow impacted.
One of the things that is starting to emerge is the idea of collective hope. And, it's this idea that a group has a shared goal and can begin to identify these pathways and generate a shared willpower to pursue those pathways.
Areán: Thank you so much for that. So interesting, everything that all of you are saying. And I find it cutting edge. And I can see all the connections here are already thinking about these issues, but it's exciting that, in fact, this podcast will be an instrument of hope for many people in the field.
Every one of these podcasts... and there's an interesting connection. This is the 11th podcast that we have done, and there are so many interesting threads that have been created from the need to be trauma-informed. That's still, believe it or not, pretty new in APIPs. Too, of course, looking at issues of culture, which has been really something that we haven't done much as a field and many other of those things. So, I would like to maybe give each of you another 30 seconds or so for closing words. Let's start with Casey.
Gwinn: I do think that those working with predominantly men, but both men and women who have harmed others. I think this conversation is an important one because the question becomes, are you increasing hope in the lives of those you're working with? If hope is so predictive of wellbeing, if hope is so predictive of trauma recovery, are you increasing hope? So one, you got to be measuring it in your programs, pre and post, and certainly along the way.
And number two, I think you've got to start asking the question, if you're not increasing hope, what needs to be changed in your program implementing the science and the language of hope so that we are going to increase it? Because we have such mixed results out of intervention programs with those who have harmed others. But I am certain that if we can increase hope in their lives and help them understand that their rage, their despair, the things they have navigated through are normal reactions to things that happened in their past. They were robbed of hope at some point in their life. And helping them kind of understand that from a trauma-informed way, and then start to set goals that they actually do have control over in their life, I think, will be positive.
Areán: Beautiful, Casey. Chan, I actually will ask you a question. Where can people find more about how to measure hope?
Hellman: So, the Adult Hope Scale is available on hopescore.com that Casey has available. It's also in the book, Hope Rising: How the Science of Hope Can Change Your Life. That also includes the children's hope scale. These were developed by professor Rick Snyder who passed away in 2006. And they're pretty readily available via Google search as well. So, there's no cost for you.
Areán: That's wonderful. Well, thank you so much. And, Charvonne, last word.
Holliday: I really like what Casey said about addressing factors that have robbed people of hope. And I believe that enabling people to thrive through provision of basic resources and opportunities is one way to build hope. And I'm currently working on a scale to measure men's perception and use of reproductive coercion. But, after our conversation today, and also looking through Hope Rising: How the Science of Hope Can Change Your Life, I'm also thinking about incorporating hope into my current work. And so, I just thank you all for the conversation today.
Areán: Beautiful. Thank you so much. I love that. That, even among ourselves, certainly myself, I learned a lot and I feel so inspired by all of you. Thank you so much for your work, first of all, and for joining us in this brief chat. I hope that people will be certainly hopeful and inspired to follow you, Dr. Holliday, Attorney Gwinn, Dr. Hellman. Really amazing work.
So, this is part of a series of podcasts. This is actually, as I mentioned before, the eleventh podcast. So, we have ten others. And we have covered things like trauma-centered APIPs, working with native men, working with other cultural communities, putting victim safety at the center, working with faith communities, and so on. To find the rest of the podcast series, you can visit our National Clearinghouse on abusive partner intervention Programming at courtinnovation.org/abusive-partner-resources. To learn more about our project or request technical assistance, please feel free to contact us at email@example.com.
You can learn more about Dr. Holliday's work at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health website. That is jhsph.edu. Or of course you can Google her. And Dr. Hellman's work at ou.edu/tulsa/hope. Of course, you can also Google him. And Casey's great work at allianceforhope.com. Please also visit us at futureswithoutviolence.org and courtinnovation.org. Thank you so much for listening and so long.