Since 1975, the Family Research Laboratory (FRL) has devoted itself primarily to understanding family violence and the impact of violence in families.

As public and professional interest in family violence has grown, so has the need for more reliable knowledge. The FRL has tried to fill that need in a variety of ways: through comprehensive literature reviews, new theories, and methodologically sound studies. Researchers at the FRL pioneered many of the techniques that have enabled social scientists to estimate directly the scope of family violence. These efforts have brought international recognition to the FRL.

The FRL is unusual among research centers in this field because it includes on its agenda all aspects of the family, violence and abuse, including:

  • physical abuse of children
  • corporal punishment of children
  • sexual abuse of children
  • physical abuse of spouses
  • dating violence
  • abuse of the elderly
  • intra-family homicide
  • rape and marital rape
  • violence between siblings
  • peer victimization of children
  • pornography
  • missing and abducted children

This variety of topics is a result of beliefs that have guided FRL research:

  • that various forms of family problems are interrelated;
  • that conflict is a basic to family life as are love and cooperation;
  • that much of the conflict and violence in the world outside the family can be traced to roots in the family.

This holistic view of family violence has contributed both diversity and richness to the FRL's work.

The Web of Family Violence

One hallmark of the FRL is its concern about the interrelation of various types of family violence. Many FRL studies have probed such interconnections.

For example, abuse can be generationally transmitted. FRL studies have shown that men who beat their wives are more likely to have witnessed and experienced abuse as children themselves.

Victims of one kind of abuse are also more vulnerable to other kinds of abuse. For example, women sexually abused as children are more likely to be victims of wife abuse or rape when they become adults.

Sometimes the dynamics of one kind of abuse give insight into another. Practitioners once thought that elder abuse was like child abuse: care givers losing patience in the exhausting job of tending the dependent elderly. However, FRL research has established that elder abuse is actually more often like wife abuse, and that spouses are the most frequent abusers.

Contact Us

Family Research Laboratory
McConnell Hall
Academic Way
University of New Hampshire
Durham, NH 03824
Phone: (603) 862-1888
Fax: (603) 862-1122
Email: doreen.cole@unh.edu

Family Violence and Society

FRL is also unique in connecting family violence to other social problems.

For example, FRL research has shown that wife abuse rates are higher in states where the status of women is low. Such low status--exemplified by the absence of women in positions of political and economic authority--contributes to a climate where abuse is tolerated.

Another example: FRL research finds that abused children are more likely to run away, become involved in drug abuse or prostitution, commit crimes, and experience divorce later on in life.

Reducing family violence would very likely help ease a wide variety of other social problems.Another hallmark of the FRL is the diverse types of studies its staff members have undertaken:

  • national surveys
  • local surveys
  • in-depth interviews
  • secondary analysis of data
  • content analysis
  • longitudinal panel designs
  • analyses of official statistics
  • state-to-state correlations
  • meta-analyses

Any single method has weaknesses. But the same finding using different methods has great credibility. This diversity of methods has enriched the FRL and the field as a whole.

Teaching and Training

The FRL has a commitment to training new researchers. This is carried out particularly through our fellowship program for postdoctoral social scientists, through our affiliation with the graduate program in the Department of Sociology at UNH, and through our course offerings at the graduate and undergraduate level. Many internationally known figures in family violence research have been trained at the FRL. Many others have benefited from shore visits and participation in FRL conferences and seminars.

Influencing Public Policy

The FRL staff tries to make research information available to as wide an audience as possible. This is particularly crucial in family violence because knowledge itself--for example, the knowledge that victimization is an experience shared by many people--can be therapeutic.

Moreover, in a field where policy decisions are being made every day, accurate information is essential. The field is unfortunately cluttered with myths that sometimes affect policy.

For example, child abuse is not "just as common" in well-to-do families as in lower- class families. Although child abuse is by no means limited to lower-class families, the stresses of poverty, unemployment, and economic discrimination do contribute to higher rates of violence. The FRL staff has made special efforts to research and correct such myths.

Public Education

To make this kind of information available to the public, FRL staff members are active on a number of fronts. For example, FRL staff appear frequently on radio, television, and in the press. Moreover, some FRL publications are specifically written for a popular rather than an academic audience.

To reach policy makers who need research findings, FRL staff members testify at hearings before the U.S. Congress, at staff briefings for governmental officials, and before state legislatures. Finally, FRL staff members give talks before dozens of public and professional audiences every year in the U.S. and internationally on a wide range of topics.

Fellowship Program

The FRL brings four Ph.D. level scholars to UNH every year to study family violence. This program, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, is now in its third decade.

The fellowships are intended for both new and experienced researchers from a wide range of fields like sociology, psychology, social work, law, public health, and nursing. Scholars use the fellowship period to work on their own projects, to collaborate with FRL staff on on-going projects, or to work on one of the many data sets that are archived here. These fellowships have produced a number of important books and research studies.

The fellows and other FRL staff interact intensively with each other. Researchers gather at least once a week in the FRL Family Violence Seminar, where they review each other's work. Fellows take away new ideas and fond memories, and tend to keep contact with the FRL for many years.


The FRL prominence in the field is in part a result of the large number, variety, and scope of its publications. In a span of ten years, FRL staff members have published more than 45 books and more than 740 articles on family violence. A complete list of program publications is updated regularly.

Unpublished Papers available online
Bibliographies of Family Research Laboratory Publications

Data Archive

A number of the major studies conducted by the FRL have been placed in archive, and are available to other researchers for either independent usage or supervised analysis. These include:

National Family Violence Survey (1975, 1985)
Two national studies, the first a household survey of 2,143, the second a telephone survey of 6,002, on spousal and parent-child violence and psychological abuse (Independent use).

National Incidence Study of Missing, Abducted, Runaway and Thrownaway Children(1999)
Telephone interviews with caretakers in 10,367 households about abduction, runaway, throw away and other missing child episodes (Independent use).

National Youth Victimization Prevention Study (1992)
Telephone interviews with 2,000 youth 10-16 and their parents about violent victimization and exposure to victimization prevention information, tow waves 18 months apart. (Independent use).

National Alcohol and Family Violence Survey (1992)
Interviews with 2,000 households on relationship on alcohol and family violence (Supervised use).

Gallup Survey on Child Abuse, (1995)
This survey of 1,000 parents was used to develop the CTSPC.

Staff and Facilities

The FRL has a staff of more than a dozen Ph.D.-level researchers. Some are employed full- time in grant-funded research. Some teach in another department at UNH or another university and participate in the FRL part-time.

The FRL also employs research assistants, numbering from two to six, and a clerical and administrative staff, numbering from four to eight.

FRL Facilities

The FRL is housed in a suite of offices in the Horton Social Science Center. The suite contains a library of 3,000 books.

FRL Funding

The FRL's financial support derives primarily from its research grants, with some additional support from UNH. A number of different governmental agencies and private foundations have provided funding to the FRL in the recent past.

  • National Institute of Mental Health
  • National Institute on Aging
  • National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
  • National Science Foundation
  • Office of Child Abuse and Neglect
  • National Institute of Justice
  • Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention
  • Boy Scouts of America
  • National Center for Missing and Exploited Children