Researcher receives $2.4 million from NIH to empower battered women


A University of Akron psychologist's efforts to empower battered women have gained attention — and $2.4 million in research funding — from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Dr. Dawn Johnson

Dr. Dawn Johnson, a UA psychology professor since 2008, has received two grants from NIH within the past month.

The first, totaling $1.97 million, will enable Johnson to evaluate the effectiveness of a novel therapy program she first developed in 2001 and has dubbed HOPE (Helping to Overcome PTSD Through Empowerment).

Johnson's prior research has found that HOPE, currently the only therapy targeting post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) in battered women in shelters, is more effective than standard shelter services alone. She believes that HOPE has the potential to become a national model.

During the next four years, Johnson and a team of UA students, community-based therapists, and investigators from Summa Health Systems and Kent State University will study the value of HOPE therapy for battered women in six shelters in Summit, Portage, Medina, Wayne and Lorain counties.

Johnson's earlier studies indicated that battered women in shelters who received HOPE therapy were 12 times less likely than women who received only standard shelter services to report being re-abused after leaving shelter.

Therapy is promising

Further, the women who received HOPE therapy displayed fewer symptoms of PTSD, less depression and a greater sense of empowerment than non-HOPE women.

Johnson will use her second grant from NIH — $435,000 over two years — to develop and assess a rapid-results HIV testing and counseling program for battered women in shelters.

"Rapid HIV testing allows for results and counseling in one visit, which is an ideal option for women in shelters," explains Johnson. However, most shelters do not provide such services.

Research suggests that approximately one in four women report a history of intimate partner violence. Further, battered women are at high risk for HIV.

Violence touches many lives

There are approximately 2,000 community-based shelters in the United States providing emergency shelter to approximately 300,000 women and children each year.

Dr. Paul Levy, chair of UA's Department of Psychology, has high praise for Johnson's work.

"The psychological damage to battered women is severe. Dr. Johnson is helping us to develop treatment interventions that can assist these women in so many ways,” Levy said. "These NIH grants will allow her to continue her high-quality research and to focus on the incredible benefits to individuals, families and our community that come from her work.“

The Department of Psychology is part of the Buchtel College of Arts and Sciences, the largest and oldest degree-granting college at The University of Akron. Buchtel College is home to 23 schools and departments, nine centers and institutes, and four special programs.

Media contact: Cyndee Snider, 330-972-5196 or