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Beyond the Map

Analyzing banking and lending maps of Cleveland from the 1930s, researchers layered data sets related to sexual assault kits, lead levels and internet access via global information systems (GIS) mapping.

A scholar and a journalist happened to be sitting next to one another, each with a laptop open to what looked like identical maps.

But the two greater Cleveland images tracked entirely different factors: the scholar’s highlighted sexual assault frequency, while the journalist’s looked at child lead poisoning rates.

For Rachel Lovell, a research assistant professor at the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences, the coincidence became an “aha” moment.

It prompted Lovell, also a member of the school’s Begun Center for Violence Prevention Research and Education, and center senior research associate Misty Luminais to discover that both highlighted areas corresponded to those that nearly a century earlier had been redlined.

Redlining is a practice in which federal agencies designated residents of certain largely minority areas to be poor credit risks for mortgage loans and other services.

Working with Case Western Reserve’s Freedman Center for Digital Scholarship, the researchers found that Cleveland’s redlined areas not only consistently overlapped with neighborhoods that today had high numbers of unsubmitted sexual assault kits and child lead-poisoning rates, but also low levels of internet access.

This connection, Luminais said, “helped us to start thinking about sexual assault in a holistic manner”—and better understand how seemingly unrelated problems, and their solutions, ultimately may be connected.

“When you look at the data in text form, you suspect there’s some sort of pattern.”

—Rachel Lovell

Research Assistant Professor at the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences