Fairleigh Dickinson University leads DOJ-funded study on campus sexual assault

By Kenna Caprio

The pressingly serious issue of sexual assault on college campuses continues to garner attention and action nationally, as reports of brutal assaults, student protests and Title IX and Clery Act violations persist.

Fairleigh Dickinson University, in collaboration with the University of Arizona and other institutions of higher education, has been selected by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to study the ongoing problem.

Robert Prentky
Professor Robert Prentky has been awarded a $1.3 million federal grant for work on the Campus Sexual Assault Perpetrator Treatment Pilot Project.
Williams Hall 2

Robert Prentky, a psychology professor at FDU’s Metropolitan Campus, was awarded a $1.3 million grant from the Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering and Tracking (SMART) in the DOJ. Professor Mary Koss, of the University of Arizona in Tucson, Ariz., is co-principal investigator, and Professor Neil Malamuth of University of California, Los Angeles, is the senior investigator on the project.

The subsequent three-year grant — an extension of the federal government’s efforts against sexual violence — brings together experts from across the country to work on the Campus Sexual Assault Perpetrator Treatment Pilot Project, aimed at offering sentencing options for students found responsible for sexual misconduct, including a treatment and intervention module.

Christopher A. Capuano, university provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, says, “Fairleigh Dickinson University is honored to have Professor Robert Prentky, a nationally recognized researcher and scholar in forensic psychology, on its faculty and to be playing a leading role on such an important study with the University of Arizona, UCLA and other institutions of higher education across the country.”

The project will unfold in two phases.

In phase one, researchers will survey a large number of male and female students at colleges across the country. Women will be asked about their views on campus climate, opinions on campus safety, perception of risk and danger, and personal experiences of unwanted sexual conduct. Meanwhile, the men will be asked a wide range of questions about their experiences and attitudes around dating, sexuality and relationships with women.

“The focus is on many of the factors that the scientific literature tells us are important,” says Prentky. “At the end of phase one, we’ll attempt to develop treatment modules targeting the factors that place some men at higher risk.”

Once the risk assessment and treatment modules are developed, phase two begins as they undergo preliminary evaluation at select universities. Researchers will conduct periodic visits to these campuses to record experiences and document any problems.

The goal is for SMART to release the model after the pilot testing concludes.

“What we really want is a module that standardizes the process for evaluating the primary risk factors in those found responsible for sexual misconduct and provide therapeutic modules designed to address those factors,” Prentky says. “Presently, colleges all over the country are employing different procedures with different sanctioning options. We want to create a process for responding to students who have been found responsible of sexual misconduct that can be uniformly and systematically implemented at schools around the country.”

Through this project, Prentky and his colleagues hope to contribute to the overarching goal of reducing sexual assaults on college campuses.

“With a grant of this magnitude, we feel indebted to do something for society that’s worthy of this investment of resources, time and effort,” Prentky says. “We want to make as vital and enduring a contribution to knowledge and practice as we can.”