Opinion - Maura's Voice Funding FSU College of Social Work To Help Prevent Violence Against Women
Originally published in the Tallahassee Democrat here.
Maura’s Voice Research Fund was established by the Binkley family after losing their daughter, Maura Binkley, in the 2018 Hot Yoga Tallahassee shooting, in which FSU Medical School professor Dr. Nancy Van Vessem was also lost, and four other women were wounded.
The shooting was determined by the Tallahassee Police Department to be a hate crime, with the victims targeted for no reason other than being women.
The research fund is dedicated to curbing such crimes, and its initiatives reside within the Florida State College of Social Work. We are addressing critical issues at the intersection of hate and violence in our society, with a special focus on the prevention of violence against women and girls.
One year after the tragedy, our work is specifically concentrated in three main areas: threat assessment and management; the nature and characteristics of gun violence; and offender research.
The goal is to use our research findings to educate and develop effective tools for practitioners and policymakers — tools like the significant red flag legislation Florida has received national acclaim for passing after Parkland.
But we know from the experience of other states with similar legislation that there are big challenges for putting these laws into operation when a potentially dangerous person is identified in the community.
Fortunately, there is an emergent forensic science of threat assessment. New tools for evaluating the behavior of such persons and managing firearms possession are becoming available — and are testable.
The Tallahassee shooter met a significant number of indicators that would have triggered court-supervised management of his firearms — and possibly prevented his acts of homicidal violence.
We plan to move forward in evaluating this technology and then training practitioners in these approaches, even as we work with policymakers on fair and feasible ways of regulating and financing them.
We are also collaborating with Dr. Jillian Turanovic from the FSU College of Criminology. Maura’s Voice will fund her future work in the area of gender-bias motivated fatal shootings of women in Florida.
This research is particularly important for deepening our understanding of this category of homicide, and can provide vital information for professionals and policymakers.
Finally, we are working to better understand the extremist violence perpetrated by “involuntary celibates” — men who hold deep and sustained grievances against women as a class of persons. The Tallahassee shooter self-identified as one of these men — as an “incel.” Dr. Amy Coren leads this effort.
This research is in its early stages, as there is limited scientific research that has been published about these individuals. We suspect that the process of radicalization through participation in social media web networks designed by and for the "incel" community may be an important pathway toward violent behavior.
Research-based knowledge can help professionals effectively respond to their concerns about potential perpetrators and help prevent unchecked harms against victims of violence and their traumatized families.
Maura’s Voice is dedicated to supporting and collaborating with researchers across the FSU campus — and from other universities — to prioritize “ideas before ideology, research before rhetoric, and policy before politics.”
Jim Clark, licensed clinical social worker, is a professor and dean of the Florida State University College of Social Work.