At age 18, Kate Cerulli knew she had found her passion. While working at a summer camp for inner-city youth, she got to know some kids whose families — and mothers in particular — had experienced domestic violence. That personal connection led to a career dedicated to combating domestic violence using her academic and professional passions: science and law.
In 1991, while in law school, Cerulli received an AAUW Community Action Grant to study the local government’s response to cases of domestic violence in Buffalo, New York. She credits the grant with providing her the opportunity to learn about research, which greatly influenced her subsequent work incorporating scientific research into law.
Domestic violence is a pervasive issue — 1 in 4 women experience it in their lifetimes. Yet Cerulli firmly believes the problem is fixable, and she is a pioneer in combining law and science to combat domestic violence. While in law school at the State University of New York, Buffalo, she established the Clinic for Women, Children, and Social Justice, which trains lawyers to effectively try cases related to domestic violence. Cerulli is also the director of two institutions at the University of Rochester. The Laboratory of Interpersonal Violence and Victimization uses evidence-based research to provide resources to community partners to end domestic violence. And as director of the Susan B. Anthony Center for Women’s Leadership, Cerulli is pursuing a plan to identify and fill the gaps in basic needs and services for women.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and it is more important than ever to increase awareness of the issue and how to end it. Cerulli points to the continued delay in reauthorizing the Violence against Women Act as evidence that domestic violence is becoming less of a national priority. Domestic violence affects our entire society because it impacts our workplaces, homes, religious institutions, families, and communities. Advocacy is needed at all levels of government because there have been significant cuts in funding across the United States for domestic violence programs, which hurts advocates on the local level.
“We all have to do more with less,” Cerulli says — and she is not one to back down from a challenge. Change will happen, but it cannot occur at just the individual level. She believes a paradigm shift is needed for society to rethink how the media is portraying and at times even glorifying domestic violence.
Her advocacy work is a direct result of what education can inspire. “Admitting that education is a lifelong pursuit leaves you open to new opportunities,” Cerulli says — and education is something she sees as being close to AAUW’s heart.
Cerulli’s Community Action Grant was sponsored by the May Carlgren Bana/Ohio Division Research and Projects Grant, which was established in 1982.
This post was written by AAUW Fellowships and Grants Intern Emily McGranachan.