White House taps psychologists to study sexual violence on campus
The Obama administration has made preventing
sexual violence on campus a priority. The U.S.
Department of Education is now investigating
90 — and counting — colleges and universities
suspected of insufficiently addressing possible
cases of sexual violence. In September, the White
House launched the “It’s On Us” campaign to
raise awareness of the problem with the help of
celebrities and student leaders nationwide. In
addition, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has
awarded a $1.3 million grant to psychologist
Robert Prentky, PhD, to lead a three-year Campus
Sexual Assault Perpetrator Treatment Pilot Project.
The project is part of a DOJ effort to address
what its Office of Sex Offender Sentencing,
Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering and Tracking (SMART)
calls “practically nonexistent” sanctions and treatment
curricula for campus perpetrators.
Prentky, who directs the training programs in forensic
psychology at Fairleigh Dickinson University, will work with
co-principal investigator Mary Koss, PhD, of the University of
Arizona, and senior investigator Neil Malamuth, PhD, of the
University of California, Los Angeles, to survey 1,000 campuses
to see how they handle sexual assault perpetrators.
The team will also survey at least 1,000 male students from
five campuses to identify dynamic (changeable)
risk factors that lead college-age men to commit
sexual assault. They will also survey 1,000 female
students about their experiences with sexual
violence, asking such questions as how they
perceive the risk of sexual violence and why
victims may not report such incidents.
Based on the identified risk factor data,
Prentky and his team will design a risk-and-needs assessment protocol and an evidence-based
treatment model for student sexual offenders that
will be tested at seven college campuses. Once the
model has been successfully pilot tested, SMART
plans to publicly release it so that any school can
Prentky emphasizes that it is critical for schools to
acknowledge the problem and respond proactively, such as by
mandating sexual misconduct awareness training for incoming
students and preventing alcohol abuse.
“We will never satisfactorily mitigate the problem of sexual
violence just by identifying a handful of students that have
been found responsible and sanctioning them with remedial
coursework or worse, passing high-risk students on to another
campus,” he says.
— Stacy Lu
To watch the public service announcement for
the “It’s On Us” campaign, go to www.youtube.